Prospects Of Peace In Jammu And Kashmir Brighten
25 December 2004
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Hopes of peace dawned on the insurgency-torn Jammu and Kashmir in 2004 after 15 years of bloodshed and despair following initiation of dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir problem hanging fire for nearly six decades. Prospects of peace brightened further when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced de-induction of troops in the state. The scenario in the state underwent a dramatic change in January this year following a joint declaration in Islamabad by India and Pakistan agreeing to hold a composite dialogue on eight issues including Kashmir. For finding a solution to the internal dimension of the problem, the Centre engaged separatists in talks but the change of government at the Centre somewhat slowed the progress on this front and the separatists insisted they be allowed to visit Pakistan to meet its leaders and militant leadership there for broader consensus. For the first time government allowed separatists from Kashmir to meet leaders of Pakistan occupied Kashmir in Kathmandu to exchange views and make a beginning towards resolution of the problem. The year saw a discernible change in the mood of the people as also important positive developments on diplomatic, political and development fronts in Jammu and Kashmir and continuing of ceasefire on borders much to the relief of people residing in border areas. However there have been selective killings by militants who chose targets for maximum impact. These included the killing of Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmed, uncle of Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Pir Hissamuddin, political advisor of chairman of breakaway Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani and former minister and National Conference leader Safer Ali Beg. These incidents as also presence of hardcore militants in some pockets of rural areas of Anantnag and Pulwama districts in south, Kupwara and Baramulla in north Kashmir and Rajouri, Poonch and Doda in Jammu ensured that the sense of insecurity persists, even though to a lesser degree. Officials maintained that the year witnessed lowest incidents of militant violence. Similarly abduction, random arrests and enforced disappearances also decreased considerably. However, Opposition National Conference contested the claim and held demonstrations against what it alleged growing incidents of human rights violations. On the march towards normalcy, the year saw, for the first time in 15 years, arrival of nearly three lakh tourists, both domestic and foreigners, to the state, bringing smiles back on the faces of a large chunk of population eking out their livelihood from tourism. In addition, a record number of four lakh pilgrims from all parts of the country and abroad visited Amarnath shrine in south Kashmir this year. The yatra, which was extended for the first time to two months, was completed peacefully. On the political front, 2004 was the year of reaffirmation of democratic process by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In the parliamentary elections, people ignored the poll boycott calls of separatists and turned out in large numbers to exercise their franchise. About 40 per cent of the electorate voted which was highest after the eruption of militancy in the state in 1989. While Congress retained three of the six seats from the state, PDP made a maiden entry into Parliament when its president Mehbooba Mufti made it from Anantnag parliamentary constituency. National Conference took two seats retaining Srinagar and Baramulla. However, in the by-polls the PDP-Congress combination which wrested power from national conference in 2002 Assembly elections, maintained their supremacy by winning all the four seats, two each by the PDP and the Congress. The former won Pahalgam and Batmaloo seats paving way for Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to enter the state Assembly after a gap of 17 years. It was Mufti's first win in five attempts from Kashmir valley. Congress retained Akhnoor and Basholi seats giving a clean sweep to the coalition patners in the state. Manmohan Singh visited Kashmir as the first Congress Prime Minister in 17 years and announced a Rs 24,000 crore plan for reconstruction and development for the state. The plans includes improvement of Srinagar-Uri road which ultimately connects Srinagar with Muzaffarabad in PoK. The demand for opening of the road has wide support in and outside the state. For the first time, a group of 18 Pakistani scribes visited Jammu and Kashmir and saw the people move around totally relaxed, business centres hum with activity till late in the evening, picnic and tourist spots full of life, political leaders addressing public meeting all over and fewer bunkers and lesser presence of security personnel. The moribund Jammu and Kashmir police has been strengthened and is gradually taking over major cities from the security forces. To modernise the police, the government is providing to it sophisticated weaponary, greater mobility and better communication facilities. The Chief Minister said his government was considering to replace paramilitary forces from the cities and towns with police. The number of bunkers in cities which is a major hurdle in the smooth traffic movement would also be reduced. He said massive combing and search operations were a matter of past. As the ground intelligence started picking up, well targetted operations were being planned. Incidents of militancy declined by 50-60 per cent and killings by 60 per cent this year. The incidents of arson have down by 60 per cent and civilian killings by 50 per cent. While pressure on the militants is being maintained, possible harassment of innocent civilians were minimised to a large extent. This speaks volumes of the changing situation in Kashmir, the Chief Minister said. To motivate the disillusioned militants to return to the mainstream the government formulated a new surrender policy which envisaged their rehabilitation. About revival of democratic institutions, Sayeed said panchayat and civic bodies elections would be held within two months.