Kashmir: Can Consensus Survive Terror?
3 June 2004
The Times of India
New Delhi: How will the 'national consensus' on the talks with separatists in Jammu and Kashmir and the peace process with Pakistan fare after the change of government at the Centre? For the record, everybody agrees that it will. The new government has lost no time in retaining NN Vohra as the interlocutor to talk to the separatists. Even Islamabad has initially sent out signals that are mixed but not necessarily hostile. However, everyone is keeping the fingers crossed after the spurt in violence, both against the Ansari-Mirwaiz group of the All Party Hurriyat Conference and against the security forces since the Manmohan Singh government took office. Maulvi Iftikhar Ansari and the Mirwaiz of Anantnag have come under violent attacks for having joined the talks. These attacks have had an impact on their reaction to the Centre's move. After meeting the PM and home minister Shivraj Patil, state Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed on Thursday pointed out that two rounds of talks with Hurriyat leaders which took place when the Vajpayee government was in office, were the result of close co-operation and understanding between his People's Democratic Party (PDP), its alliance partner at the state level, the Congress, and the BJP which held the reins at the Centre. 'This must continue if we are to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all and bring peace and normalcy, not only in the state, but in the South Asian region,' Mufti told TNN. Mufti did not say so, but the apprehension among political circles is that the BJP, now in the opposition, while taking credit for initiating the dialogue but goaded by the Sangh Parivar, may adopt a hard line and oppose any understanding as a 'sell out'. It is also possible, on the other hand, that the Congress, that has traditionally adopted a hard line against the separatist groups, as also with Pakistan when it comes to cross-border infiltration, may revert to it in reaction to Islamabad's shenanigans on the Kashmir issue. Hurriyat Conference, the conglomerate that is the principal voice of the separatists, remains a divided house with the hardline pro-Pakistan faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani opposing any talks. The CM, however, noted that the overall impact of the reflexes shown by the new government was positive and the dialogue must continue. He was happy on the human rights front, an issue that determines much of the understanding on the Kashmir issue within the state and in the world capitals. 'There is a change in spirit since this government has come. There has been action even on minor incidents.' But he laced this observation with a warning: 'Wherever excess takes place, be it the security forces, the police or custodial deaths, we will not tolerate them.' To remove the information gap about the Kashmir issue, Mufti advocated that restrictions on Pakistani visitors intending to see his state must be relaxed. 'Let them come and see. That will solve half the problem.'