J&K: Mr PM you failed to talk peace

26 Jun, 2013    ·   4013

Shujaat Bukhari on the factors responsible for Manmohan Singh's unsuccessful visit

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

After taking stock of the developments of Tuesday, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s sixth visit to Jammu and Kashmir was ill timed. On the face of it, the visit is to “celebrate” the completion of first and crucial part of the Qazigund-Jammu rail link and to give impetus to power generation by laying the foundation stone of 850 MW power project in Kishtwar.

So the agenda of the visit is purely development and people of Jammu and Kashmir should have been happy with what Dr Singh termed as “J & K being on path of progress”. Economic development is must for any place and in case of a conflict zone, it becomes inevitable as the losses are enormous.

Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Valley, has suffered immensely in last 21 years. It is an ordinary Kashmiri who knows what it means to lose a day of work, except for the government employees and those who have a vested interest in the conflict. By any stretch of imagination, Dr Singh’s “development oriented” visit should have been welcomed by all.

The irony, however, is that his visit has not only provoked the separatists to call for a shutdown but it also saw a militant comeback. Ahead of PM’s visit, the militants killed two policemen at the busy Hari Singh High Street in Srinagar before striking in a big way on Monday by attacking an Army convoy and killing eight soldiers, the highest number of casualties of Army in Srinagar in recent years.  The attacks took the security apparatus by surprise.

Not that the separatists are not in habit of calling for strikes, but this time they are more belligerent in dismissing every move of New Delhi in Kashmir. The strike, coupled with severe restrictions has evoked a complete response, again something different as the strike calls have been losing relevance in Kashmir for varied reasons.
There is more than one factor responsible for the hostile response to PM’s visit, not only from those who challenge the Indian rule in Kashmir, but from the general masses as well. He comes at a time when peace constituency has shrunk, dialogue both at the internal and external levels is stalled and the effort to reach out to the people at the political level is completely absent.

As pointed out by Rising Kashmir’s Faisul Yaseen, Dr Singh has a “bad CV” as far as his promises during the last five visits as PM are concerned. He talked about zero tolerance on human rights, but the incidents continued and justice eludes in most of the cases such as disappearances, mass graves etc. In fact the highly sensitive case of alleged mass rape in Kunan Poshpora in 1991 is again in focus after it was re-opened by a local court. After the dialogue between Government of India (GoI) and a faction of Hurriyat Conference as also JKLF’s Yasin Malik ended in a deadlock, Dr Singh moved in a different direction and called for Round Table Conferences in Srinagar and Delhi. They culminated in five Working Groups on different issues. From the recommendation to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to rehabilitate the families of militants, return of stranded youth in Pakistan Administered Kashmir to shoring up the economy, the WG output was a bagful of promises. However, minimal effort was put to implement the recommendations, thereby further eroding New Delhi’s credibility in the state.

The most crucial group on centre-state relations, though the mandate of the group was within the ambit of constitution and not touching upon the demand of separatists, is still in limbo as National Conference and Congress have their swords out. While NC favours autonomy, Congress does not budge from 1975 Accord, which again is a subject of discussion.

As the perceived normalcy made Delhi to believe that everything was hunkey-dory in Kashmir, they forgot everything, until the uprising in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The unfortunate cycle of violence claimed more than 200 lives, 120 in 2010 alone. They were all civilians killed by Police and CRPF. Then came the “proud announcement” of appointing three interlocutors. Their report was not only rubbished by the government but also disowned by Home Ministry, which had appointed them. Things moved on, Kashmiris did not attach any importance to that futile exercise. “Normalcy” was again restored and Delhi again went into the hibernation mode. On the other hand internal disturbances in Pakistan lend a blow to Indo-Pak dialogue track, thus relieving Delhi of additional “burden” of listening to Pakistan.

No doubt the “peace” of 2011 and 2012 in Kashmir was mostly because people wanted it, but the scars of the wounds of 2010 were still fresh. And then comes the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru. This gave a jolt to Kashmiris in general. They were deeply hurt as most of India seemingly “celebrated” his hanging with the feeling that it was “end of terrorism”. Not only did people react angrily to Afzal’s hanging, that has been a controversial case, but the militants too vowed to take the “revenge”. Whether the March attack on CRPF in Bemina was immediate fall out of February 9 incident, the violence returned to Kashmir, that too with a bang. What came to fore was the increasing involvement of educated class in the militancy? This amply made the apprehensions clear that the transition from violence to non-violence was proving to be short lived as the doors of reconciliation and dialogue at all levels were shut.

So when Dr Singh arrived here Tuesday he was blank on his home work on political front. Given the disillusionment and alienation that has increased manifold after 2010 and the hanging of Afzal earlier this year, the space for reaching out to any section of society has been shrinking.

The way Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been finding himself cornered on crucial issues such as AFSPA, the message is clear that there is limited scope for expectations for a political resolution to the problem in the given circumstances. His assertion that insurgency would be wiped out, obviously with reference to Monday's attack on Army, only places India in the category of a "hard state". Fighting insurgency is must for any nation to protect its sovereignty and in Jammu and Kashmir there are tens of thousands of troops to do that. What was expected at this stage was that Dr Singh would extend his hand for an emotional bond, which is need of the hour to heal the hurt psyche. But the recent attacks seem to have been weighing heavy on his mind and that is why he gave a miss to a political rope.

Dr Singh had earned a considerable goodwill on his previous visits to the state owing to his reconciliatory overtures. There was a visible effort to reach out to the aggrieved people of the valley. But this time around it seemed like the prime minister only reached out to the army and that concerns of civilian population were missing from the itinerary.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir