ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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From Self-determination to Self-destruction

There is a feeling of deja vu in the political air. The unwavering sameness of the contradictory signals on Kashmir forebodes another round of official goof-ups and lies as in the past. There is the same old talk about dialogues with various groups in Kashmir, accompanied by continuing atrocities by the ruling powers, reminding us of the days in 1993 when the then minister of state for internal security, Rajesh Pilot, made a much publicised, but futile, goodwill visit to the valley with the ostensible purpose of resuming political dialogue. It appears that the next act is being set by some remarkably clumsy stagehands in the home ministry for another operation. Meanwhile, the bomb-per-day cycle of violence continues unabated in Kashmir, killing more civilians than members of either of the two combating forces. The struggle for self-determination has galloped off in directions that are far away from popular aspirations.

While a dialogue between the government and the various groups in Kashmir is surely welcome, all the concerned participants should first be sure of what they want to talk about. But New Delhi has not yet spelt out any new concrete proposal that could make a dent into the situation. Popular opinion in the valley, while tired with the senseless violence of the militants, still remains alienated from the government, thanks to the endless acts of killings of innocent citizens in police custody and false encounters by the security forces. The centre is yet to decide on the report of the state autonomy committee submitted by the Farooq Abdullah government, which speaks of the quantum of autonomy that Kashmir should enjoy. Will autonomy mean a return to the status that the state enjoyed before the order of 1954 – in other words, full autonomy within India in all areas barring defence, foreign affairs and communication? Or, will it be a few cosmetic changes like reversion to the title of Wazir-e-Azam for the chief minister? Will the government release the thousands of young people who are still behind bars? Will it announce a temporary cease-fire and withdraw its troops to the barracks? Will it relax restrictions on the border to allow people to visit their relatives in PoK? These are questions that need straight answers. Kashmiris are not longing for new rhetoric, but for a new life. One is not sure therefore how far the centre has done its homework for a dialogue. If home minister Advani hoped that the Hurriyat Conference could serve as a conduit for access to the militants, that hope was belied as soon as he announced on May 10 that the government would initiate talks with the Hurriyat and other groups in Kashmir. The militants responded by unleashing another wave of terrorist attacks, resulting in the killing of the power minister of Jammu and Kashmir, making it clear that they (or their patrons in Pakistan) were not yet prepared for any peaceful settlement. The Hurriyat, which at one time claimed the Hizbul Mujahideen as its constituent, appears to have lost influence over it and other militant groups. The Pakistan and Afghan terrorists who have usurped the leadership of the insurgency, call the shots today in the valley and are not naturally bound by directives from any local political organisation. Besides, the Hurriyat speaks in several voices. Its chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani favours Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan under a plebiscite, and to be on the right side of that state, whitewashes the terrorist acts as freedom fighting. One wonders how the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) which is pro-independence and Yasin Malik, who opposes terrorism, can be a part of the Hurriyat. Parties and leaders outside the Hurriyat off and on come up with alternative proposals. Chief minister Farooq Abdullah, for instance, seems to favour the restoration of the pre-1954 status of autonomy within Jammu and Kashmir, and the acceptance of the LoC as the international border. Some have even suggested a plebiscite or a referendum, which would not restrict the Kashmiris to a choice between India and Pakistan only (as mandated by the old UN resolution), but would allow them the option of the third alternative of an independent state. Any dialogue on Kashmir therefore would have to bring into its fold all these different voices.

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