India Considering General Amnesty For Kashmiris8 February 2010
New Delhi: India is planning a major confidence-building measure (CBM) in a bid to sooth the Kashmiris angered by the killing of youth in “unprovoked firing”, considering general amnesty for young Kashmiris and families who have crossed the Line of Control to settle in Muzaffarabad and elsewhere. India may take up the issue with Pakistan at the upcoming foreign secretary-level talks, to seek Islamabad’s cooperation in the verification and identification of such Kashmiris, according to sources. The target beneficiaries left Indian-held Kashmir either to “join militants” or save themselves from shelling and troops’ harassment. IHK Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has hinted at a scheme to encourage the return of militants from across the LoC to lead a normal life. He told a chief ministers’ conference in New Delhi that a new “surrender and rehabilitation policy” was under active consideration. A senior Indian Home Ministry official confirmed that work on such a policy was underway, and said security agencies – in consultation with the IHK government – were devising a mechanism for the return of militants and others who had crossed over in search of careers or “safe havens”. He said the step – recommended by the prime minister’s working group headed by Vice President Hamid Ansari and perused vigorously by the state government and Kashmiri politicians – would go a long way towards addressing the political dimension of issues affecting Jammu and Kashmir. “We have agreed in principle to devise a mechanism for their return. It could be a general amnesty. Safeguards would be put in place to avoid any negative consequence,” he said. “The process has already started ... former militants [have been known to] appear at the LoC with their families ... to surrender.” The Home Ministry official said the new scheme would help “institutionalise” such surrenders. The Indian Home Ministry believes that nearly 800-1,200 young Kashmiris were “stranded” in Muzaffarabad and other places. But state government officials believe the numbers could be higher. A surrender policy launched unilaterally by the Indian Army between 2005 and 2007 was abruptly withdrawn following arguments with the Home Ministry – which claims the policy was pulled out because a surrendering militant was found allegedly linked to an aborted attempt on the life of then prime minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. The ministry is now backing the establishment of an institutionalised mechanism that involves proper verification through the Uri-Chakoti crossing in Kashmir or the Chakkanbagh-Rawalkot crossing in Jammu, said the sources. The mechanism being discussed also includes prior verification of antecedents by Jammu and Kashmir police, the IB and RAW. Those seeking to return to IHK would be “quarantined” for at least a month for interrogation by agencies. They would also have to report to police stations every week. The sources said those marrying across the LoC would have to approach the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to come to India.