Kashmir Initiative: critics will say it is too little and too late

Posted By: Abdul Nisar
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New Delhi, Sep 28 (ANI): After the visit to Jammu and Kashmir by the All Party Delegation, the Government of India has announced an eight-point package to provide a healing touch to the people of the violence-hit state. The package is expected to make a beginning towards sorting out the internal dimensions of the Kashmir issue

The eight-point package announced by the Centre has been generally welcomed by the mainstream political parties, both at the national level and in the State, as a good beginning. But it is unlikely to pass muster with the separatists, widely seen to be acting at Pakistan's behest.

There has been demand in the Kashmir valley for the withdrawal of the security forces or demilitarization, and revocation of laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act.

Pakistan on its part has sought to once again push for international mediation to settle the Kashmir issue.

There are no takers in the world for Pakistan's call, but it is continuing with the effort nonetheless.

Realising the Islamabad game plan, India has responded to Pakistan's statements in a tough manner and asked it to vacate areas of Kashmir under its illegal occupation, before seeking to advise India on how it should go about dealing with the situation in the Kashmir Valley.

India's initiative in reaching out to the people of Kashmir is not going to cut much ice with the separatists. There is hardly any difference now between the so-called moderates and the hard-liners in the Hurriyat, as they are speaking the same language.

New Delhi will soon have to take hard decisions to sort out the problems in Kashmir. For almost three months, the government at the Centre as well as the Omar Abdullah administration in the state had been looking on as the stone throwing epidemic gained momentum, nullifying most of the political gains made in the past few years. The governments in Delhi and Srinagar looked virtually paralyzed as the separatists went on upping the stakes and gaining the upper hand.

That stone throwing was part of the separatists' and Pakistan's game plan was clear from telephonic intercepts which showed separatist elements in the valley being instructed by their handlers across the Line of Control on how to increase the death toll in the clashes between the stone throwing mobs and the security forces.

The Omar Abdullah government's response was confined to repeating calls for finding a political solution and opening of a dialogue with both the domestic players and those in authority in Islamabad.

No exception can be taken to the call for resuming the dialogue for a political solution, both internally and externally. But many expected Omar Abdullah, as the head of the government in the state, to take steps to bridge the governance deficit, one of the main causes of the political violence there.

The Manmohan Singh government at the Centre increasingly took recourse to calling all party meetings, rather than taking hard decisions to deal with the emerging crisis in Kashmir.

The government has taken a small step now towards addressing the internal dimensions of the Kashmir issue, but the question remains if it is adequate or open to criticism that it is too little and too late.

The government has still not shown any inclination to consider and respond to the demand for more autonomy or self- rule made by the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party, respectively. There would be no harm in conceding more autonomy or self- rule within the framework of the Indian Constitution and the principles of a democratic polity.

The government needs to come up with its response without losing more time. Delay in considering this basic issue will allow the separatists to exploit the situation to their advantage.

While considering the demands made by the mainstream political parties of the state, the government needs to tackle the street protests instigated by separatist elements on Islamabad's payrolls with a firm hand.

There have been reports that the stone throwers, many of them unemployed teenagers, are being paid for their action in targeting the security forces.

India needs to take steps urgently to deal with the external environment, which is increasingly causing concern. The alliance between Pakistan and China is assuming a graver dimension for India with China stationing about eleven thousand Peoples Liberation Army troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Jammu and Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan.

China has built highways right up to the border with India in most sectors. The infrastructure on the Indian side, which could be used by the armed forces in an emergency, is inadequate to say the least. The less than adequate importance being given to building the country's defences is shown by the fact that while Pakistan and China are stepping up defence expenditure, India's defence expenditure is perhaps at its lowest ever, considered as a part of the gross domestic product.The eight-point package for Jammu and Kashmir announced by the Centre after the all party parliamentary delegation's visit to the state is no doubt a good beginning towards settling the internal dimensions of the Kashmir issue, but New Delhi also needs to tackle the external dimensions by putting pressure on Pakistan and China to vacate the parts of the state under their illegal occupation.

There is no place for soft states in the world, and if India is to rise as a big power, the government needs to tackle issues such as Kashmir and the Naxal problem with a clear cut strategy. By B. I. Saini (ANI) B. I. Saini is a senior journalist)

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