The political narrative in Kashmir is changing but the backbone position remains unchanged: The issue needs to be solved peacefully. The level of protests in the Valley has come down not because of any credible political process but due to the harsh winters and the devastating floods in September last year. It is the people who have a stake in shaping the political fabric of the state, and the separatist leaders too can play a role in it. Since the 2008 mass protests, which broke out after the Amarnath land controversy, the perspective of the world towards Kashmir and its people has changed.
Every year the Pakistan High Commission invites separatist leaders of Kashmir to the Pakistan Day (March 23) celebrations. This year too, it was no different: Almost all prominent leaders were present at the reception hosted by Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit. But it seems that the Indian government did not approve of the special treatment that the separatist leaders got from Pakistan.
Back home in Kashmir, the Pakistan Day celebrations and the invitation to the separatist leaders have always been a point of discussion and debate among the youth. A common reaction that I have heard several times is: “They only go there for a good meal”. But the All Parties Hurriyat Conference is not just a monolithic block or even one ideology anymore. Things have changed over the years. SA Geelani has a view opposite to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik sees things differently too. Yet, the main reason why the Hurriyat is still relevant is this: There is no agency left in Kashmir that can give a sense of representation to the people of the state when it comes to dialogue.
Politics in Kashmir has been changing for years now. The visible change has been the political awakening of a new generation in the state. Every day, I meet young Kashmiris and listen to their views on politics and society. These days it is not surprising at all to hear the young talk about how and why the separatist leadership is becoming irrelevant for the common people with every passing day. The only reason that is keeping their identity alive is the absence of any other leading power in the Valley. On the ground, one can easily understand why an 18-year-old boy relates more to Masarat Alam than any other leader. As everywhere, in Kashmir, too the young people want things to move quickly. They abhor delays.
The long spell of dissatisfaction and periodical failures of the separatists to build pressure on Pakistan and India to solve the Kashmir issue have brought the youth to this point. There may be some good speakers and thinkers who would bluntly reject the emergence of such a shift but in Kashmir, experience has paid very little. People don’t feel satisfied by something that has been achieved years ago. The youth want change. This desire has led to major tectonic shifts in the ideological positions too. The fight of Kashmiris against India has been taken over by these young people who dislike the word “linger”. You can call them restless but when a person grows up in an open-air prison, the degree of restlessness increases day by day.
On the other hand, the PDP led by chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has a soft-separatist stand that minimises the role of unelected leadership. Even if the debate around the Kashmir’s solution has never seen the end of the tunnel, talks — mostly back channel — have never stopped. It is important to highlight that after forming the government, the Mufti, remained firm on his decision to include the separatists in the dialogue process. It is a smart move and was expected. The Mufti government’s also knows it very well that the youth are the centre now. The government’s new budget also has a large portion that focuses on the youth. The recent assembly elections didn’t see any major turnout of voters, as was reported in the media. But what is important is the acceptability of the new PDP-BJP government by the people. Reaching to this point where the state is run by the PDP-BJP government is something new. This has happened due to the same delay-politics to which the Kashmir issue remains clued to and India’s non-serious approach towards the dialogue process.
To solve the Kashmir issue, it is important for India and Pakistan to include the leadership of Kashmir into the fold. Taking a rigid position against Kashmiri leadership, even if their role is little, will be costly. On the streets, it is a high risk to use force against the population. As long as this void and the lingering of the issues continue, the region will slip more into a situation where it will be impossible to control things. Perhaps, at one point Pakistan’s role will see a downgrading too. The current situation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir is only making things worse for Kashmir, and the future is not bright. At the end, development cannot win hearts that have lost their right to live with dignity. Justice has to be done on all counts and that will lead to a possible solution of Kashmir.
For that, Hurriyat or other leaders from Kashmir have a role, as they are the ones willing to talk. You can’t have a dialogue with a mother waiting for her son’s return or a father whose son has just been shot.
Fahad Shah is editor, The Kashmir Walla magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal