The best that can be said of the current row between the state police and its Delhi counterpart over the bona fides of Liaquat Ali Shah is that the dispute is the result of a communication gap. And the worst that can be said of it is that the aspiring candidate for the Jammu and Kashmir government’s rehabilitation programme for militants (or former militants) has fallen victim to the murky goings-on in the security establishment. The state police may have taken a particular stand, and with good reason, to assert that Mr. Shah, who was returning from Pak-administered-Kashmir, had formally applied for his home-coming under the rehab policy, but what it has chosen not to divulge is whether his case had been cleared. According to the state government’s admission, less than two hundred applications – out of approximately a thousand – have been approved, and none of those sanctioned have returned so far. How correct would it be to presume that what the government actually means by this is that no ex-militant has returned over the four designated routes of Chakan Da Bagh In Poonch, Salamabad in Uri, the Wagah crossing in the Punjab, and the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi? Should the presumption be correct, the government must look into the reasons why. Again, according to the government’s statements made on the floor of the assembly, almost all returnees so far have taken the Nepal route. Recently, officers of the home ministry here had said that the provisions of the rehab policy would be applicable only to those returning through the stipulated crossing points, and yet an overwhelming majority of those retracing their steps from PaK have come via Kathmandu.  It certainly cannot be a case of cross-wiring.   

The government must have had, through intelligence, family and other sources, a fair idea of the social condition of the rehab candidates whose kin must have been debriefed in detail what would entail on signing up to the rehab policy. So authorities cannot claim to have been taken by surprise when several beneficiaries have turned up with families and children in tow – wives of Pakistani nationality and children born and brought up in Pakistan. The government cannot claim that this is an unforeseen complication. And yet judging from the plight of the returnees, no provisions appear to have been made to address issues thrown up by such factors. As a matter of fact, several returnees have been compelled to take recourse to the media to highlight their condition. How could the government have fared so badly on a scheme literally of flagship importance in making a political point? From the accounts of those affected, it seems that the government has been highly remiss in anticipating and addressing various aspects of a policy which could have established its credentials in several areas.  On the contrary, its report card on this front paints a dismal picture of cavalier attitudes on part of those supposed to implement the policy. One can only hope that the strong posture the state government and police have adopted over the case of Liaquat Ali Shah presages corrections. 

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