April 2004 News

Winds Of Change In Kashmir

19 April 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Sarla Handoo

Jammu: In a span of just a fortnight General Musharraf has publicly raised the Kashmir issue for the second time. He did so while talking to the 'India today' conclave and has now again threatened to withdraw from the peace process, if there is no progress on the Kashmir issue by August. General Musharraf said that he had informed both India and the United States about this. In between, the Pakistani delegate at the UN Geneva Conference also made a strong pitch for the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir despite an understanding not to raise prickly issues at public fora. Such negative developments can certainly cast a shadow on the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan. Why does General Musharraf loose his cool suddenly? Does he genuinely fear that while India will discuss and sort out economic issues with Pakistan, it will only go through the motions on Kashmir? Some would say that the outbursts are aimed at domestic critics who are accusing him of selling out on emotive issues. The Indian response has been polite but firm on both the occasions, advising Pakistan not to act on presumptions and wait for the Foreign Secretaries meeting scheduled in August, to be followed by the Foreign Minister Conference on 10th June. It is not a mere coincidence that the Hurriyat leaders after having met the Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani for the 2nd round of talks in New Delhi, have for the first time criticized Pakistan for adopting double standards vis-a-vis the agglomerate. Talking to the Pak Opposition delegation in New Delhi the Hurriyat leaders pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that by continuing to project Syed Ali Shah Geelani as the Hurriyat after he was replaced by Maulana Abbas Ansari, Pakistan was trying to undermine the moderates in the Hurriyat Conference. The delegation was told that soon after Ansari was constitutionally elected Chairman by the Executive Council by a majority of 6 to 7 last year, Pak TV put out a story that Mr Geelani continues to be the Hurriyat Chief and has been holding the same stand ever since. Even the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi while inviting Mr Ansari to the Pakistan Day function addressed Mr Geelani as the Hurriyat Chief and Mr Ansari as a Hurriyat leader. How can Pakistan misrepresent the facts so brazenly, to suit its interests, the delegation was told. The Hurriyat leaders asked, 'If Pakistan can talk peace with India, what is wrong if the people of Kashmir too talk peace with New Delhi?' This plain speaking by Hurriyat Conference to Pakistan is a major development, since the Centre started talking to the Hurriyat to resolve the Kashmir issue. The positive signs from the Hurriyat side have been evident at its talks with Mr Advani too. Its Spokesman Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat stressed the point that there has been a change in thinking, attitude and the ground position which augers well with the peace process. It however continues to be upset by the human rights violations and the issue of political prisoners. There are strong indications that the Centre will accept the Hurriyat demand of a cease-fire by the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, though such an experiment on two earlier occasions has not been encouraging. Obviously, a cease-fire can be meaningful only if it is adhered to by both sides and if the militant out its keep on violating it, it cannot sustain. But encouraged by the Eid ceasefire with Pakistan on the borders and keen to give the Hurriyat Conference a political space in Kashmir, the unilateral declaration of a ceasefire by the Center is all set to be announced. The Government will also speed up the process of releasing political prisoners. Human rights violations too may become fever in the days ahead. The Hurriyat Conference will, in return, desist from giving a all for poll boycott in the elections, something it has been religiously doing at every election time so far. If this trade off works Parliamentary elections in Jammu and Kashmir will take democratic elections in the State a step further and give it a new dimensions of broad based public participation. That the vision document released by the BJP has no reference to the Article 370 of the constitution, granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir, is also a pointer to the winds of change that are taking place in the thinking at the Center regarding the State. The party has been propagating repeal of the article for the last 50 years to bring the State at par with other states. A 180-degree turn, indeed. If Pakistan is genuinely interested in resolving the Kashmir issue to the satisfaction of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, it must lend its support to these efforts by the Indian Government and the Hurriyat Conference. The two sides have agreed to discuss 'substantive' issues at the third round in June and one would expect ironing out of differences to pave the way for an amicable way out. It will do no good to Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir if Pakistan tries to derail the forward movement by doubting the intensions or persisting in its efforts to raise Kashmir issue at the International fora.


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