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Going round & roundtables

The roundtable between Kashmiri leaders and the Centre could have been the ideal platform to create a mass consensus against the cult of violence. A chance was squandered.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 00:26 IST

The idea of a roundtable on Kashmir had evoked keen interest in the Valley. But the lacklustre approach with which it was recently conducted and its outcome has not gone down well with the people of Kashmir. There is no denying that the Geelanis, Salahuddins, Andrabis, Lashkars and Jaishs will always oppose any move for rapprochement and reconciliation between Srinagar and New Delhi. They have their own reasons but they definitely do not represent the ‘majority’ in Kashmir. But the absence of the moderate separatists from the roundtable is puzzling. The way things have gone, even other Kashmiri leaders who have a considerable following feel dejected and left out. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Yaseen Malik and Sajjad Lone have all met the prime minister, defying the diktat of militants at considerable personal risk.

And what about leaders like Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti? Farooq is not a separatist, and Omar and Mehbooba never were. Why then did Farooq decline the invitation, terming it an exercise in futility? And when Omar does attend a meeting, why does he leave within an hour, registering his protest with the home minister about the non-formation of a high-power committee to discuss the subject of autonomy (agreed to by the home minister a good 13 months ago), and citing pending business?

The National Conference might be in the opposition today. But nobody can deny the sacrifices made by its cadre. Militants have killed more than a thousand NC workers, including MLAs and ministers. If the NC leadership feels frustrated, it speaks volumes about New Delhi’s poor understanding of the issues, its lack of sensitivity and the improper application of the mind by the organisers of such a high-profile event.

Militancy in Kashmir today is complex. It has a strong Pakistani factor where the import of arms and ammunition comes wrapped in thick sheets of ideology. The armed forces operating in Kashmir can take care of the man wielding the gun, but to expect them to tackle the ‘mind behind the gun’ is perhaps asking for too much. The mind is now a conditioned one; the conditioning taking place in the atmosphere of theological interpretations, chronic mistrust and human rights violations. What is being done today is the treatment of the symptoms, while ignoring the root causes for the sickness.

There is urgent need for a counter-ideological movement that has to de-legitimise the cult of violence in Kashmir. This movement is not going to emerge in a vacuum; it has to grow in a natural way.

The roundtable could have been an excellent platform to create mass consensus against the cult of violence. This beginning, if worked upon, can be converted into a movement. Mass mobilisation is not possible without a catalyst. But by ridiculing the moderate separatists, terming their non-participation as “their own loss”, the potential for a catalyst is being kept at bay. If non-participation of some groups is “their own loss”, then whose gain is it? It is nothing but a lose-lose situation for all.

The segment outside the electoral polity in Kashmir is by no means ‘minuscule’. Efforts to term it thus are an exercise in self-denial, showing complete disregard for ground realities. If Hurriyat leaders can meet the PM individually, why can’t the situation be made conducive for them to meet him in a group? Noises made at the roundtable described the Hurriyat as “a fringe”. And if the trouble in Kashmir is a fringe phenomenon, why then this façade of roundtables and dialogues?

The legitimacy of J&K’s present assembly is well acknowledged. Why isn’t the chief minister then not allowed to tackle this fringe element? Administrative mechanisms and political management has paid some dividends. But a semblance of steadiness is not peace. There is still a long way to go. It requires a genuine political process, not theatrics.

The Kashmiri today looks towards democratically mature and economically vibrant India as his ultimate destiny. But he has a legitimate grievance with New Delhi also. Unless and until the Kashmiris’ concerns are met with an equal degree towards reconciliation and rapprochement, he will remain sullen and indifferent. This will provide a fertile ground for the forces of destruction.

Let there be a concerted effort now. If there is a need for a dialogue, let it be a serious one. Let the Centre apply its mind to what it wants from the dialogue and what it can concede. Let there be some semblance of reality and a conscious effort not to take the people and their trust for granted. The opportunity in Kashmir today is a challenge for the leadership of the country. Let us hope the opportunities are not squandered again.

The writer is a former militant who now runs a Kashmiri NGO