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Current Affairs ( 13 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Centre’s emissary in J&K: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar meets Islamist leaders in Srinagar

By Praveen Swami


Sri Sri Ravi Shankar meets Islamist leaders in Srinagar


SRINAGAR: Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar arrived here on Wednesday for a controversial eleventh-hour peace mission supported by the Union government.


Mr. Ravi Shankar met Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the hardline Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, as well as the Srinagar cleric and All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in a back-channel effort to hammer out a peace deal between Islamists in Kashmir and Hindutva groups in Jammu.


Few details were available of the meetings, but sources in the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat said Mr. Geelani urged his visitor to persuade Hindu groups in Jammu to end their violent protest.


Governor N.N. Vohra’s office was unavailable for comment on Mr. Ravi Shankar’s mission, but official sources said Mr. Ravi Shankar had been accorded the status of an official state guest for the duration of his visit. The spiritual leader was received at Srinagar airport by the staff of the State government’s protocol division, normally handling high-level political visits, and then taken to an official guest house.


The government said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had been in touch with both secessionist leaders since the outbreak of the Shrine Board violence in July.


In identically-worded letters sent to Mr. Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq last month, copies of which is with The Hindu, Mr. Ravi Shankar had asked that whether through the government or anyone else, the Shrine Board or any other institution, basic sanitation, medical treatment, food, shelter and other facilities must be provided to the yatris.


He asked that just as the Haj pilgrims enjoy the support of the government, basic facilities must be provided to the pilgrims visiting the Amarnath shrine.


However, he also made the suggestion that if the majority of the population in Kashmir is in favour of autonomy, Jammu and Kashmir should be made into separate states, a highly-controversial long-standing demand of the Hindu religious right.


Mr. Ravi Shankar is the latest in a long series of quasi-official mediators deployed by the Government of India in so-far unsuccessful efforts to open lines of communication with Islamists in Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier figures in this back-channel dialogue have included Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, lawyer Ashok Bhan, commentator Prem Shankar Jha and former Research and Analysis wing chief Amarjit Dulat.


However, Mr. Ravi Shankar is the first spiritual leader to be involved in this dialogue.


Source: The Hindu, New Delhi






In Kashmir, a reign of error

Praveen Swami


SRINAGAR: Barricades of burning tyres marked the route home of the former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, from Humhama airport. Mobs of young men lined the streets defying curfew orders — and police bullets. “People used to say I didn’t know how to run a government,”, he said, peering out of the dark-tinted windows of his bullet-proof car at the clouds of smoke that shrouded the streets, “and now look at the mess we’re in.”


Less than two months ago, politicians like Mr. Abdullah were discussing strategies for winning elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, which are scheduled to be held in October. But poor political judgment — and an apparently catatonic administration — precipitated a crisis, which have made even the prospect of an election appear somewhat surreal.


Political failure


Monday’s secessionist march to the Line of Control spiralled into murderous street clashes between police and protesters and have now claimed 20 lives. It was initiated by the state’s Fruit Growers and Dealers Association early this month. Orchard owners claimed that hundreds of trucks laden with fruit were rotting because of a blockade of the Srinagar-Jammu highway by Hindu chauvinist groups — part of the Shrine Board riots which have gripped the State these past eight weeks. It is likely the claims were hyped —most varieties of Kashmir apples do not ripen until the end of August — but growers were legitimately concerned that protracted problems on the highway would destroy their highly-perishable crop as it came to market.


Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Masood Samoon immediately held negotiations with the fruit growers and promised to ensure proper security for fruit trucks on the highway. At the end of their talks, association chief Bashir Ahmad Baig deferred the march to the LoC until August 7.


The Jammu and Kashmir government delivered on part of its promise — but not enough. Although hundreds of trucks did indeed begin to move along the highway to Jammu, Kashmir-based truck drivers and orchard-owners were too terrified by the prospect of Hindu chauvinist attacks to risk the journey. It would have taken no great effort to allow convoys to travel under Army escort. None, however, was provided — increasing the fruit trade’s frustrations. Still, the Association agreed to hold back on their march for another three days, until Union Home Minister and members of an all-party delegation visited Srinagar. At the end of his August 10 meeting, Mr. Patil announced that the State government would make bulk purchases of the small quantities of early-flowering fruit to compensate growers for any losses they sustained because of the disruption of the Srinagar-Jammu road.


As more fruit came to market over the next month, Mr. Patil said, “if there’s still some damage, we’ll assess the loss and pay full compensation on the pattern of relief provided to other States in case of such circumstances.” It was a generous promise — but the people who needed it most weren’t there to listen. Fruit growers’ representatives had been called to meet Mr. Patil and his delegation — but for reasons that still haven’t become clear, were eventually refused an audience. After being kept waiting in an ante-room for several hours, the fruit growers’ representatives left Srinagar, angered — and sceptical of the government’s promises. Their fears were well founded: no announcement was made on how, and when, the government intended to keep its word.


When it became clear the fruit growers’ march on Muzaffarabad would go ahead — and would have the backing not just of secessionist groupings but also the People’s Democratic Party —Jammu and Kashmir administrators again failed to prepare for a showdown.


Despite intelligence warnings that the LoC march would gather tens of thousands of supporters, the State government and top police officials refused to impose a curfew. “Coordination was needed with the Army,” a senior government official said, “since it is responsible for holding the ground in rural Kashmir, and for securing the LoC. But no one in the government acted.”


In the event, small groups of police personnel were left to hold back the marchers. Desperate police units finally opened fire at protesters in Sheeri, leading to the loss of five lives — including that of secessionist leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz.


Little seems to have been learned from Monday’s disaster. All through Tuesday, police at rural outposts like Lalpora in Lolab, Trehgam in Kupwara and Kraalgund in Handwara were besieged by mobs — but nearby Army units did not have orders to intervene in their support.




Fifteen shot dead in Jammu & Kashmir
By Praveen Swami

Worst day of violence since Amarnath Shrine Board controversy erupted 


SRINAGAR: Police and army personnel opened fire across Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, in which 15 protesters were killed. This was the worst violence seen since the State government’s decision to grant land-use rights to a Hindu religious trust sparked massive protests last month.

Some of the worst violence was reported from Srinagar, where six protesters were shot dead, in day-long skirmishes between mobs and police.

Police killed three more protesters in the central Kashmir town of Lasjan, where police said Islamist-led rioters had attempted to storm the home of the former Minister and People’s Democratic Party legislator Javaid Ahmad Mir. A police officer was also seriously injured in the firing, which officials said was initiated by Mr. Mir’s panicked bodyguards.

Soldiers killed three more protesters, including a woman, near the north Kashmir town of Paribal. A spokesperson for the Srinagar-based 15 Corps said the protesters, who were throwing stones at an isolated military picket, refused to disperse despite repeated appeals.

A protester was killed in Anantnag, although confirmation on the cause of his death was not available.

Police in the remote mountain town of Kishtwar killed two members of a mob that attacked homes belonging to the region’s Hindu minority. Half a dozen homes were reported damaged in the attacks, which mark some of the most serious communal violence so far seen in the Shrine Board rioting. Earlier, Hindu chauvinist mobs initiated several arson attacks against Gujjar Muslims’ homes in and around Jammu.

Eight people have now died in Jammu since Hindu chauvinist groups launched a movement demanding that the Shrine Board’s land-use rights be restored — three in police firing, one in a terrorist grenade attack, one in an accident, and the last in a protest-suicide. In the Kashmir region, the death toll is over three times as high.

Tuesday’s wave of violence in Kashmir came even as tens of thousands of people gathered in Srinagar for the funeral of secessionist leader Abdul Aziz Sheikh, who was shot dead while participating in a march seeking to force its way across the Line of Control on Monday.

Both All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who lead its rival-turned-ally, the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, called on their supporters to stage three more days of protests, leading up to India’s independence day on August 15. However, both leaders called on protesters to ensure that their demonstrations remained peaceful, and appealed to the police not to use lethal force to disperse them.

APHC leaders also plan to make renewed attempts to cross the LoC after August 16, an action they say has been necessitated by the choking off of road links out of the Kashmir valley by Hindu fundamentalist groups — claims the State government denies.


Source: The Hindu, New Delhi