Kashmir: Time For Results7 September 2010
Srinagar: As we approach the conclusion of Ramadhan, there is a steady build-up of some suspense over the ways to end the current crisis in Kashmir. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting on Kashmir after Home Minister P Chidambaram held back his reply to the parliament debate on the state. Hurriyat (G) chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani has set out his preliminary conditions to end the ongoing stir, and Chief Minister Omer Abdullah as also the top BJP leader L K Advani have indicated that New Delhi is working on some concrete concessions to respond to the unrest in the state. Whether anything comes to pass at all is something that is likely to become clear in a week or so. Omer who is supposed to be privy to these things has talked of a phased withdrawal of troops, amendment to Armed Forces Special Powers Act and resumption of political dialogue. According to some reports, AFSPA may be withdrawn from Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal, the districts which have witnessed the drastic decline in the violence. An employment package is also indicated to be on cards. Advani, on the other hand, has spoken more alarmingly of the kind of concessions on offer. He feels that the centre will go out of the way to accommodate the separatist leadership in the Valley. Hence he has pitted the full weight of his party against the expected initiative. What gives a ring of credibility to these statements is that Chidamabaram didnít go back to parliament to make his Kashmir statement. In his public statements he has hinted at a renewed push at dialogue with the separatists and some other measures to sort out the current crisis. Now the PMís meeting on Kashmir later this week is scheduled to discuss the situation and hopefully announce some political measures. This brings us to the five conditions offered by Geelani to the centre. Geelani has asked centre to acknowledge Kashmir as an international dispute, begin the process of demilitarization, release prisoners, punish the security personnel involved in the killings of the people and end further killings and arrests. This is for the first time that Geelani has made such demands which for once underline his belief in a process for the resolution of Kashmir . Earlier he sought direct talks on Azadi and accession issues. Geelani says if the five demands are met in letter and spirit, his Hurriyat faction will facilitate the creation of a conductive atmosphere in Valley. A consequent peaceful interregnum, he says , will also enable separatist leadership in the state to meet, consult and consolidate public opinion for the peaceful resolution of Kashmir dispute in accordance with the democratic principle of the right to self-determination. Incidentally, Hurriyat (M) chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who has outlined more or less similar demands in the past has lent his support to Geelani and also set his own conditions. But for the disputed nature of the state, there is also a certain broad political consensus in Valley over the rest of Geelaniís demands. For example, every political party in the Valley - mainstream as well as separatist - seeks a review of the AFSPA, withdrawal of troops from civilian areas, release of prisoners and end to the killings and human rights violations. Here is an opening that New Delhi will do well to build upon. With a maturer approach towards Kashmir, it has the opportunity to start an engagement that for once will get both the Hurriyat factions on board, besides the mainstream political parties. It is a huge step forward in another sense. A leader whose frame of reference on Kashmir has so far steadfastly been the United Nations Resolutions, Pakistan and tripartite talks is willing to espouse an incremental approach towards solution, provided New Delhi assures him of a constructive response. Geelani, for once, is ready to travel the long road to Kashmir solution. Question, however, remains if New Delhi can win his confidence enough to make him a part of this process. This is what makes current suspense on Kashmir such a fraught affair. If and when Prime Minsiter makes a statement, will he really have something different to offer to Kashmir to help jumpstart a new process of engagement between Srinagar and New Delhi. Only time will tell. From the looks of it, there is certainly some serious thinking taking place in New Delhi on the issue. Even Omer has admitted as much by saying that the centre should be given time to examine Geelaniís points and provide a response. However, it is the nature of this response that is a subject of great curiosity and of course suspense. For even in their scale-down, Geelaniís demands will not be easy to fulfil. His demand that centre consider Kashmir disputed is the trickiest of all, even while New Delhiís continuing search for Kashmir solution concedes the existence of a certain problem in the state. As for the other conditions are concerned, they are the maximalist versions of the identical demands from the other separatist and mainstream outfits. There is thus a big question mark over the centreís willingness to satisfy all the conditions or meet any demand to the extent Geelani would like these to be met. Under the circumstances, it seems improbable that one spectacular initiative like the release of prisoners, some relocation of troops or a change in AFSPA will break the ice. However, while the centre will be loathe to make any radical moves, will it be possible for Hurriyat (G) to settle for smaller concessions. The answer is not easy. After having spearheaded a three month long agitation with a toll of 68 lives Ė almost all of them teenagers Ė on promise of ushering in an unprecedented political change in Kashmir, it will be difficult if not unimaginable for the Hurriyat faction to sell small troop relocation to the people as an achievement. But is continuation of the current protest program an option either? Using sustained shutdowns to prolong agitation is a strategy whose benefits are spreading out thin. One more month of hartals and there will be questions about the plausibility of this approach. It will therefore be advisable that the separatists contemplate more creative ways to lead their struggle. Something that puts time on their side, not on New Delhiís, as is the case now.