Amidst anti-India and pro-freedom slogans, a 39,-member all party delegation led by Home Minister P Chidambaram wrapped up his three-day peace mission of Jammu and Kashmir. When the delegation arrived in Srinagar on first day, many of those who had not visited the place in recent past found it too haunting—a spooky place with no soul to see on the roads except few state government dignitaries and hoards of security personnel. The highlight of the visit was the first ever attempt of Indian Parliamentarians to reach out to Kashmiri separatists in full media glare.
As expected, none of the Kashmiri separatist leaders were ready to forgo their political bargaining power by accepting the talk offer of the delegation. To many, though, it may seem unexpected but insiders say that it was part of the plan as some Parliamentarians knocked the doors of the separatists.
The hardliner hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani, 82, did not went for shock when he had Sitaram Yechury-led five-member delegation, which called on him at his Hyderpora (Srinagar) residence as unexpected guests twice. The members also met moderates—All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front’s (JKLF) Yasin Malik in Srinagar and jailed president of the Jammu Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, Shabir Shah in Jammu.
While, enjoying thorough hospitality of separatists, the delegation did not have much of surprise with the blunt and predictable talk of pro-Pakistan Geelani, who outrightly told them that India’s presence in Kashmir was illegitimate. Talking to this correspondent on phone, the ailing octogenarian oozing bout of confidence said that although the delegation had come with a “limited agenda”, the members have agreed upon to consider his five conditions for talks with Indian Establishment.
“They have said that they will consider my five conditions and will also impress upon Indian government to act upon the same which can act as a bridge for a dialogue process for the resolution of Kashmir issue. Their is a limited agenda but our demand is nothing but right to self- determination,” he asserted.
The conditions included start of demilitarisation, revocation of special powers to armed forces, release of political prisoners, and guarantee from Prime Minister that no further killings or arrests will take place and conviction, under war crimes, of troopers and policemen involved in civilian killings.
And when asked what would be his instructions to his lieutenants spearheading protests for the past three months, he came out with one of his best known rhetoric, “We are not instigating any protests, it is the people of Kashmir who are fuming with anger against atrocities of Indian forces and want freedom and their right to live with dignity.”
While, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj claimed that all those who met separatists did not have the mandate of the 39-member delegation. “It (meeting with separatists) did not have the mandate and it was not discussed (yesterday)… That was their personal decision, not the decision of the delegation. If some people want to go, we cannot stop them. But we decided not to go,” she said.
But, as learnt by this correspondent from insiders that plan 2 was already in place. It was decided before hand that if separatists would not come forward for talks as it was almost certain that they wouldn’t, a team of Parliamentarians of political parties who don’t hold much relevance in state would outreach the separatists to give out signal that the peace mission is not a mere formality but New Delhi is serious in its approach.
Swaraj’s claim was publicly, however, countered by the assertions of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury and Ram Vilas Paswan that the teams enjoyed the confidence of the delegation. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah echoed them, saying the meetings were “part of a plan”. The peace mission was being touted as a “success” by some delegation members, especially by Sita Ram Yechury, who described the interaction with separatists as a “meaningful exercise”.
However, when the delegation left, it raised a ray of hope not only among the common people but also for the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who has been going through worst storm of his political career, which was on roller coaster for the past three months in particular. Omar Abdullah described the delegation’s visit a “significant step”. He hoped that there would be “movement forward” in addressing problems faced by the people in the Kashmir Valley.
KASHMIR IMBROGLIO EXPOSES
The Kashmir Valley has been burning for over three months now. The central and state governments have not been able to find a breakthrough on Kashmir issue so far. This way, the Kashmir issue may pose a threat to national integrity and security. The political inexperience of the young Chief Minister and his team of ministers has failed to handle the crisis in the Valley, which is one of the major factors prolonging the turmoil. This has also led to encouraging the anti-national elements who are calling the shots now. However, to solve the present Kashmir imbroglio, the central government is talking of initiating political dialogue with the people of Kashmir. But the question arises why talk only with the people of Kashmir Valley? I recently visited the refugee camps of the victims of flash floods in Leh, Ladakh. At least 103 people were killed and another 370 injured in flash floods triggered by torrential rains that struck Leh recently, leaving a trail of death and destruction. But I was distressed and pained to see that the people were living in abject miseries and wretchedness in those refugee camps. Therefore, the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Ladakh should also be taken into account and they should also be brought to the negotiating table.
A section of human rights activists and some political parties have been demanding scrapping of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Under pressure from these groups, the government is considering removing or amending some of the provisions in the Act which are considered ‘offensive’. The scrapping of this Act should never be carried out at any cost, as it will demoralise the Army personnel, who have been discharging their responsibilities with full vigour and zeal not only in maintaining law and order but also in combating and containing the curse of terrorism. As regards the autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, it is to be noted that the state already enjoys autonomy to an extent under Article 370, so there is no question of further autonomy. For, any move towards giving autonomy to Kashmir will encourage the separatists to demand freedom. Already these separatist elements shout slogans of ‘Pakistan zindabad’ and talk of merging Kashmir with Pakistan. All these people should be prosecuted under the charge of treason. The centre should take firm steps to quell the violence in the Valley.
Another matter of grave concern is deployment of military in Pak-occupied Kashmir. The central government should strongly rap Pakistan for this move of China in PoK. Pakistan should be told in unequivocal words that it is not treading the friendly path. What is more, China issues stapled visa to the people of J&K and Arunachal Pradesh. So India should resort to the policy of tit for tat. China should be told explicitly that if it issues stapled visa to the people of J&K and Arunachal Pradesh and consider these two states to be ‘disputed’, then India should also declare Tibet a “disputed” territory and people of Tibet should be issued stapled visa. Also India should reconsider its foreign policy on Vietnam as well as on South Korea to use them as buffer states against China. For, China has created two nuclear reactors in Pakistan cocking a snook to IAEA and Nuclear Suppliers Group. Hence, India should provide South Korea with nuclear technology know-how to counter China.
(Based on talk with Sonia Chawla)
By Rajinath Singh
After much appreciation of their Kashmir initiatives when the delegation arrived in Jammu, it met with anger and frustration about its action of fanning the separatist sentiments openly by visiting them. The delegation’s visit was marred by protests from BJP, Kashmiri Pandits and refugees of West Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir besides some unemployed youth organisations on initially being denied a meeting with the team “by the administration”. Later, the BJP, the main opposition party of Jammu, agreed to meet the delegation when the administration extended invitation to representatives of KPs, refugees and Jammu Sangarsh Samiti etc besides all three groups of Panun Kashmir.
The harshest reaction to some delegation members’ visit to the residence of separatist leaders in Kashmir yesterday came from the Bar Association, Jammu, which said some of the delegation members have brought “shame to entire India” by visiting the house of JKLF chairman Yasin Malik, who was the killer of five Indian Air Force (IAF) jawans in 1990.
However, with separatists on their agenda, a delegation also called on separatist leader Shabir Shah, who was undergoing treatment in Chopra Nursing Home of Government Medical College, Jammu after his detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA). Shah was fourth separatist leader, who was approached by a team of the delegation. The meeting lasted 30 minutes. Shah called for sustained dialogue with all stakeholders and putting an end to killings and arrests in the Valley. According to sources, Shabir Shah gave some suggestions to contain violence in the Kashmir Valley. However, the delegation members as well as Mr Shah declined to comment on the suggestions.
The Kashmiri group Panun Kashmir leaders Dr Agnishekhar and Dr Ajay Chrungoo also discussed the issue of genocide and separate homeland within Kashmir Valley with the delegation. Earlier both Chrungoo and Bhat had walked out from the meeting after Home Minister, P Chdiambaram refused to talk on homeland and issue of displaced youth. However on the intervention of Sushma Sawaraj, Sita Ram Yachuri and Principal Secretary Home Affairs that the duo were given separate time by the delegation to present their viewpoint. Chinks were clearly visible in two major coalition partners, the National Conference and the Congress, when latter openly opposed more autonomy to the state and withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in their meeting with the delegation.
Autonomy and partial withdrawal of AFSPA are being strongly advocated by the National Conference and were reiterated by the NC delegation that met the all party team here prior to the Congress leaders. The 17-member Congress delegation led by Mangat Ram Sharma, former deputy chief minister categorically opposed any more autonomy to the state saying there was already enough autonomy in the state in the form of Article 370 of the Constitution.
The Congress stand came as a major embarrassment for its ruling coalition partner, the National Conference which has been demanding restoration of autonomy and partial withdrawal of AFSPA from the state. Even today, the NC delegation from Jammu, which met the central team demanded restoration of autonomy to the state and partial withdrawal of AFSPA. The Congress maintained that accession of the state with India is final and supported unity of all three regions.
Official sources said majority members of the delegation have gathered an impression that while ‘azadi’ sentiment was high in Kashmir, there was a strong sentiment for India in Jammu. The people of Jammu were not anti-Kashmir but anti-separatists and militants, they added. They got a feeling that Jammu and Ladakh regions can’t be ignored while working out any solution to Kashmir problem. They got the view that Jammu and Kashmir regions were two different parts of the coin and their problems have to be addressed very carefully.
Meanwhile, as junior defence minister MM Pallam Raju has decried the ‘demonising’ of the army in Kashmir and ruled out an amendment in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. “The army was being made a ‘scapegoat’ and the AFSPA was a ‘necessary security blanket’ required to fight terror. The Indian Army is not responsible for the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley. Its presence has been helping the law and order situation,” Raju said in Delhi.
Now as New Delhi as formally and publicly-committed itself on Kashmir, it is to be seen how it balances the different aspirations of the three regions and how Kashmiri separatists who had brought normal life to standstill for three months act positively. Only coming days will dwell upon it.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu