By A S Dulat
TRAGICALLY, of late Kashmir has begun to appear like another country.
Nearly 60 people have been killed in just over two months and normal life is totally crippled. Even the sacred month of Ramzan has not cooled passions or provided respite.
Some suggest that it is worse than 2008, others contend that it is a repeat of 1990, or even worse.
Whichever way one looks at it, the situation is grim and getting worse by the day. Alienation has never appeared as bad.
But the Valley is not slipping away as some Cassandras seem to suggest from time to time. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah contemplated deep and long before acknowledging in 1975 that accession was irrevocable because he understood that the future of Kashmir lay with India. Kashmiris today also have no doubt that India will never let go of Kashmir. We, too, need to ponder on our relationship with Kashmir.
Whether it began with Amarnath Yatra agitation in 2008 or the mess up in Shopian last summer, the Kashmiri ‘ intifada’— led and manned by youngsters in the age group of 15- 21— is looking increasingly frightening for those who link normalcy to tourism. The summer could not have started better with 20 flights a day from Delhi to Srinagar through May and early June.
But to the more discerning there was already a certain sullenness in the Valley over alleged civilian killings. The stone pelters who were active since February- March should have been countered politically right from the outset. But the Kashmir street, particularly Srinagar city which controls the Valley, once the exclusive domain of the National Conference, has passed into the hands of the angry youth who at times seem beyond the control even of hardliners like S A S Geelani.
Everyone from Mehbooba Mufti to Syed Salahuddin have been snubbed at one time or another. The new generation baptised in fire and blood appears recklessly fearless, almost suicidal, in reference to “ Azadi” with its chants of “ Abhi nahin to kabhi nahin ” . There is already talk of the next deadlier phase of protests but what should be of more concern is the possibility of a more lethal round of militancy revisiting Kashmir if the current situation is allowed to continue indefinitely.
The one serious message emerging loud and clear from the Kashmir street is that the “ status quo” was not acceptable and would not do in any future arrangement for the state.
The much maligned security forces have had to bear the brunt not only of protests and stone pelting but daily abuse for more than two months. The CRPF, more out of place in Kashmir than Dantewada, is not suited to patrol the streets of downtown Srinagar; they would not only not understand the Kashmiri psyche, but the language as well.
Policing in Srinagar city and the other towns needs to be undertaken by J& K Police, with the CRPF only in assistance.
Fatigue and depression inevitably sets in in such situations and the forces on the ground must be wondering how much longer they have to be at the receiving end, now that everyone is gradually acknowledging that Kashmir is not a law and order but a political problem.
The Army Chief, General V. K. Singh, rightly asserted sometime back that the Army had done its job in Kashmir, and it was now up to the politicians.
It has since been acknowledged by the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress Working Committee, that Kashmir is a political issue.
The problem is that the political process is in a limbo. The grand edifice of the National Conference, the very essence of “ Kashmiriyat” comparable in the Kashmiri psyche with Hazratbal and the ziarat of ‘ Hamdaan Sahib’, is in a shambles.
Repeated rumours that the Chief Minister was on the verge of throwing in the towel only adds to the uncertainty.
Whether one supports Omar Abdullah or not one cannot but feel for him at this juncture. His is not just the most difficult job in the country but the loneliest as well. The beleaguered Chief Minister’s gesture in forgiving the head constable who hurled a shoe at him on Independence Day will hopefully mark a new beginning and be replicated in the future as well. If the Kashmiri gets angry quickly, he forgives even more easily. Ironically, the crowds that assembled outside the residence of Abdul Ahad Jan in Ajas, Bandipore, in the last couple of days and made something of a hero of him also sadly reflected the void in political leadership in the Valley.
This void often tempts the powers- that- be in Delhi into assuming that talking was meaningless as there was nobody to talk to and neither was anybody interested or competent to talk. But we have been talking to all shades of political opinion in Kashmir since militancy began in 1989- 90 with huge dividends.
The elections of 2002, and even 1996 when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao famously declared that “ sky is the limit” to accommodate Kashmiri aspirations within the Constitution, would not have been successful but for the talks that preceded them.
The actors in Kashmir, too, are well known and have all been in play with Delhi at some time or the other. On our apprehensions of what they might demand one need only quote a Hurriyat leader prior to their meeting with LK Advani in February, 2004: “ It is given that the Union Home Minister cannot talk outside the Constitution; why does New Delhi need to rub it in every time?” The more recent effort at dialogue through the Home Minister’s well- intentioned quiet diplomacy unfortunately petered out, with the blame being laid at Pakistan’s door.
Islamabad’s role is well known but perhaps, we were also insensitive to the pot- shot taken at Fazl Haq Qureshi by the same forces. As Syed Mir Qasim once put it aptly, “ We must guard against hasty conclusions and quick remedies; handling Kashmir requires cold logic and warm human sympathy”. We have to admit that we missed a window of opportunity between 2004 and 2007 when Gen. Musharraf was still in command and Pakistan had not yet rubbished his openmindedness on Kashmir.
The news that Mufti Mohd Sayeed and Mehbooba are being drawn into dialogue, even if it requires an exclusive audience with the Prime Minister, is welcome.
To use Mani Shankar Aiyar’s words, we need a dialogue in Kashmir which will be “ uninterrupted and uninterruptible,” reaching out not only to all shades of political opinion but the people of Kashmir, particularly the youth for which India has a whole new world to offer.
Whether Kashmir can have the full and final settlement Kashmiris crave for, time will tell. But time is certainly ripe for another accord with the people of Kashmir taking fully into account their aspirations.
To quote M J Akbar, “the war that Pakistan began in Kashmir is a recipe for disaster, the negotiations that Nehru and Mountbatten wanted are still the option”. The ball is in Delhi’s court.
The writer is a former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing
Source: Mail Today