Hold fast and keep the faith
Let Saturday’s violence not derail a Kashmir package. The timing is right.india Updated: Sep 12, 2010 21:32 IST
The violence unleashed in the form of protesters setting fire to Government of India symbols in Srinagar after Eid prayers on Saturday was not totally unexpected. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah wouldn’t have left instructions before flying off to Delhi that security forces should not open fire on the day of Eid otherwise. On the face of it, with government offices and police posts set ablaze, the task of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that meets today to forge out a strategy for Kashmir becomes that much harder. The plan for partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the release of detained protesters can seem at best, anachronistic, at worst, surrender to a violent minority. This shouldn’t be the case. The CCS has to stop missing the wood for the trees — the big picture for the incremental shows of challenge — and get a fix on Kashmir.
The prime minister’s statement that he would consider autonomy for the state within the ambit of the Constitution at an all-party meeting should be kept in mind. Strange as it may sound to many ears on both sides of the deepening divide, the timing, for once, is right to take ‘concrete steps’ that stop the hot-headedness that has enveloped the Valley. And from the government’s end of the deal, it must stand firm and stop causing the injuries and deaths even of provocative Kashmiris on the streets. Strategically, if not for anything else, there must be no fuel provided to the mobs from a statutory bullet. The government has shown signs regarding its willingness to talk to ‘hardliners’ like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. This is welcome considering the real ‘hardliners’ are faceless and lie beyond the pale of dialogue. Politics in Kashmir finds itself entering a vacuum — the ruling party barely present, the opposition People’s Democratic Party unnervingly quiet as if waiting for the right horse to bet on. In this growing vacuum, Mr Geelani may serve as a ‘least-worst’ option. At least he’s still there and still commands enough popular respect to be listened to — unlike Messrs Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik, who have themselves stated that they were unable to control the mobs that went violent after their speeches at Lal Chowk.
The task before New Delhi is not easy. But the last thing it should do is get rattled by Saturday’s provocations and change its intended Kashmir trajectory. The CCS should understand that timing of it presenting a Kashmir strategy is essential. The government should realise that it is dealing with the equivalent of an impending solar eclipse. The window of opportunity is, still, now.