August 2017 News

Citizens' Team Finds Kashmir Waiting For Talks, PM Modi's I-Day Words

29 August 2017
The Indian Express
Nirupama Subramanian

Srinagar: Two attacks on policemen in three days in south Kashmir, one at the district police lines in Pulwama on August 26, in which eight personnel were killed, and the second in which an ASI was killed in Anantnag, have rattled the administration at a time when police were believed to have started gaining the upper hand over militants in the Valley. Over the last three months, the J&K Police have been killing one or two militants on a daily basis. Five important militant leaders have been killed. Since last July, 139 militants have been killed overall, over 70 in the last three months alone. 'We are getting good information from the ground,' a senior police official told The Indian Express. The 'ideological differences' that had erupted - the emergence of an extreme Islamic strand led by Zakir Moosa, thought to be affiliated to al-Qaeda - have helped. Police estimate there are now 170 militants in the Valley of all ideological hues, both Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris. However, the official also said that unless there was political outreach specifically targeting the young, the successes of the police force would remain a body count, with more youngsters ready to pick up the gun. All eyes therefore are on how Prime Minister Narendra Modi 'operationalises' his Independence Day speech, in which he said the Kashmir problem can be resolved 'na goli sey, na gali sey, sirf galey milaney sey (not by bullets or abuses, but only by embracing [Kashmiris])'. Mainstream politicians say they still have 'nothing' with which to go to people. For ruling party politicians, the PDP-BJP Agenda of Alliance remains a lame duck manifesto; there is no sign of a dialogue with Kashmiris, and even less with Pakistan; what they are seeing instead is a government planning to tear away at Kashmir's Constitutional insulation through 'legal aggression and activism' on Article 35A. A day after the Prime Minister's speech, a delegation from the Concerned Citizens' Group led by Yashwant Sinha went to Kashmir, and this is what they heard. A senior Opposition politician said Kashmiris would also be willing to embrace Modi, 'but we want something more than words from the ramparts of the Red Fort'. Along with the raids being carried out by the National Investigation Agency, targeting separatist leaders and some businessmen, which most view as a political ploy to denigrate the separatists, the Centre's response to the petition on 35A was seen as opening another front of 'hostilities' against Kashmir. At every meeting that the Sinha group had - with students, lawyers, academics, businessmen, politicians - the anxiety on 35A was identical: the last of the rights that Kashmiris are left with is about to be snatched away. There is suspicion that this is the 'permanent solution' that Home Minister Rajnath Singh repeatedly spoke about. Many feel it will intensify the communal divide between Jammu and Kashmir. The overwhelming demand was, 'Talk to us'. It was the third visit by the Sinha group to the Valley since last October. Its other members are Sushobha Barve, of the Centre for Democracy and Reconciliation; Air Marshal Kapil Kak (retd); and Bharat Bhushan, a senior journalist and editor of the online Catch News. The response to the team - a mix of scepticism and curiosity about who its members represent and why they come repeatedly without showing 'results' from their previous visits, and the small hope that they have the ears of the most powerful in Delhi - also highlighted the absolute absence of talks between the Centre and Kashmiris. 'When will a formal delegation from India visit us?' one student at the Kupwara Degree College asked, when the visiting delegation said it was an 'unofficial' team. Yet people spoke, because here was a rare opportunity to convey their concerns to the outside world without mediation by 'Indian media - a beast gone wild', in the words of another Kupwara student. Among the big messages that the team heard were these: any move by the courts or otherwise to do away with 35A would invite bigger trouble than Kashmir has yet seen; the NIA raids are a new weapon by the Centre against the Kashmiri leadership; there has to be a dialogue, even for 'interim peace'; India must talk to Pakistan; and that the rise of Hindutva, and the casual communalism in daily life across India has given a new dimension to the way Kashmiris perceive their relationship with the country. They also heard that a 'working government' could be a source of that 'interim' peace; that the state government as well as the political leadership seemed reluctant to engage with the people. One experienced functionary the delegation met said if the focus could at least partially shift from fighting militancy to providing a good, clean administration that upholds the rule of law, 'at least to the extent that available in Bihar', there would be an improvement in the situation. Another spoke of the paralysis in the government, which was hobbled by the various power centres within the party. In Kashmir, it is an open secret that both government and the political leadership have been paralysed for various reasons, some of their own making. In his Independence Day speech, Governor N N Vohra alluded to this, noting the 'sad reality' of politicians, 'whether in or out of power', who had 'failed to muster courage for venturing out of their secure habitats to meet, hear and talk' even to those who had elected them.