May 2007 News

Resettlement of Pakistani refugees wobbles Kashmir coalition

14 May 2007
Indo-Asian News Service
Sarwar Kashani

Srinagar: The coalition partners of the Jammu and Kashmir government are heading for another collision - this time over the issue of granting citizenship rights to the Pakistani refugees in the state.A huge chunk of non-Muslim population from Pakistan had migrated to the state during the Partition of 1947 and the India-Pakistan wars. Like refugees all over the world, they have no country, no citizenship rights and belong nowhere.With no official data of their actual count, the final status of these thousands of migrants has been as elusive as the solution to the intractable Kashmir dispute. Facing hardships for decades, their fate remains suspended and no government in the state has so far dared to take the issue to its final settlement.Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, decided to raise this 'controversial' issue and mooted the idea to resettle them during a specially convened roundtable of all political parties here Saturday.But Azad received a setback, unsurprisingly though, when the coalition partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) linked it with the overall Kashmir dispute saying, 'The refugee issue could be settled after the concerned parties, India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir, reach a consensus over the larger problem.'PDP's legislature party leader Abdul Aziz Zargar who was present in the all-party meeting argued that at a time when the stakes are so high and the hopes are pinned on the peace process, issues like that should wait for their turn.'The refugees of 1947, from the Pakistan, are the victims of unfortunate riots, in which Kashmir had no role. They came here as a result of the fallout of the violence that had engulfed most parts of the country during the Partition,' Zargar told IANS.'The PDP proposes that the issue of granting permanent resident rights to the Pakistan refugees be considered with a solution to the larger problem,' he said.The main opposition party National Conference (NC), otherwise an embittered rival of PDP, joined hands with the latter in its move to thwart Azad's plans.Abdur Rahim Rather, leader of the opposition in the state assembly, told IANS that raking up this 'sensitive issue at this time can derail the peace process'.He went on to saying that the granting state subject rights 'to the foreigners (Pakistani refugees) could flare up communal problems' in the state.'Constitutionally it's impossible as they are non state- subjects.'The state government had in 1980 passed the resettlement act to grant the state subject status to the immigrants, especially Jammu's Muslim population, who had crossed over to Pakistan during the communal riots in 1947,' Rather said.'That act has been impeded and I wonder how the chief minister expects that settling non-state subjects in Jammu would be possible.'Solving their day-to-day and social problems is our duty but granting citizenship rights to them would be unconstitutional,' he said, adding a committee, to be constituted by the government, would look into their socio-economic problems.The issue remains emotive with Jammu-based political parties. In raising the issue, the Congress party has put its relevance in the Jammu division at stake. Political observers believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would now project the Congress' failure to its advantage in Jammu.


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