When It Comes To Kashmir, Doing Nothing Is Not An Option

When It Comes To Kashmir, Doing Nothing Is Not An Option

17 June 2013
Daily Mail
A.S. Dulat

New Delhi: The other day a senior Kashmiri leader said in Srinagar that anything is possible in politics. In Kashmir, everything is possible because Kashmiris believe that Delhi decides everything; sadly we do nothing. Elections in J&K next year offer another opportunity. 'Azadi', self rule, autonomy, dialogue have all failed. The electoral process is still acceptable business in Kashmir. It may be an easier option and the only way forward for the separatists. The turnout in the Panchayat elections in 2011 was a record; almost a plebiscite undettered by the assassination of Maulana Showkat a few days earlier. We must ensure a level-playing field for every political party and the fairest election in 2014. Soft power, not suppression or skulduggery, has been our strength in Kashmir. The mainstream parties are already in election mode. The separatists cannot afford to lag too far behind, no matter what Pakistan wants. They should not forget that even the Plebiscite Front had to ultimately strike a balance between emotionalism and realism, surrendering meekly in 1975 after spending 22 years in political wilderness. Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq, the most influential and acceptable face among separatists, needs to decide whether he wants to remain 'Pope' for life or has political ambitions and would like to be Chief Minister one day. He has, perhaps, unfairly carried the burden of being pro Pakistan for too long. Having lost his father to terrorism at a very young age, Maulvi Umar has remained in denial ever since. In contrast, Sajad Lone pointed straightaway to his father's killers. Consequently, it has been easier for Sajad than Umar to join the democratic process and get mainstreamed. As for the others, they spend most of the time bickering and running down each other. Even Delhi's one-time favourite Shabir Shah appears to have lost the 'needle & thread' with which he had set out to find peace in 1994. The Che Guevara of Kashmir is lost in a world of his own, scrapping with everybody. Sajad Lone said recently that winds of change were blowing across Kashmir and it was time for Kashmiris to dream beyond the political and economic limits designed by the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party. He even claimed that the People's Conference would demolish the NC in Kupwara district in 2014. Brave words. Whatever their compulsions, 2014 has to be now or never for separatists with political aspirations. Another boycott would suit the mainstream to a T, leaving the field open to the two regional parties, no matter the tall claim of the Congress. The situation, somewhat like the rest of the country, warrants a Third Front in Kashmir which could be its political conscience-keeper. Meanwhile, the political rumour mill has been rife in Srinagar, projecting every conceivable permutation-combination for 2014. The Congress, which Saifuddin Soz claims will emerge as the single largest party, is said to be gravitating towards the PDP in keeping with the PCC chief's personal preference. Reacting to the suggestion, senior NC leaders, the Chief Minister apart, miss no opportunity in having a dig not only at the PDP but at the Congress as well. Ideally the Congress should stay out of Kashmir leaving it to the NC and PDP to slug it out between themselves. But for the cussedness of the leadership, the two parties may even join together. To counter talk of the PDP-Congress coalition the NC has touted the idea of a double (Omar-Umar) accord, a consummation devoutly to be wished but already rejected by the Mirwaiz. Considering that Maulvi Umar has a substantial following in downtown Srinagar in Khanyar, Zadibal and Idgah constituencies, he should seriously consider the benefits of a presence in the assembly even if necessary via proxies. National Conference remains the only true regional party in J&K with ground- level support in all three regions but anti-incumbency may trouble Omar in 2014. For the present the situation is well under control in the state except for disquieting reports of increased radicalism. In the last few years, Wahabi preachers motivated by Saudi petro dollars have spread across Kashmir disparaging traditional Sufism and calling for Islam to be returned to its purest form. Graffiti welcoming the Taliban have mushroomed all over downtown Srinagar. Not even educational institutions have been spared. Terrorism has gone deep underground attracting even educated youth bred in the shadow of the gun. There is even suggestion that ground is again being set up for revival of militancy. There is talk of militants now being trained locally in the more inhospitable upper reaches of the state where the security forces rarely venture. Recent terror attacks all being claimed by the Hizb are an indication of closer cooperation between indigenous and foreign militants; the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Toiba all of which does not bode well for the future. The Amarnath Yatra could be more vulnerable this time. S.A.S Geelani has already demanded that the yatra should be confined to not more than 15 days. Whether or not AFSPA, as Omar Abdullah keeps pleading, can be revoked from limited areas, the Prime Minister must carry with him a political signal which Kashmiris look for in vain when he visits the valley on June 25-26. Otherwise, Dr Manmohan Singh may as well not go. The writer is a former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing.