Mehbooba Mufti storms out of Kashmir press meet as Rajnath tries to pacify her

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti lost her cool on Thursday and stormed out of a press conference after facing a volley of questions about her government’s stand on the current 48-day unrest in the valley.

Mehbooba’s first formal interaction with the media ended abruptly after journalists asked how she could justify the alleged disproportionate use of force against protesters when as an opposition leader she had criticised the Omar Abdullah government in 2010 for civilian killings.

They also sought clarification over her earlier remark of “only 5% of the population supporting the current agitation’’.

“I did not say it’s just 5%. All I said was 95% people in the valley want peaceful resolution to the problem. The issue has, however, been hijacked by 5% of people who believe in violence,’’ she said.

Kashmir has been on the boil after Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces on July 8. His death triggered a violence that has left 68 people dead and at least 10,000 injured.

Mehbooba reacted strongly after being reminded of her criticism of Abdullah’s government for civilian killings and indefinite curfew during the 2012 unrest.

“The agitation in 2010 was about human rights violations. Machil fake encounter had happened, Shopian rape and murder case was there, a teenage boy was killed – there was a reason for the anger. Today, three militants were killed, as it has been happening for years, people came out on roads and curfew was imposed. How is the government to be blamed?’’ she asked.

Mehbooba justified the killing of protesters by security forces in the ongoing unrest, saying those hit by bullets or pellets didn’t go to fetch milk or toffees.

“Most of the children who were killed (by security forces) were killed in retaliation for attacking army camps. The children didn’t go to the army camp to buy milk or toffees.’’

She reiterated that “miscreants incite children to attack camps’’. “They want our children to get killed, get blinded,’’ she added.

Mehbooba, however, added that violence can offer no solutions to the issue in ‘today’s world’. “I am for a resolution of Kashmir but not for violence. If you want to give a cause a bad name, you resort to violence,’’ she added.

“No issue gets solved by attacking camps,’’ Mehbooba said before storming out of the press conference, she was addressing with Union home minister Rajnath Singh.

Even as the home minister tried to pacify an agitated Mehbooba, she reminded people of how she has “saved the same Kashmiri youth’’.

“I have saved them (youth) from knives, when they used to run after seeing the vehicles of task force (special counter-insurgency force), they used to be taken as bonded labourers (by army) in south Kashmir,’’ she said.

Mehbooba said both the state and the Centre are concerned about the killings in the valley. “We are concerned as those killed are our children. Prime Minister’s statement also highlights the same concern,’’ she said.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader said that poor Kashmiri youth were being used as shield by vested interests. “Ninety-five percent people killed are from poor families.”

While Singh remained seated, Mehbooba left the venue offering journalists “a cup of tea instead of answers’’. This is Singh’s second visit amid continued curfew and restrictions in many parts of the valley since Wani’s death.

Earlier, Singh indicated the government was finding an alternative to pellet guns as a method of crowd control. He said pellets that have left thousands of people injured may be replaced in the coming days..

The home minister also expressed the government’s willingness to talk to separatists saying, “We are willing to talk to anyone within the scope of Kashmiriyat, Jamooriyat and Insaniyat.”

He also said that an all-party delegation would visit Kashmir soon.