As an encounter raged between militants and security personnel in curfew-bound Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Monday unfurled the tricolour and asserted that guns were not the solution to the Kashmir crisis.
In her maiden Independence Day address, the state’s first woman chief minister also hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would complete the process started by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to address the issues.
Mehbooba’s comments came against the backdrop of more than a month-long unrest in the Valley triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. More than 50 people were killed and hundreds injured in violent clashes between security forces and civilians.
A youth from Tangmarg, Riyaz Ahmad (18) succumbed to injuries sustained during a clash last week, at Srinagar’s SKIMS hospital, taking the death toll in the ongoing crisis to 59.
In a strong speech, Mehbooba observed that while the entire country was celebrating Independence Day, Kashmir has been burning for more than a month, and asserted that guns – whether on the state’s side or in the militants’ hands – were not the solution.
“Kashmir is not that which fires the gun or takes to violence. Kashmir is paradise on Earth,” she said, and expressed pain at the many deaths and injuries caused in the recent clashes.
Even as she was speaking, an encounter raged between militants and security personnel in which a CRPF commandant and two militants were reportedly killed. Nine paramilitary troopers were also injured in the attack at Nowhatta here and have been shifted to a hospital.
In an embarrassing moment, the national tricolour fell off the post as Mehbooba was hoisting it at the Bakshi stadium here. Two personnel from the security detail of the chief minister held the flag in their hands till Mehbooba gave the ceremonial salute to the flag. Police has started an inquiry into the matter, sources said.
Several security personnel, in plainclothes, were among the attendees, which included ministers, government officials, PDP workers and police officers. NC and Congress leaders boycotted the function at Bakshi stadium, while a BJP spokesperson said that its members were participating in a separate function in Jammu.
In her speech, which was a mix of Urdu and Kashmiri, Mehbooba promised that security forces would be made accountable for the excesses committed by them. “Hum uska hisab lenge (we will make them accountable),” she said, while conceding that encounters are bound to happen when militants fire upon security forces.
Recalling the relationship between her father and former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Vajpayee and how the latter had tried to ease the sufferings of Kashmiris, she hoped that Modi would complete the process started by Vajpayee.
Referring to her Mufti Sayeed’s rule in 2002, she said top separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik were given a free hand to find solutions to the Kashmir conflict.
Stating that the problem was not between the people of Kashmir and India, Mehbooba blamed the political processes and the leadership in Delhi and Srinagar for the crisis.
“The problem is not between people of Jammu and Kashmir and people of India. It’s with the leadership,” she said.
“The biggest part of democracy is dialogue. We have resolved so many issues but why have we failed to take forward the dialogue process here? Where have made a mistake?”
Talking about the plight of children caught in conflict, the chief minister said they are being exploited by “vested interests” and made an emotional appeal to the youths not to be misled by those who want to keep the Valley burning.
She said her and her party has been taking efforts to remove any “fear” that the common Kashmiri has, whether it be of the militant’s gun, the crackdown, the “white gypsy” or a search operation.
Mehbooba also spoke about the improved relationship between the two Kashmirs – Pakistan occupied and India administered – and mentioned about an extended south Asian dream wherein countries like Nepal or Sri Lanka would contribute to the development of Kashmir.