To counter external forces, Kashmiris must be taken into confidence

The sad reality is that every couple of years unrest grips the Kashmir Valley and expected reactions emerge from politicians, rulers and Pakistan. The unrest continues for some time and life becomes normal thereafter. Kashmir becomes the headlines of international media only when there is unrest and violence. In normal times, nobody thinks of Kashmir and Kashmiris. One needs to realise that the Kashmir is not an issue of law and order. It is a political issue and needs to be looked at accordingly.

Kashmir is burning. People are agitating especially in the South Kashmir after the killing of ‘poster boy’ Burhan Wani of militant group Hizbul Mujahideen in an encounter on July 8. So far, 40 people have died and around 200 have got serious injuries in their eyes. Many of them are operated upon, but a sizeable number of them are likely to lose vision. Earlier in the summer of 2010, students and youths were on the streets fighting security forces. More than 110 youth lost their lives in stone-pelting protests. The anger among Kashmiris and especially youths was visible. To pacify them, the then UPA government had sent an all-party delegation to Kashmir to meet the people and take them into confidence.

As expected, Pakistan tried to internationalise the issue. They raised it in the United Nations Conference on Human Rights, where India’s permanent representative Syed Akbaruddin reminded the world body that Pakistan has been shielding designated terrorists in their territory. Pakistan will observe Tuesday, July 19 as “black day to express solidarity with Kashmiris.” The timing is also important. Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif returned only few days ago after a month as he underwent a bypass surgery in the UK. Suddenly posters sprouted across Pakistan appealing to army chief Raheel Sharif to take over power in a military coup. The decision to observe July 19 as black day has also to do with Pakistan’s inner struggle between elected civilian government and the all-powerful army.

Thousands of people attended Wani’s funeral. Intelligence agencies including military intelligence should have realised the sentiments of the people and tipped off the government. Accordingly, a plan could have been drawn to prevent large-scale violence. The agencies failed to realise the popularity of Wani. Thousands of people came on the streets especially in South Kashmir. Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti appealed to parents to “rein in agitated youth” and maintain calm after four days. She also asked her party legislators to go to villages and speak to people. The government’s visibility was absent in the initial period, when it was needed most. First 24 hours are always vital. If nothing happens during that time nothing happens later. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was touring Africa and important time was lost. There was not much political movement till the PM returned from Africa. A high-powered meeting was held and opposition leaders including Sonia Gandhi were consulted. The PM asked security forces in J&K to exercise restraint. Ideally, the J&K CM should have been called for the high-power meeting. At every step, Kashmiris need to be taken into confidence.

The government needs to begin the process of dialogue. The positive thing is BJP is a coalition partner in J&K government. The government of India needs to take forward the dialogue process initiated by AB Vajpayee government. In 2003, Vajpayee, during a visit to Kashmir, unilaterally announced ceasefire with Pakistan. He categorically said that the dialogue will be held with all the stakeholders. When a journalist asked whether dialogue will be held within the framework of the Constitution, Vajpayee promptly replied "insaniyat ke dayre mein (within the framework of humanity)". The word "insaniyat" is important and accordingly dialogue should be resumed with all the stakeholders which include various factions of the Hurriyat Conference. If chairman of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari can call Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to express their solidarity then why cannot Indian leadership call him and others and resume dialogue. If some agreement can be made with Naga leadership then what prevents government to begin dialogue with the Hurriyat. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s Hurriyat is different from that of Mirwaiz. Earlier, the government had begun dialogue with Sajjad Lone and today he is a minister in the J&K government. 

The external forces always try to exploit the Kashmir issue. They cannot succeed in their design if we win their confidence. The feeling of alienation prevailing among Kashmiris must be removed. Kashmiri youths, too, have aspirations. The educated youth like others wish to go abroad and prosper. Unfortunately, many of them find it extremely difficult to get passports because some of their close or distant relatives were part of militancy at one time. Issuing passports may look like a small step but through such acts, one can win the confidence of the people and in a conflict zone it is needed the most.

The number of active militants has gone down significantly in the Valley. The number of foreign militants has also decreased. It is believed that as of now there are 146 active militants including 93 locals. There is no upsurge of Kashmiris joining militant groups. This is a positive sign. To win the trust of Kashmiris, contentious Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act (AFSPA) needs to be withdrawn from some of the areas of the Valley, where there are no major incidents of terrorism. The act provides impunity to the armed forces. Mehbooba Mufti and even earlier CM Omar Abdullah have been demanding the same for a long time.

Kashmiris should be given confidence that Article 370 will not be tampered and they will continue to enjoy rights given under the article. There is a strong feeling in the Valley that Kashmir is always ruled by Delhi and J&K government has no power. That needs to be removed through various pro-people steps in Kashmir. Political dialogue must be resumed with all the stakeholders. The Kashmir issue cannot be kept unresolved to gain political advantage in rest of the country.

(This article first appeared in Sakal Times and is being reproduced here with the permission of the author; the author a senior Mumbai based journalist has also been very active within the Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy)



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