Kashmir Press Roundup II: February 2006

1 March 2006

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has initiated talks with different Kashmiri groups and leaders in order to broaden the ongoing dialogue. The 25 February roundtable conference was the first significant beginning in this regard. Apart from the conference, PM Singh has separately met with Kashmiri leaders like Yasin Malik and discussed steps towards resolving the Kashmir issue. With the prime minister scheduled to visit Srinagar to participate in the next roundtable conference, the possibility of a breakthrough in the Kashmir situation have increased. This was reflected in the media reports of Kashmiri news sources during the latter part of February.

Dialogue With Separatists
A week before the first roundtable conference, Prime Minister Singh had met with Yasin Malik, chairman of JKLF. Srinagar Times reported on 18 February that Malik was accompanied with Ghulam Rasool Dar, General Secretary of JKLF. Both had a one and a half hour meeting with Dr. Singh during which Malik told the PM that the real leadership of Kashmir and militant leaders should be invited for holding talks on one table. Malik also showed signatures of 15 lakh people to the PM, which were obtained by him during a three-year signature campaign. The PM termed the talks with Malik as 'positive' and assured him that the Centre was having an open mind for finding a durable solution of the Kashmir issue. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Malik said that the PM should hold talks with Kashmiri leadership in some neighbouring country as was being done at present with Naga groups. Another Kashmiri media source, Roshni, reported that during a meeting at the Delhi University before meeting the PM, Malik told the audience that the JKLF had lost over 650 activists since it announced a unilateral ceasefire in 1994. However, the JKLF did not abandon its peace mission despite these losses as it desired a Kashmir where people enjoyed all sorts of freedoms. The differences amongst separatists groups with regard to participation in the roundtable was reflected in press reports by Aftab and Wadi Ki Awaz which indicated that while the Hurriyat Conference (A) was waiting for a formal invitation, some of its constituents were not in favour of participating in the roundtable. The Geelani faction of the APHC and the JKDFP of Shabir Shah had already refused to participate in the conference terming it a futile exercise.

Editorial Roundup
In its editorial, Kashmir news source, Roshni, analysed the speech of President APJ Abdul Kalam to the joint session of the parliament. The editorial observed that in his speech Kalam congratulated the Central and State governments for the improved law and order situation in Kashmir. He also welcomed the Centre's steps to broaden the dialogue with all the political parties. However, he warned that anti-national activities and terrorist violence would be curbed with determination. Though he observed that relations with Pakistan had improved, cross border infiltration and terrorist violence had yet to end. Kalam hoped that Pakistan would play its part in ending militancy in Kashmir. Kalam observed that the Central government had taken a number of steps to restore normalcy in Kashmir. These included visits by Special Secretary A K Mitra and COAS, General J.J. Singh to Kashmir to assess the ground situation. Kalam also praised J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad saying that he taken several steps to restore peace in the state. Kalam urged special forces in Kashmir to ensure that no innocent civilians was harassed and custodial killings were prevented in the fight against terrorism. The editorial observed that new checking points had been erected recently at places such Broadway Cinema and Badami Bagh Cantt which were adding to people's difficulties. The editorial urged the chief minister and the army to undertake steps for removing unnecessary checking points.

An editorial in Nida-i-Mashriq focused on the issue of bilateral trade between India and Pakistan saying that trade would play second fiddle unless the Kashmir issue was resolved. The editorial questioned Pakistan's intentions in the composite dialogue process. Islamabad is of the view that trade between the two countries had increased manifold and that traders and people of Pakistan were for better ties with India. However, the editorial observed that the people of Pakistan had failed to understand the official position of Pakistan. The statement was directed to exploit the sentiments of a set of people in the establishment who did not like improvement in relations with India. While enmity with India had impeded Pakistan's economic progress over the years, India had meanwhile progressed in leaps and bounds. The editorial observed that in both Kashmir and Pakistan, there were sections of people who were against trade relations as it would put the Kashmir issue on the backburner. However, the editorial observed that it is a known fact that improved relations had facilitated a peaceful atmosphere for the composite dialogue on Kashmir and had led to a significant change in the mindset of the people. The editorial urged Pakistan to come out of the shell and try to further improve relations with India on all fronts.

Tameel-e-Irshad's editorial on 15 February observed that the mushrooming of separatist parties in Kashmir had allowed India and Pakistan to play a double game by inviting each outfit separately for talks. The editorial observed that this process is only meant to fool people and it would not serve any purpose as the separatist outfits will always remain a divided house. The Central government could not be blamed for inviting the separatist leaders as every leader had claimed to be the real representative of the Kashmiris. The editorial observed that unless separatist leaders talk unitedly to the Indian and Pakistani governments, nothing worthwhile would be achieved. If the separatist leaders are able to forge unity in the future, then it would be easy for India and Pakistan to understand their position. Even the leaders who are opposed to the talks or have branded it as a futile exercise would not be able to resist joining the united separatist bandwagon in the future.

Alsafa's editorial expressed shock and anguish of all parties in the Valley over the systematic harassment and intimidation of Muslims by Buddhists in Leh town of Ladakh region. The editorial said that it was same case in Kargil, a Muslim dominated town, where property and shops of minority community were looted. The editorial criticised the administration of failing to curb the anti-social elements who were behind the violence in these towns. It demanded that those responsible for the communal tension and hatred should be exposed and given severe punishment while the minorities should be given protection.

Srinagar Times observed in its editorial that two news items regarding meeting of Hurriyat leader Farooq with the Hindus in Jammu and that Geelani was the leader of Kashmiris had attracted the attention of the people. The editorial observed that while the Geelani's faction was of the view that talking to insignificant leaders will not lead to any solution, the fate of such talks would be similar to that of the 1975 accord between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi. The editorial observed that similar to Abdullah who had fought for the interests of the Kashmiri people, Geelani, who had fought assembly elections under the J&K Constitution and was once ready to support the Congress Legislature Party, was fighting for the interests of the Kashmiri people. Geelani has termed Farooq and other separatist leaders as having no base among the people. However, it was Geelani who had supported the Mirwaiz as the first chairman of the APHC in 1996. The editorial observed that Geelani earlier was considered an influential leader who also had observer status in the OIC, which is at present enjoyed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The editorial observed that while separatist leaders who were earlier allied with Geelani were now with Farooq, the latter has also got the observer status accorded by the OIC. In such a situation, the editorial questioned the validity of Geelani's observations about the Mirwaiz not having support base among the Kashmiris.

Interview of Omar Abdullah
President of the National Conference, Omar Abdullah, was interviewed by the weekly Chattan. In the interview Abdullah favoured autonomy for the state and said that it was a better option than self governance. He also said that that Syed Ali Shah Geelani was the only separatist leader who was pursuing his ideology while other Hurriyat leaders and separatists had lost their objectives. Abdullah termed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti of not knowing the real meaning of self governance. He also said that his party would support Ghulam Nabi Azad on positive issues only. He said that the National Conference would contest the forthcoming assembly by-elections in March 2006 and will not forgo its position in favour of the Congress party. Abdullah criticised the PDP as an 'issue-less' party and accused former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of promoting divide and rule policy and anti National Conference sentiments. He also said that he would be visiting Pakistan to participate in the Pugwash Conference and would meet General Musharraf during his visit. Abdullah said that he would hand over a copy of the 'autonomy' resolution passed by the J&K Assembly during National Conference rule and try to convince the General that the autonomy option was much better than the self governance option.

News Snippets