Millennium Post

Kashmir, a paradise regained?

During the past few weeks Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed developments which, coupled with the turbulent situation in Pakistan, will have a bearing on the direction the state’s situation takes in coming months.

Barring the 2010 events when there were clashes between the police and the stone-throwing demonstrators after the killing of some youths in police actions, Kashmir has been witnessing relative calm for the last three years. There has been a sharp fall in killings. The across line of control (LoC) infiltration by militants also saw a sharp decline. But lately the infiltrations have shown an upward trend following melting of snow along the mountain passes.

The infiltrations may appear weather-related seasonal as had been happening every summer. But the disturbing trend cannot be ignored in view of the promises repeatedly made by Pakistan that it would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist activities in India. The information with the security forces is that the militants training camps in Pakistan are still active. The army has also claimed that despite the mounting of pressure by the security forces on the militants operating in the state, the number of militancy-related incidents has increased since last month.      

It is in this backdrop that the first visit of chief of the army staff general Bikram Singh to the state last week needs to be seen. The visit, apart from other security-related issues also gains importance in view of the controversy over the demand for scrapping of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). While the separatists and their fellow-travellers have been demanding act’s withdrawal, the chief minister Omar Abdullah wants that as AFSPA had played its role when the insurgency was at its peak, it needed to be progressively reduced from districts that were not affected by militancy. Although New Delhi has already acted, even if selectively, on his suggestion and moved some contingents of the security forces out of the state, there is little possibility of AFSPA’s withdrawal due to the opposition by the security forces.     

No doubt, Abdullah’s demand has its logic, the fact cannot be ignored that after the removal of the security pickets from some of the places, sporadic terrorist violence has recurred. The issue of AFPSA must have also figured during Bikram Singh’s talks with the governor N N Vohra who has long experience of dealing with terrorism in Punjab in the 1980s when he was the state’s home secretary and also with the chief minister Omar Abdullah.  
The last few weeks also saw two other developments. One was realisation by some of the moderate Hurriyat Conference leaders about the futility of sticking to the forgettable past and the need to accept the realities of the changed times. The other was about those who did not accept the realities of the changed times which resulted in their gradually getting isolated and even losing support of their foreign patrons.

The first reference is to the leaders like Hurriyat’s founder member Abdul Gani Bhat who said that the United Nations resolution on the solution of the Kashmir issue had lost its relevance. Bhat was suspended by the Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The second reference was to persons like Nayeem Ahmed Khan and Mohammed Azim Inqillabi who questioned Bhat’s statement and wanted action taken against him. Bhat and the other three leaders were suspended from the conference by Mirwaiz for publicly voicing their views on the sensitive policy issue thereby violating the party discipline. The Hurriyat conference maintained that the UN resolution was important for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem.

Leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, the body which suffered splits in the last few years, must realise that the bosses of the terrorist outfits based across LoC have now admitted their failure and inability to continue terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir. The Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin has even protested against the Pakistani rulers for 'betraying the struggle for Kashmir’s independence' by virtually stopping support to them and their outfits fighting for the 'cause' in the state. He threatened that they should now be ready for confrontation with the militant outfits within Pakistan.

These developments should be seen in the backdrop of Pakistan’s anxiousness for improving relations with India even by putting the Kashmir issue on the backburner. They want greater interaction in industrial and commercial arenas and liberalising the bilateral trade. Recently, Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar even said that 'although the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved, it need not be the point of start. Let us start with the less complicated problems. We will deal with our differences in a different mode'.

From its past experience India should find it difficult to trust the Pakistani rulers because of their past betrayals. They broke almost all their promises made in the past. But their internal compulsions have now ostensibly lent credibility to their changed attitude towards India. The compulsions include the country’s unprecedented economic crisis, growing protests by the people against shortages, spiraling terrorist activities and the growing pressure from the US to firmly deal with the terrorists and normalise relations with India.

The above developments open up new opportunities for the Abdullah government and the mainstream political parties for establishing closer contacts with the state’s people in order to win their confidence and end the sense of alienation which a sizable population of the valley still nurses. The recent cabinet meeting held by the chief minister in a remote border village needs to be seen in this context. It was a welcome initiative particularly in the light of the reports of resignations under militants threats by some panchayat sarpanches and panches. The government will have to move fast to redress the grievances of the people expressed at such ground-level meetings and concern the basic amenities of life. It is also a godsend for the mainstream political parties as it would help them not only cement their contacts with the people but also broaden their support bases, a necessary perquisite for success in the elections due in three years.
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