Vajpayee's Kashmir Visit : An Assessment
11 September 2003
The Daily Excelsior
Maj Gen V K Madhok (retired)
Jammu: Following Chief Ministers (CMs) of Congress ruled states meeting under Sonia Gandhi in Kashmir towards the end of May 2003, Vajpayee has not been far behind to take a cue and to have held a meeting of all CMs in Srinagar from Aug 27-29, 2003. Apparently, to discuss some issues concerning Sarkaria Commission report regarding Centre- State relationship. But it was speculated that the PM would also tackle questions and problems concerning J&K. Atleast that was the impression given by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, CM of J&K. Who had even recommended that the separatist leaders like of Hizbul Mujahideen should be included in the talks by the Centre. Therefore it is worth the while to size up Vajpayee's visit and his statements concerning Kashmir. Also, to spell out the situation as it prevailed at the time of his visit ? Scrutinise the views expressed by leaders of different political parties in J&K prior to the visit? Finally, what has been achieved? And what does the future augur for this strife torn State? An explosive-in fact a grim, uneasy and unpredictable situation prevailed during the visit. There was a near hartal in Kashmir and the adjoining areas. Approximately 3000 policemen were deployed for protection of the venue of meeting. A major bomb blast took place in Mumbai on Aug 27, 2003. While on the same day of the meeting, militants launched an attack on the highly gaurded telecommunication exchange within two hours of PM's announcement that he was prepared to talk to those who did not believe in violance. As regards the views: Mufti's Healing Touch policy has come in for some criticism. In sum, he advocates free interaction across the LoC between Kashmir and PoK. And strongly recommends that the past be forgotten. That a fresh beginning be made. And the people accorded more freedom. In fact he is sure that this philosophy was already working. Wherein there was a spurt in tourism. People were coming out more freely with decreased militancy. He had also proposed that roads Srinagar-Rawalpindi and Jammu-Suchetgarh be opened to allow free travel and access between hostile neighbours. But Omar Abdullah, the Chairman of National Conference strongly opposed these views. According to him, the present Feel Good atmosphere was a facade. If the Government became callous or complascent, another Kargil could take place. Further, hardly any development had taken place in rural areas where the villagers are still deprived of electricity, dont have roads, schools or hospitals. In addition, talks could be held only if there was a cease fire. And Mufti was not in a position to ensure this. Concurrently, leader of the People's Conference Sajjad Lone- son of the slain leader Abdul Gani Lone, who intends to float a new political outfit and is a hardliner, was of the view that, with 80,000 people dead since 1989, how can one forget the past? That he wont mind if people took to the gun should negotiations fail. He continues to advocate self determination and independence. A strong view is that how could Mufti make proposals like free interaction and opening of roads? Is he gullible, childish or in league with the militants? Should the separatists be treated as friends? Or the CM should concentrate on removing the causes of discontent amongst the general public? Has Mufti forgotten that militants had achieved three consecutive successes in J&K in the last three months. That is: at Sunjawan on June 28, 2003 (11 killed and 23 injured, at Vaishno Devi on Jul 21, 2003 (7 killed and 40 injured) and at Tanda near Akhnoor on Jul 22,2003 (one Brigadier killed some Generals injured and some jawans killed and injured). And all this prior to PMs visit. It is worth noting that besides stating that the Kashmir was the core issue and Pakistan would continue to offer political and moral support, Islamabad has labelled militancy in J&K as a indigenous uprising. It has also approached the UNO charging India with using coercive means. And has proposed that UNO should urge India to start a composite dialogue and agree to a cease fire at the LoC. While New Delhi wont budge from its stand that Pakistan must stop cross border terrorism before the talks can be held. However, the silver lining is that there is a noticable inclination if not a shift, that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved bilateraly instead of demanding third party mediation. While New Delhi is not averse to holding talks with the separatists. Under these circumstances, with regular exchange of fire along the 800 Kms long LoC, seven odd lac Indian security forces deployed in the State, frequent militant incidents, conflicting views of political parties and those of interloculators, it was expected that Vajpayee was not in a position to make any announcement regarding direct talks with Pakistan at the PM's level till cross border infiltration had ceased. Although Track 2 diplomacy could pick up momentum. And there was a chance that the PM might agree to sending a prominent citizen's delegation by road from Srinagar to Islamabad instead of declaring the roads open. Also, that a substantial aid package may be announced. But except for financial aid no major announcement concerning resolvement of J&K problem has taken place. Finally, the Future: Kashmir continues to remain a hostage to absence of a well articulated policy on J&K by the Centre besides sub standard governance within the State, a reactive doctrine by the security forces, indifference by the people of India and to a well thought out aggressive support to the proxy war by Pakistan. Welfare projects like operations Sadhbhavna, Sangam and Maitri to develop good will undertaken by the Army wont carry us far. They only detract the Army from its main task of defending J&K. If the Army does not hand these over to the civil, it could again face another embarrassing situation like Kargil or Hill Kaka. If we are serious about solving the J&K problem than besides rectifying what has been mentioned above, Vajpayee should in the first instance, take a bold step to meet Musharraf in No Man's Land or in a 3rd country, to clearly define India's position before taking convenient or inconvenient initiatives!