J&K Pelters Try Casting Azadi In Stone26 September 2010
Times of India
Srinagar: A day after New Delhi announced its eight-point peace formula for Kashmir, a group of young men gather in a dimly lit room to dissect the proposal and discuss its implications. All of them are friends and supporters of the Sangbaaz Tehreek, or the stone-pelters movement that is spearheading the agitation in the Valley. They are educated, English-speaking, working professionals or students, much like the leaders of the Tehreek. And although none have thrown a stone yet, they are as passionate as the pelters about the struggle for an independent state of Kashmir. This explains why New Delhi's latest offering cuts little ice with them. It's not just too little, too late. It's way off the mark, according to them. The only thing that will calm emotions whipped up by four months of street agitations is a serious negotiation between New Delhi and Srinagar with azadi as the benchmark, they insist. ' India must understand that secession (from India) is the widespread sentiment in Kashmir. That has to be the starting point of any dialogue,' said Rafiq Ahmed Dar (all names changed on request). According to them, India will have to do the following if it's serious about reaching out to Kashmiris. One, it must put azadi on the table for discussion. Two, it must negotiate with separatist leaders because only they represent the mood in the Valley. Three, the dialogue must be time-bound so that a solution is found quickly. Four, it must deliver justice to the 109 victims of security firing by taking prompt action against those responsible for the deaths. 'It's only when you start discussing azadi that you demystify it,' said Aaquib Hussain. 'Underlying interests come to the fore and you can break azadi down into concrete things that can be negotiated. Azadi is not a rigid concept. It's India that has taken a maximalist position by insisting on talking only within the framework of the Indian Constitution.' The idea is to find a middle ground, they stressed. 'It's a question of seeing how close India moves to the concept of azadi for Kashmir and how far the separatists move away from it,' said Syed Ali Aga. 'This meeting point will emerge only after you start talking.' Obviously, Pakistan will have to be brought into the dialogue at some stage. But how, given the volatility of the Pakistan state? 'Let's leave that to Pakistan to decide,' said Nissar Hussain. 'What I feel is that if Kashmiris reach a consensus, Pakistan will have no choice but to come on board. It can't go against a process that is moving because it will be exposed.' They acknowledge that the issue is highly complex and there are many dimensions to the problem. For instance, any negotiation will have to take into account the political sensibilities of Hindu-dominated regions of Jammu and the Buddhist-dominated Leh. Then, can the PDP and National Conference be left out of the discussions? After all, both have their support bases in parts of J&K. 'Let's start the process at least,' said Saleem Ahmed Mir. 'We don't want three summers and the past four months of turmoil to go waste. Because this time, if the people of Kashmir feel betrayed again, I fear that we may enter another phase of militancy. And this time, it will be far more dangerous.'