February 2002 News

Kashmir: need for a policy shift

11 February 2002
Saifuddin Soz
The Hindu

Chennai: The Paradox of same politicians in the ruling elite wanting to tackle Kashmir militarily, while several top generals catagorically asserted on a number of occasions that Kashmir could be resolved best through political instrument is greatly puzzling. It is none's case that terrorism should not be fought with vigour. Who does not know that Kashmir has suffered all these years because of terrorism, mainly promoted through cross-border insurgency? But, then, how can the military approach of tackling the situation be justified in the absence of any worthwhile political initiatives.? It is unfortunate that the Government of India did not do anything in Kashmir for the past two years which could be rated as politically significant. The public perception that the intended negotiations through K.C. Pant have not fructified, in any manner, is now being realised at decision-making levels. Even the natural process of socio-political initiatives got blunted as the expertise gained by some of the most perceptive minds in the country, through their track II efforts, before Mr. Pant's arrival on the scene, was wasted as there was no mechanism to weave the inputs into the new scheme of things. This is not to suggest that Mr. Pant alone is to blame for the failure of the so-called Pant mission. He performed little because he was essentially doing an `extra job' in Kashmir But there is a silver lining which Delhi would be well-advised to take notice of and act. Inspite of the failure of his `ceasefire' initiatives the flak he faced because of Pakistan's sabotage of the Lahore declaration, the circumstances that led to the withdrawal of his Samjhauta Express', the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee's constituency based on his personal image in Kashmir remains safe. The ordinary Kashmiri perceives him as a man genuinely committed to peace and wanting to move beyond the `beaten track' to resolve the imbroglio. Meanwhile, the political scenario has undergone a tremendous change internationally, primarily because of civil society's most vigorous response to extremism. Terrorism has received a beating all around. The global psychology, so to say, has undergone a metamorphosis and the ranks of those who reject violence as an instrument of settling political issues has swelled beyond imagination. The unfortunate episode of September 11 was condemned by civil society universally as a heinous crime against humanity. The emergence of a new political dispensation in Afghanistan amid hopes for harmony, reconstruction and development affords a rare opportunity to its neighbours to participate in the great task of reconstruction and development. Fortunately, India's response to the emerging situation in Afghanistan has been positive. There is no doubt that the Afghanistan factor will have an impact on Kashmir and it will be manifest in many ways. So will the unfortunate attack on Parliament on December 13 and the people's response to it. Pervez Musharraf's bold speech of January 12, which will go down in history as a powerful counter-point to the clergy, in cultural and religious terms, will also impact on Kashmir. But the assessment of diverse factors shall have to be made in an objective manner. To my mind, the Government of India and the elements who enjoy considerable clout among the power elite did not take adequate notice of the fact that the Hurriyat Conference has been in the process of polarisation within for quite sometime. Not much notice was taken, for instance, of an incident of significance that occurred recently, when the APHC chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat, locked horns with the senior leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. In his retort to Mr. Geelani's objection to his offer of ceasefire, Prof. Bhat had remarked, "we have to respond to the realities on ground and I would urge the people and the leadership to keep their eyes open. I would also like to say that the leaders should not live in castles which do not exist anywhere." In the process of polarisation, important milestones were provided earlier by the senior APHC leader, Abdul Gani Lone, whose visit to Pakistan last year, apart from generating lot of heat and controversy, had brought fresh thinking to the APHC. It was on Pakistan soil that Mr. Lone had equated Pakistan and India in their bad behaviour with Kashmiris and he had categorically stated in PoK that people there were not even free to voice their grievances and that they enjoyed no real freedom. He made many more statements there that upset the Pakistan establishment. Then, he characterised Kashmir as a political rather than a religious issue. Many had thought that Mr. Lone would face turmoil on his return and the APHC would break. But nothing of the kind happened. The majority of the APHC's executive and the general council has unanimously stated that Kashmir is a political proposition and it will be resolved through political means. The polarisation on this issue is complete and this is a welcome development. It is inspite of my disagreement with the APHC executive's recent resolution on Kashmir, particularly its impractical demand for a separate election commission, that I consider it to be a significant `political resource' that can be sidelined or ignored only at a high cost to the healing process in Kashmir. This is, however, not to suggest that all that needs to be done has to be done by Delhi. The APHC would be well-advised to respond to the national and international situation, in full measure, and realise that dialogue is the only instrument available for resolution of the conflict. I think the moment for a definite and result-oriented dialogue on Kashmir has arrived. Alongside the APHC, one should also look forward to the possibility of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen transforming itself into a political outfit. On the APHC falls the crucial role of coordinating all the separatist elements, including leaders such as Shabir Shah and others. I, for one, would not like to take sides. The question as to how working relations between the APHC and the Hizb will shape and how the former will relate itself to the divergent statements of Mr. Geelani must be left to the so-called separatist conglomerate itself. The Government of India should be interested only in talking to the people of Jammu and Kashmir rather than worrying about intra-personal /party affiliations. There is quite a lot of noise going around on the question of organising credible elections in Kashmir. My perception is that first things should be allowed to be done first. An unfettered dialogue on Kashmir must be accepted as an imperative that cannot be delayed any more. The issues such as credible elections are, no doubt, significant, but these can be woven into the texture of a dialogue itself . The ball seems to be straightaway in the Centre's court and Mr. Vajpayee should know better how to move forward!


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