GOWHAR GEELANI | 10 JUNE, 2018
Cover photograph Basit Zargar
SRINAGAR: On his just-concluded two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh parried a question whether New Delhi was ready to have a dialogue with the Hurriyat, and if yes, what would be its terms of reference?
Instead Singh chose to answer this important question in an indirect and hazy manner, saying that talks could be held with the “right-minded people”, not necessarily “like-minded people”.
Besides, Singh also spoke about the role of New Delhi’s Special Representative Dineshwar Sharma arguing that the latter is not in the Kashmir Valley for sightseeing purposeS and that he is meeting people and supposed to meet more people in the future.
This was another little shift in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s confused policy on Kashmir since May 2014.
After a review of the prevailing security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, preparedness for the upcoming Amarnath pilgrimage and issues faced by border residents because of India-Pakistan skirmishes at the Line of Control (LoC), working boundary and international border, the Home Minister concluded his visit in Jammu on Friday. He also explored a possibility if the NICO (Non Initiation of Combat Operations) against militants could be extended beyond Ramzan.
With the advent of cable network, satellite television, and invasion of the Internet and modern communication tools available to mankind, one would have hoped clarity to be the currency and ambiguity a thing of the past in the 21st century.
Sadly, not to be when it comes to Delhi’s Kashmir policy!
On May 16, Singh announced New Delhi’s unilateral decision to put a halt to anti-militancy operations in Kashmir during the month of fasting. A few days after, he also expressed Delhi’s willingness to talk to Pakistan and the Hurriyat.
How did this apparent change in otherwise Delhi’s muscular Kashmir policy come about? Was it really a change or strategic retreat with the aim to help the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) reclaim some of the political space that the party has lost ever since it stitched an unholy alliance with the BJP in March 2015?
Mirwaiz Umar, an important leader of Kashmir’s Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) and chairman of a moderate faction of the Hurriyat, while addressing a mammoth gathering on Friday (8 June) said: “The U-turn made by India is only because of the sacrifices offered by Kashmiri youths and the steadfastness exhibited by the people of Kashmir. Sacrifice and steadfastness compelled even a party like the BJP to offer talks to Kashmiris. This is your success. This is the success of a youth of Kashmir. Now India says we will talk. But is it a change in policy or is it a change in circumstances? Have they become so soft all of a sudden that they are saying we will talk to Pakistan and Kashmiris?”
He further said that India’s aggressive and militaristic policies could not bring any changes on the ground but what happened was that “people’s sentiment for Azadi got cemented”.
On her part, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti accused Kashmiri militants of “trying to sabotage the ceasefire (NICO)”.
In a recent rally in Srinagar, she made it known to the Hurriyat leadership that “dialogue offer is a rare opportunity” which they should grab to save Jammu and Kashmir from further “bloodshed”.
Keeping in view the public statements made by Mr Singh and Ms Mufti one gets a feeling that ‘Hurriyat is anti-peace and anti-dialogue’ and that ‘Pakistan is a hurdle’ with regards to any forward movement on Kashmir.
Is it a fair assessment? Or, the problem lies somewhere else?
Let us face a simple fact: Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership since May 2014 has been pursuing a belligerent, muscular and militaristic policy on Kashmir.
New Delhi’s rigid Kashmir policy which has continued for over four years now has resulted in about a 1,000 killings, which include over 300 civilian killings.
Since January 2016, government forces stationed in Kashmir have killed at least 715 persons, including 237 civilians, in various anti-militancy operations and other law-and-order situations.
At present, the anger against the state and also against the PDP-BJP coalition government is at its peak.
That is precisely why barring noticeable exceptions, most Members of J&K Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of both the ruling PDP as well as the opposition National Conference (NC) have not been able to visit their respective constituencies in the post-Burhan Wani era.
After the 2014 Assembly Elections when the PDP finally decided to form a partnership with the BJP in early 2015, the political space for regional pro-India parties inside the Kashmir Valley has significantly shrunk.
The anger against civilian killings, cordon-and-search operations, daily harassment, a spree of arrests of the youth during nocturnal raids, and slapping of Public Safety Acts (PSAs) against political dissidents and activists and other human rights abuses is so bitter that it is difficult for Delhi to get away so easily without taking many visible, concrete, significant and robust Kashmir-centric confidence-building measures (CBMs) to make a fresh beginning.
On Kashmir’s turf, the anti-militancy operations have resulted in an unprecedented spike in local militant recruitment. Over 80 youth have joined the ranks of militancy since January alone.
“For four continuous years the PDP-BJP government used its full might against us and the people of Kashmir. The government used brute force to quell civilian and student protests, fired bullets and pellets on processions and funerals, tried to silence the Hurriyat leadership through NIA and IT raids, prison terms, choking of space etc. When everything has failed to deter people from demanding their political rights, the PDP wants us to become party ambassadors to sell its peace initiative to help PDP politicians to go back to their constituencies again,” a senior resistance leader told this writer.
“We are not averse to dialogue, but Delhi has eroded the credibility of dialogue as an institution. Where is the formal offer of dialogue? If and when a formal offer of dialogue is made to us after removing ambiguity and once the terms of reference of dialogue aimed at resolving the Kashmir dispute are well defined, only then will the JRL respond,” said another leader.
The impression is that the Hurriyat leadership will either talk directly to Narendra Modi or to Rajnath Singh, and not to Dineshwar Sharma.
Be that as it may, without releasing key Kashmiri political prisoners languishing in various jails in and outside Kashmir, withdrawing cases against the protesting youth, coming forward with a concrete, unambiguous and unconditional dialogue offer to the Hurriyat, accepting Pakistan as one of the key stakeholders vis-à-vis Kashmir, and punishing those armed officers and personnel found guilty of violating human rights of Kashmiris, the offer of dialogue made by Delhi in its current form will not find many takers on Kashmir’s turf with or without back channel parleys, Track-II initiatives, spin doctoring and other manoeuvres.
That is the sense that one gets from the ground zero.