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15 May, 2012

Kashmir: no lesson learnt

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

French statesman Talleyrand said of the Bourbon kings that they learnt nothing and forgot nothing. The same can be said of India’s rulers, judging by their inaction on Kashmir when the time was opportune.

The Kashmir valley, which witnessed several waves of violence during the past two decades, has enjoyed comparative peace for some time. However, the Indian government has failed to take advantage of the situation to promote the political process and ensure lasting peace.

The quiet of the recent past is partly the result of closure of the mountain passes following snowfall, restricting movement across the line of control. But there is reason to suspect that Kashmiri weariness has also contributed to the lull.

The Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation of parties which do not consider the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India as final, has not been very active. One of its leaders, Abdul Ghani Bhatt, recently suggested that the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir have lost their relevance. Its chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farouq, asserted that they remain the basis for resolution of the dispute. The conflicting statements of the two leaders indicate the group is clueless on the way forward.

The Kashmir issue is linked with India-Pakistan relations inasmuch as it is a remnant of the partition of the subcontinent. The process of normalisation of relations between the two countries remained slow and tortuous during the past year but some hopeful signs have emerged. There is, for instance, growing recognition that both the countries can gain from increased mutual trade and people-to-people contacts.

All this created a favourable atmosphere for the Indian government to take a new initiative to address the grievances of the people of Kashmir which have led to recurrent violence. It had before it the report of a three-member team of interlocutors which contained some ideas it could work on.

The team comprising Dileep Padgaonkar, a noted journalist, Radha Kumar, a well-known academic, and MM Ansari, a former Information Commissioner, was appointed in 2010 as part of a package announced to quell a wave of student protests which had led to brutal police action that left more than 100 teenagers dead and several hundred others wounded.

A 36-member all-party parliamentary delegation which flew into Srinagar on a fact-finding mission was greeted with stony silence. The Hurriyat leaders refused to meet the MPs. However, some MPs sought them out and held discussions with them. They also had talks with J and K Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik.

Unfortunately MPs belonging to the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which tends to view issues through a communal prism, adopted a recalcitrant attitude and blocked the emergence of a political consensus.

Following up on the parliamentary initiative, the government announced an eight-point package to assuage Kashmir’s wounded feelings. The appointment of interlocutors for a dialogue with political parties, groups, students and civil society was the first of the eight points.

The other points included release of all detained students and withdrawal of the cases against them, immediate reopening of educational institutions, an ex-gratia payment of Rs500,000 each to the families of those killed and review of the working of the security law and deployment of security forces, especially in Srinagar.

The government, recognising the need to address the problem of economic backwardness, made a special allotment of Rs1 billion for the state and decided to set up separate task forces to go into the developmental needs of the predominantly Hindu region of Jammu and the predominantly Buddhist region of Ladakh.

The Hurriyat leaders who want Kashmir’s representatives to be included in India-Pakistan talks on the state’s future were cool to the concept of indirect dialogue. However, the interlocutors held discussions with them. They also travelled widely in the state and met more than 700 delegations.

The content of the interlocutors’ report has not been made public so far, but it is widely believed that they have recommended grant of a measure of autonomy to the state and changes in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which gives the security personnel impunity. The government’s failure to consider its recommendations and formulate an action plan shows it gives a low priority to the political process.

The government’s inaction apparently stems from a lack of moral courage to take on the BJP, which, it fears, will not only condemn any accommodation of Kashmiri sentiment as appeasement but also use it to whip up communal passions with an eye to the 2014 parliamentary elections.--Gulf Today, May 15, 2012.

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