The situation in Jammu and Kashmir: Beginning the Dialogue - Part II

New Delhi, Sept.14 (ANI): Let us presume for a moment that the government does find the elusive starting point for talks, the crucial question that arises is who does the government talk to and also what does it talk about?

Purely in terms of electoral representation, the government should be talking to mainstream political parties. But, they have been totally marginalised in today's context.

Neither is any National Conference (NC) legislator visible in its stronghold of Srinagar nor, is any People's Democratic Party (PDP) one visible in South Kashmir. Except for making noises on autonomy/self rule, AFPSA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) etc, the mainstream parties have made no contribution towards diffusing the current situation.

If anything, the National Conference is trying to ensure that the People's Democratic Party (PDP) does not surge ahead in popularity, while the People's Democratic Party is taking satisfaction in the fact that the National Conference's credibility has been badly damaged. Both fail to realize how irrelevant they are if they continue with their ostrich-like approach. It is unlikely that they will be able to recover lost ground in a hurry.

The only person at the center-stage of political discourse and calling the shots is S A S Geelani. His protest calendar is being regularly followed in the valley. As a result, life in the valley is being conducted on his whims and fancies.

However, his actual hold on the young protestors is debatable. With even the Jamaat coming out in favour of not letting education suffer, Geelani, despite his rhetoric, is under pressure to ensure that normalcy returns to the valley. Yet, tech savvy protestors smell blood and have demonstrated their rejection to his calls for peaceful protests. The jury is also out whether Masarat Alam is really in charge.

In an interview to Indian Express (Aug. 28, 2010), Masarat Alam said this was a resistance movement; a people's movement and it had gone beyond the organisational setup of any group.

Geelani, of course, has laid out five conditions for India to begin talks. These are

(i) Acceptance of Kashmir as an international dispute.

(ii) Announce and begin the process of complete demilitarisation to be monitored by some credible agency like the UN and revocation of all oppressive laws like the AFSPA.

(iii) Prime Minister must commit publicly and ensure practically that no killing and arrest takes place.

(iv) Immediate and unconditional release of Kashmiri youth and political prisoners, and withdrawal of cases pending for past 20 years.

(v) Process of punishing perpetrators of state violence has to begin with the conviction of troops responsible for the recent killing of 65 people.

This, by any stretch of imagination, is a tall ask. Pundits have been debating whether this is flexibility being shown by Geelani, finding a honourable exit for both the separatists and the government, or is it a hardening of his stance.

It has been stressed that unlike in the past, he did not seek the involvement of Pakistan or that India should accept the right to self-determination as a condition for beginning talks. Whatever the verdict, it is unlikely that the government can accept the conditions in toto.

The moderate separatist leadership led by the likes of Omar Farooq and Yasin Malik have only a slightly better standing than the mainstream parties. They have been forced to follow and support the protest schedule of Geelani instead of devising their own. Both are desperately trying to claw their way back into the limelight. In the process they have started pandering to the more violent separatists.

Mirwaiz, of course, has laid out his own conditions for talks:

(i) Withdrawal of troops

(ii) Removal of AFSPA

(iii) Release of prisoners

(iv) End of ongoing killings in Kashmir and to allow peaceful protests

(v) Triangular (now trilateral) dialogue between Pakistan, India and the true representatives of the Kashmiri people.

These, too, are a tall ask and it is unlikely that the government can accept them.

Then, there are the representatives of the Pandits, of Jammu, of Ladakh and so on.

Presuming that the government does find the right people to talk to, what will it talk about? There are, of course, immediate issues like the future of AFSPA, removal of security forces from civilian areas. But beyond that?

Among the separatists, the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat wants freedom; Geelani's Hurriyat wants to accede to Pakistan. Among the mainstream parties, the People's Democratic Party wants self-rule and the National Conference, autonomy.

The minorities, like the Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindus and Muslims of Jammu, the Ladakhis, the Gujjars and the Shias want none of the above. What is the common minimum among them?

Clearly, while the options themselves are immensely complicated, even the process of finding a starting point, deciding who to talk to and then what to talk about will be equally complicated.

But a beginning has to be made. The stakes are clearly very high. India and Indians (this includes the Kashmirs of all hues) have paid a huge price in Kashmir, in terms of human lives, in terms of funds, in terms of international opprobrium.

Yet, the anti-India sentiments are at an all time high in the valley. The question to be asked is not whether more is required, but whether the right measures, the right policy has been adopted?

Unfortunately and regrettably, a price will still have to be paid for peace to come to the troubled state. Statesmanship dictates that the price should be as minimal as possible and the reward must be a long-term, lasting solution.

A solution that gives the Kashmiris as much of a stake in India as residents of any other states has and gives India security and peace. By Salim Haq (ANI)



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