Kashmiri separatists Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Shah Geelani have little love lost for each other. They have a history of undercutting one another and jockeying for leadership of the separatist movement. Farooq and Yasin, both moderates, compete for influence in Srinagar but are united in their opposition to Geelani’s hardline positions that leave no space for a negotiated compromise on Jammu and Kashmir’s political status. When the three separatists strike a rare chord of unity, it is a sign of serious unrest and a signal for the Centre to pay attention to a developing situation in the Valley. The separatists came together this week to express their opposition to the J&K government’s reported plan to settle displaced Kashmiri Pandits and retired soldiers in exclusive colonies in Kashmir.
The plan proposes to give the Pandit community a chance to return to the Valley after they were forced to leave in the early 1990s by militants who targeted them. No one, including separatists, is opposed to the return of the Pandits. But creating exclusive enclaves for them is arguably not the way to go about this as there are less controversial options on offer for the Mehbooba Mufti government and the Centre to consider. The Pandit families cannot return to their old homes, because they either sold them in distress or they are have been occupied by others for years. But surely it is easier to create new mixed settlements — comprising Pandits, Kashmiri Muslims and other communities — and consciously foster a spirit of togetherness rather than create exclusive enclaves that consolidate distances between communities. Kashmiris deeply resent the vast presence of the army and paramilitary forces and the amount of land that the security forces control has been a contentious issue for years. This plan is bound to create more unrest and trouble.
This controversy comes after a series of incidents that have aggravated Kashmiris. Five civilians, including a promising cricketer, were killed in firing last month after a girl was allegedly molested by a soldier. The girl was in police custody for several days and accused the police of pressurising her to deny the assault and is now demanding an FIR against a senior police official. There have been allegations of fake encounters and militants struck again last week killing three policemen. All this undermines Ms Mufti who is already enduring hostility for continuing the alliance with the BJP. Kashmir needs a rounded policy approach, not a new polarising initiative.