A day after the US State Department expressed concern over “widespread detentions” in Jammu & Kashmir and “urged” the Indian government to “respect human rights”, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval linked the further lifting of restrictions in the Kashmir Valley to Pakistan’s “behaviour”.
“We would like all restrictions to go but it depends on how Pakistan behaves. It is a stimulant-and-response situation with the stimulant coming from Pakistan to create provocations, unrest, intimidate and threaten,” the NSA said.
NSA offers no commitments
While the media interaction was a rare opportunity to ask questions to NSA Ajit Doval on developments in Kashmir, he was cautious not to commit himself on a further easing of restrictions. Though he said restrictions on movement had been lifted in 92% of J&K, he indicated that further provocations from Pakistan would only delay both the release of detained politicians, and the restoration of phone and Internet services. He said the move on Article 370 has long been on the BJP’s manifestos.
In his first interaction with the media since the August 5 revocation of the special status to J&K under Article 370, Doval also said public order and safety of residents was of greater priority for the government.
“The situation (in Jammu & Kashmir) will stabilise. It is much better than I had anticipated… After spending almost two weeks in Kashmir, I am convinced that a majority of Kashmiris totally support the abrogation of Article 370,” he said.
Around a dozen journalists, half of them from the foreign media, were invited for the interaction in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Replying to questions on the detention of scores of politicians, including three former chief ministers of J&K, Doval said the detentions were all preventive in nature and that no one has been charged with any criminal offence. “At this stage, we cannot allow politicians to address gatherings of large crowds,” he asserted. “Such a situation can be used by militants and it will be up to the state government to decide when to release them and when the environment is conducive.”
He added that over the decades, politicians in J&K had no accountability towards the people and that at present, village leaders and sarpanches had gained in popularity.
Doval said all the actions of the Centre were “justiciable”, hinting that issues such as the removal of statehood and the preventive detentions could be confronted legally. “Everything being done is justiciable and people can challenge the actions in court like some have already done. They can complain and attempt to get a redressal. We will explain in court or pay the cost.”
Giving an assessment of the ground situation, Doval pointed out that restrictions had been lifted in 92 per cent of the area of Jammu and Kashmir and that, gradually, further restrictions would also be removed. He, however, did not commit to any time-frame for this.
He acknowledged that the absence of Internet and mobile telephony was causing prolonged hardship but added, “People were not born with Internet. For us, it is more important to protect the right of life of the people and keep them safe.”
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Elaborating on the hard intelligence being gathered since signals from mobile towers located along the border can be intercepted, Doval revealed that they had recently received information about 230 militants waiting to infiltrate into the Valley along 10 border posts. “Some of them have been arrested but some have also managed to infiltrate. Subversion is the only instrument available with Pakistan but we are determined to stop them and prevent them from smuggling arms into India,” he asserted.
He said he was particularly “disturbed” when on Friday night militants attacked the family members of Hamidullah Rather, an apple trader residing in Dangarpura, a village close to the fruit market of Sopore. The attack was aimed at stopping the transit of 750 trucks laden with apples to reach markets across the country. The trader’s son and grand-daughter were injured in the attack and the child was now being brought to the Capital for treatment, he said, adding that the militants were on the run.
The NSA spoke at length on the background to the abrogation of Article 370 and described it as an “internal arrangement” of India. He said, “The Constitution has been amended several times and this is an internal matter for India. This (the BJP) is the party which has come to power and abrogation is something that has been put on its election manifesto every time. Just prior to the 2019 elections, the Pakistani media was also reporting that India would do something like this. The people of the state have been deprived of their democratic rights for 70 years and this will finally give them their Constitutionally guaranteed rights. Article 370 did not give special status but ensured special discrimination.”