The agitations were premised on the hope that an unarmed struggle against a mighty state apparatus would capture the imagination of the international community. Pak-sponsored violence over the past two decades had discredited the 'movement' without being even close to 'Azadi'. The only thing to show for it was the loss of an entire generation and almost every house in the Valley mourning its dead in state or terrorist violence.
However, an unarmed struggle without the baggage of Pak-sponsored terrorism, would find support internationally, especially, if the Indian security forces responded ham-handedly and the body count mounted. This international support would force India to start talking about conceding Azadi.
The climax of the agitation and the body count was to be the visit of President Obama. For three days, people of the Valley, like elsewhere in India, sat glued to their TV sets, anticipating the moment when the dreams sold to them by the separatists would fructify.
That moment never really came. Despite whatever mileage the separatists may have tried to extract from Obama's response to a question referring to Kashmir as a long-standing dispute, the people now know that the dreams sold to them were just that, dreams.
The immediate question that arises is whether the hope that the Kashmir issue can be resolved peacefully will fade away? And, will it get replaced by the third generation picking up the gun? Will the gun-toting hawks, backed by Pakistan, dominate again?
Those in authority must realise the confusion in young minds. On the one hand, after having been compared to the intifada, after being lavished with praise for staring down armed security forces with nothing more than stones, their brief struggle was ignored by the international community. On the other hand, fed on a daily diet of hatred of India, they saw for themselves the most powerful man in the world praise India for its democracy and secularism.
As winter sets in, hartal fatigue takes over and the separatists desert them. Where does it leave them and their struggle?
It would be very easy to exploit this vulnerability, this sense of hurt, by Pak-sponsored, self-seeking hawks peddling violence as the only way out. Already, in the past few days, there has been a spurt in terrorist violence and attacks in the Valley. Obama's admonishment about terror safe havens in Pakistan notwithstanding, this violence is the terrorists' way of saying that all is not lost and violence is very much an option.
The government has won a reprieve, but it is just that, a reprieve, and not because of its own policies. It cannot, and must not, rest on hartal fatigue but press home the advantage to further narrow the space for the separatists. Here are a few suggestions:
First, the vulnerable youth must be given an alternative slogan and the hope that peace is the only way forward and their aspirations can be accommodated by a country that has just been lavished generous praise for its democracy and pluralism.
Second, the eight-point package must be implemented in toto. It is essential that those jailed over the last three months for stone pelting be released after doing the necessary checks. It is even more crucial that there should no fresh deaths in incidents of firing by the security forces. Mercifully, the days of prolonged curfew are a thing of the past and it must be ensured that this remains so. Protests should be held peacefully and managed imaginatively without provocation or violence.
Third, the two mainstream state parties have a huge role to play. They have to come out from the shadows, take to the streets and once again regain the political space they had surrendered to the separatists in the summer. They will have to stop scoring points against each other, which only benefits the separatists. While the National Conference has to take the PDP on board, the PDP, in turn, has to stop adopting postures that seeks to take advantage of the situation.
Fourth, the perception in the Valley that Delhi cares only for those who challenge the validity of the 1947 accession must be reversed. The Home Minister's statement that Jammu and Kashmir had acceded to India in unique circumstances, the State had a unique problem and requires a unique solution; Omar Abdullah's erroneous assertion about a difference between accession and merger etc, strengthen the separatist claims that there was something wrong with accession. This has to stop.
Fifth, the government must factor in that the agitation of the stone pelters have forced the separatist leaders to dilute the pro-Pakistan tilt. Gen Next does not see a future with Pakistan, realizing that something very wrong is happening there. It is not slogans of 'Kashmir Banega Pakistan' that rent the air but of 'Azadi'. This has implications for any dialogue with Pakistan.
The fact that this has got Pakistan worried is evidenced by the fact of their bringing out Amanullah Khan from retirement and making him launch a 'Quit Kashmir' movement in POK in an attempt to take control of the movement in the Valley.
Finally, Geelani and company, have to be shown up for what they are - self-seeking leaders wanting to grab next day's headlines at the expense of the people. A litmus test for the separatists would be the care they take of families of those who died in the recent violence.
It would be an anathema for separatists if people started exploring alternatives to protests and violence in the Valley.
Hence, Geelani would persist with his protest calendar, even a toned down one, to ensure that a conducive and peaceful atmosphere is not created. He has no alternatives, victim as he is of his own pronouncements. And since his bread and butter is dependent on separatism, nothing the government can or will do will satisfy him and his ilk.
Therefore, the government has to ensure that the protest calendar fails and fails every-time. The government will have to reach out to those who don't want to follow the calendar, but are afraid of resisting. The government will have to ensure their safety. Above all, the government must extend a helping hand to those unfortunate families who lost loved ones and those who were injured.
What about the interlocutors? Unfortunately, they began as if they were in a 20-20 game rather than for a long haul five-day test match. They have acted as if they had ready-made answers to a complex issue that has defied solution for 63 years.
After being admonished by the Home Minister and the media, they seem to be settling down to a 50 overs match, but mentally still not in Test match mode.
They also have to craft a role for themselves- Are they players, extras, on field umpires, third umpires or scorers? Lack of clarity about their role or rather an exaggerated sense of their role, has also led to some astounding statements and claims.
By Salim Haq
(The views expressed in the above article are from the author)