Former RAW Chief Says Omar Will Be Next CM

9 July 2008

Srinagar: Former RAW Chief and then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s advisor on Kashmir, A S Dulat, has said that he could bet on Omar Abdullah to be the next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. In a curtain-raiser interview on Jammu and Kashmir elections, Dulat told news portal,”If I have to bet on anybody as the next Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, then I will bet on Omar Abdullah, because only the mainstream (pro-India) parties are going to fight the elections, and the National Conference has an edge; they are working hard. The PDP has a stronghold in southern Kashmir but that is weakening as important leaders are defecting.” Dulat says in the upcoming state elections, the main contest is between the National Conference, the Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. “It is too early to judge what will happen eventually. An easy assessment would be that there might be a hung assembly. No party will get an absolute majority. But anything can happen as we get close to the election.” Regarding the participation of Hurriyat Conference leaders in the electoral process, Dulat says the political scenario is very much in election mode. “At one time, there was hope that the Hurriyat leaders and separatists would participate in the election. Now, it is definite that the Hurriyat is not going to participate. There is some talk about some separatists, some secondary leaders on the fringes of the Hurriyat, who might participate - but there is still a question mark over it.” Dulat goes on to add that in last March-April, when the Hurriyat leaders came back from Pakistan, Musharraf was firmly in charge of his nation. “The Hurriyat leaders, at that point of time, gave the impression that the message from Pakistan to them was that they (Hurriyat leaders) should prepare for elections. But now, Musharraf is not the same. The situation in Pakistan is fluid and uncertain and our dialogue with the Hurriyat is currently at a standstill. After (External Affairs Minister) Pranab Mukherjee’s visit (to Pakistan), there is talk of grand reconciliation and all that. That is fine but I think as far as Kashmir is concerned, we need to talk to the Kashmiris.” Making an interesting observation Dulat says that even though the separatists may not participate, Pakistan might still support some of the candidates in the elections. Asked what could be the future of the separatist leaders in Kashmir, Dulat says they (separatists) only have the separatist label in common. “But, Gilani Sahib has decided to be a pucca hardliner and he is too old to change now. But if he could be assured of becoming the chief minister, then it would be a different thing. But he knows that he cannot become the chief minister. After all, it is all politics.” Asked what the separatist actually want, Dulat quips, “They want safe landing! They don’t want to crash! New Delhi is not providing them a safe landing, therefore they will not land! Since the dialogue with the Centre has broken down, they have nothing to show to their constituencies. It was believed that the talks with the Centre will give them something and they will go to the people and take credit for it. Now, they can’t take part in the election without an assured safe landing.” Negating any pre-election political package to Kashmir, Dulat says the central government is not going to make any such gesture. “This election is going to be fought as it is, where it is and on the status quo. All parties know it. The question of autonomy and all this will come up only after the election.” Regarding the prevailing situation in Kashmir, Dulat says, “The situation is much better, but that does not mean Kashmir is now normal or that militancy is over. There are problems and we will have to keep our fingers crossed that this election passes off peacefully.” Regarding the prospects of the peace process, Dulat opines that there was a great opportunity last year, which India missed. “In March-April 2007, President Pervez Musharraf was still in control and he was apparently very reasonable on the issue of Kashmir. That was the best time to move forward. The Kashmiris are a very adaptable people. They will wait. From India’s point of view, I think we have lost a great opportunity. I don’t think we should keep talking to Pakistan. We should talk to the Kashmiris. Ultimately, this matter has to be settled between New Delhi and Srinagar.”