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Last chance in Kashmir

It’s time for a bold decision by the Centre as Kashmir is sliding into a state of uncertainty and hopelessness. A beginning can be made by accepting an unpalatable truth about the place and the people that they need a way out of the current vortex of violence, which is worsening with every passing day, writes Arun Joshi.

india Updated: Sep 15, 2010 11:37 IST
Arun Joshi

It’s time for a bold decision by the Centre as Kashmir is sliding into a state of uncertainty and hopelessness. A beginning can be made by accepting an unpalatable truth about the place and the people that they need a way out of the current vortex of violence, which is worsening with every passing day. “The people are asking for recognition of their pain and suffering and a response that shows them light at the end of the tunnel. That light has to come from the Centre,” said Mehbooba Mufti, president of the People’s Democratic Party, the principal opposition party in the state.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Monday gave them a feeling of this when it spoke of “trust deficit” and “governance deficit” in Kashmir. “It is not the unrest of the past three months that is at the heart of the problem. I dismiss this; the situation had started drifting when Bomai happened,” she said.

In February last year, soldiers shot dead two civilians in Bomai, Sopore.

Stone throwing started in April last year and picked up intensity in January this year. But Chief Minister Omar Abdullah continued to insist that the problem was “confined to four-five police stations”, until it blew up across the Valley in July.

New Delhi made all efforts to make the chief minister and his government a success. It was liberal with funding and gave him the forces he asked for containing the situation. It gently nudged him to “reach out to the people” and deliver, but he failed and things came to such a pass that even normal developmental activity has come to a standstill.

What happened on Eid-ul-Fitr (September 11) gave a picture of his way of dealing with an explosive situation. He had told the media on landing in New Delhi that he had granted permission to moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to hold a march from Eidgah to Lal Chowk, overruling suggestions to the contrary from his police officers.

But the Mirwaiz said: “I never spoke to Omar Abdullah. How could we expect him to give us permission to take out a protest march when he did not allow us to offer prayers at Jamia Masjid for six consecutive Fridays?”

Abdullah blamed the Mirwaiz for “the violence and arson in Srinagar”, saying that the separatist leader had no control over the people. The Mirwaiz has replied by saying the chief minister was “trying to distort the whole thing …”

After offering Eid prayers at the shrine of Syed Yaqoob Sahib, Sonwar, Omar Abdullah flew to New Delhi on Saturday, where he stayed till Monday, while the Valley was burning with protestors having taken control of the streets.

With the situation being what it is, New Delhi will have to start all over again. This time it will have to ensure that there is connectivity with the people and their grievances are addressed at all levels.

An all-party meeting is a good idea, but the people who have gained a profile need to be spoken to first. One name that is mentioned time and again is that of hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

“But where is an opening?” asks Geelani, who has laid down five conditions for changing the course of the “Quit Kashmir” movement, which since June has gained momentum.

“There is a deafening silence on our conditions, and unless those conditions are met with, there is no chance of our responding to anything. What the CCS has said is of no meaning to us,” he told HT on the phone on Tuesday, a day after the Valley saw one of the worst days of violence in the past 20 years. With more than 86 deaths in the Valley and the crippling of normal life for the past three months, the people want an end to all this. “ It is time New Delhi saw things as they were,” Mehbooba Mufti says. “The cosmetic measures are symbolic gestures that will not work. It is time for action,” she insists. The security forces, which have lost more than 5,000 of their men in the past 20 years and are at the receiving end in the political diction of Kashmiri leaders, feel that their work is being undermined. “The whole thing has to be seen in the context of what has been gained and what would be lost with certain measures,” a senior officer of a paramilitary force told HT on anonymity.

Now the talk of selective withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or its amendment, appears to be “diversionary tactics”. The withdrawal of the armed forces and their special powers has to be meaningful.

“How will it affect the ground situation if the forces exercise their special powers (in some places) and (the Act) is withdrawn from Jammu, Samba, Srinagar or Budgam, where there is hardly any visibility of the Army?” asks Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. “New Delhi should not be afraid of talking of the Kashmir solution.”

Escalating trouble

June 11: Young boy Tufail Mattoo dies, and the state fails to act against the police and a cycle of violence, which started in April last year, picks up. To date it has claimed 86 lives.

June 27: The state government blames CRPF for the mess in Sopore, ignoring the fact that the force worked under command and control of the government.

July 7: Army called out in Srinagar for the first time after 1992.

August 5: Omar heckled at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.

August 15: A suspended policeman throws a shoe at Omar at Independence Day function at Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar.

September 13: Cabinet Committee on Security speaks of governance deficit in J&K.