Kashmir, not Baluchistan needs attention

By Shujaat Bukhari

In 2002 Jammu and Kashmir was trying to wriggle out from the violence that had overtaken it for over a decade. People wanted to breathe in a relatively non-violent atmosphere. Political discontent was at the core of the problem. National Conference government headed by Farooq Abdullah had a tough time in fighting the militants and was discredited for letting lose the reign of terror by Special Operations Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police, paramilitary forces and Army. Abdullah may not have been directly handling the security grid, but in such situations the blame comes on the local government that is disempowered to the extent that it hardly has any idea wherefrom the strings of that grid are pulled.

According to political pundits and security experts, Kashmir was in transition and it needed consolidation. But it was not in as bad a shape as it is today. An entire generation is on warpath and nearly 60 people have been killed since Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8. Kashmir is locked down for over 40 days now, probably the longest spell of curfew, situation on ground refuses to show even a semblance of normalcy. Political intervention is eluding and only the police and paramilitary forces have been left to deal with a very volatile young boy on the street who does not hide his intention to get killed. An interesting anecdote was narrated to me by a friend who intends to proceed on Haj this year. As a custom he visited his village in Handwara in north Kashmir. Since groups of young boys are manning the roads, they were stopped and asked about the reason for travel during the night. As the couple mentioned that they have to go on Haj and wanted to seek permission and blessings from family and friends, the boys pleaded to prospective Hajis to pray for them. Wait a second… the prayer was not the usual one about health and the prosperity but it was like this “please pray in Makkah that we all embrace Shahadat in the cause of freedom of Kashmir”. And they were not militants. They are fighting the forces with stones only.

VAJPAYEE AND MODI

With this intensity of the unrest on ground, the situation is well explained. It has no comparison with 2002. But when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke to nation from the ramparts of Red Fort, he certainly chose to condemn terrorism and asked Pakistan to desist from aiding and abetting it. He, however, had a message for people of Jammu and Kashmir. He showed empathy for them, talked about dialogue and reconciliation. Assuring people that his government would try to undo the past mistakes, Vajpayee said: “the process of peace and democracy has now arrived at a decisive turn in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been grappling with terrorism. Elections are going to take place in the State. The dates have already been announced. I am confident that these elections will be fully free and fair. No one need have any doubts on this score”.  Major portion of his speech was devoted to Kashmir, though it was not burning the way it is today.

Look at the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke from the same podium. Only a week back, that was seventh time since 2013, he invoked Vajpayee’s expressions of “Jamhuriyat, Insaniyat and Kashmiriyat” to deal with Kashmir. But in two years of his rule he has not moved an inch towards that direction.  And when he spoke to nation on August 15, he did not even mention the word Kashmir that is locked down in curfew, where so many deaths have taken place, where there is a communication blockade and where the normal life has come to a grinding halt. He made a reference to “misguided youth” probably militants but by government’s own account their number is not more than 150. He instead talked about Baluchistan and the other side of Kashmir that is under Pakistani control. Human rights violations in those parts became the theme of his Red Fort speech but not the pellet injuries with which scores of young boys and girls would live in Kashmir for rest of their life. A political approach that would in real sense follow Vajpayee’s legacy could have helped a breakthrough in Kashmir. Diverting the attention from the trouble that is shadowing Kashmir won’t help wounds to heal nor would it in any way help the state government to overcome the challenge. Mentioning Baluchistan and other Kashmir could be a tactical move of diplomacy but that is not what is needed to approach today’s Kashmir. It has now been made hostage to Baluchistan, which according to major opposition party Congress is internal matter of Pakistan. One is reminded of hue and cry over the mere mention of Baluchistan in the talks between then Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gillani. Singh was literally condemned and he had to renege from that. BJP called it Sharm el Sheikh shame but by including Bauchistan in the blistering attack on Pakistan, PM Modi has made the interests clear that would help Pakistan to make a case at international level. This heightened war of words between the two countries is detrimental to any forward movement on Kashmir.

MEHBOOBA’S SIDE TRACK

In contrast to what PM Modi said at Red Fort, the distance between Srinagar and Delhi was clear. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who runs the coalition government with Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party in Jammu and Kashmir, talked about the sufferings of people of Kashmir. She called upon leadership of both India and Pakistan to evolve a mechanism to open free trade zones and more road links between the divided parts of Jammu and Kashmir.  Mehbooba’s helplessness was writ large on her face while addressing the Independence Day function at the highly fortified Bakhshi Stadium in Srinagar. Though she repeated that youth were being exploited by certain elements, but her political tone was evident. Once a vibrant politician who would take risks to mingle with the crowds, she has lost Delhi’s cushion to further her late father’s legacy of “Healing Touch” policy. Difference of opinion vis-à-vis handling Kashmir between the two coalition partners was clear when the two leaders spoke at Delhi and Srinagar. The alliance has been left to the governance and the political idiom that seemed to be at its core, when Mufti Sayeed went against the tide to do it in 2015, is missing. Today Kashmir is politically volatile and it demands a political approach. By opening the new fronts with Pakistan and ignoring the contemporary political reality here, New Delhi is adding to provocations in Kashmir. After all caging seven million people among whom there are young who have desire to be “martyrs” needs an explanation not a cover up.

The writer can be reached at shujaat7867@gmail.com

[Courtesy: Rising Kashmir]

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