Omar Abdullah Cuts Loose, Tells Pakistan To Let Kashmir And Kashmiris Be

Omar Abdullah Cuts Loose, Tells Pakistan To Let Kashmir And Kashmiris Be

14 April 2013
India Today
Sandeep Bamzai

Srinagar: Omar Abdullah says he has aged 10 years in the three-anda-half that he has been chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. At 43, Abdullah has a grey head but hasn't forgotten how to have a good laugh. 'I'm not the same person I was in 2009,' he says with a sardonic smile. At ease in a Pathani suit, Abdullah takes a sip of Kashmiri kehva as he leans back in his chair. But the message is stern: 'Pakistan has a habit of looking into the past; they are convulsed with the unfinished agenda of 1947 and 1971. Kashmir cannot be their revenge for the dismemberment of East Pakistan in 1971. They are caught in a time and emotional warp. They need to emerge from this and let Kashmiris and Kashmir be. Kashmiris have realised that Pakistan is not an option, but they too seek respect from India.' 'PAK UNDERMINES KASHMIR' Abdullah reckons that the world has moved on, as India has, but Pakistan seems to be underestimating the role of Kashmiris and the state's own administration in changing the situation. Omar's comments come at a critical time: Pakistan is in the middle of a historic election, and the United States is on the verge of massive troop withdrawal from neighbouring Afghanistan. History has shown, says Abdullah, that whenever there is an internal crisis in Pakistan, it uses Kashmir as a diversionary tactic. Aware of all these imponderables, Abdullah says Kashmir -and he -need to be watchful. 'We will have to be wary of the threat emanating from across the border during this period.' After the peace and tranquility of 2012 when 13 lakh tourists visited the Valley, Afzal Guru's hanging and the stern security clampdown in its aftermath which saw five people dying has set the clock back somewhat. Aware of the criticality of the Guru hanging and its impact on Kashmir, Omar believes the worst is over. Contrary to popular perception, he accepts that the Army will always have a role to play in Kashmir. He has an important caveat, however. 'It is undeniable that Kashmir shares its borders with two nations -Pakistan and China -both of which we have gone to war with in the past. The key is that the Army needs to maintain an eternal vigil and focus. But do you need an Army apparatus with an internal focus? No, I don't think so.'As he enters election mode (Jammu and Kashmir is to elect a new Assembly in 2014), Abdullah is candid. 'It has not been easy, for there were some very rough days and months. I can't be entirely satisfied but I must confess that if 2012 was the best year in over 20 years of bloodletting, it is because the state administration was able to take full advantage of the assistance provided by the Government of India. I must add that we don't get enough credit for the work done by us.' UNEMPLOYMENT The issues remain though, right there on the frontburner, and in your face. As many as five lakh people remain unemployed, one of the single biggest impediments. Abdullah believes that the youth of Kashmir find themselves caught in a classic rock and hard place type of situation. As they weigh their options, they wrestle between political and economic aspirations. He says, 'I constantly meet and talk to the youth at different fora and platforms. They don't want to be held hostage to this dilemma. Their thinking is predicated on a subliminal thought process -if we are part of India, will we be allowed to soak up the economic opportunity that India is throwing up; why are we divorced from the IT and services revolution that India is awash in? Why should our employment opportunities be viewed only from the prism of a government job? Top of mind is the fact that if the land and its people are an integral part of India, then why are they viewed with suspicion when they descend from the hills to the plains?'There is another facet to this discourse that lurks in Abdullah's mind. This is the political part of Kashmir's journey. He says, 'Even as they want to integrate with the larger fabric of India, there are those who aspire for freedom or linkages with Pakistan.'Though, as Abdullah himself acknowledges, the latter is receding rapidly because of the Internet and television. Abdullah has seen the travails and tribulations of being Kashmir's chief minister up close and personal. He has weathered the intifada-type protest movement of 2010. The agitation of 2008 is also fresh in his memory. And when 100 people die in law and order protests, the hot seat becomes unbearable. He believes that the 2010 stonepelting movement was carried out in a strategised and calibrated manner. It was ratcheted up to coincide with US President Barack Obama's visit to India and conducted in a manner that it would peak to a crescendo. Unfortunately, despite its careful planning, it failed to attain its objective which was to draw a reaction from the US administration. He says, 'The next two years have seen a growing constituency for peace and tranquility.'When one talks of Centre-state relations, Kashmir is a conundrum that no one has been able to get closure on. 'Often times it is less of what the Centre does and more about what they say that creates complications. In 2010 for instance, I left the issue of curfew to the district administration, and the Union home secretary landed in Srinagar announcing that curfew will be lifted. This is what changes perception. This is what leads common people to believe that Delhi is running Kashmir. Give us advice, we welcome it, but don't do it publicly, let me remind everyone that strings aren't pulled from Delhi anymore. Kashmir of today is different from the Kashmir of 1990s, it carries the voice of its people,'says the chief minister. OPEN DIALOGUE The way forward, according to Abdullah, is an all-encompassing dialogue of openness that is not built on mistrust. The starting point of this resolution which provides autonomy to Kashmir will have to be from the pre-1953 framework when Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed autonomy in all central and concurrent subjects listed in the Constitution except defence, foreign affairs and communications. Omar Abdullah says: 'The 2010 agitation virtually died as soon as Obama left India. The separatists kept the pot boiling in Kashmir with deliberate intent that year. The idea was to get Obama to say something on Kashmir, but he did not. Instead, the US administration said that India and Pakistan need to bilaterally resolve the issue. The people found out that the separatists had led everyone up the garden path; it was a no-brainer that sucked the life out of the Valley. I must confess the army is seen for what it is. No amount of sadbhavna can make you forget incidents like Pathribal which are open wounds. Yes, the army is required, but there are areas from where they can withdraw. At the outer limits of the concentric ring, they are very much needed to secure our borders, but their presence is not necessary in the interiors now. The Afghan pullout is overplayed. I don't see a reversal in the security environment, I see a good summer ahead of us. Let us understand that our security apparatus is not worth nothing. The lion's share in this environment is the state administration's doing. Yes, the Afzal Guru hanging decelerated the process, but I am confident about the future.'