Kashmir Press Roundup: May 2006

2 June 2006

At the initiative of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the second Kashmir Roundtable Conference was held in Srinagar in May 2006. Though New Delhi invited political parties and separatist outfits to participate in the conference, the separatist outfits once again chose to boycott the dialogue. Separatist outfits, which had also boycotted the first Rountable Conference, appear to be incognisant of the dominant public opinion in Kashmir which is clearly in favour of a negotiated solution of the Kashmir problem. However, owing to the influence of their cross border masters, separatist outfits once again chose to boycott the path of dialogue. This sentiment was reflected in the media reports of Kashmiri news sources during May 2006. A summary of selected media reports during the month is given below.

Headlines of Important News Sources
On 12 May 2006, Wadi Ki Awaz reported BJP leader L. K.Advani as saying that the UPA government had failed to provide fool proof security to minority communities in Kashmir. He also alleged that communal forces were behind the massacre of Hindus in Doda and Udhampur districts. The objective of these attacks was to force the minority groups to leave the state. Alsafa reported Home Minister Shivraj Patil ruling out any reduction in troop levels in Kashmir due to the prevailing situation in the state. Patil also said that redeployment of forces would be undertaken whenever the need arose. Srinagar Times reportedon 15 May that Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig had alleged that some Congress leaders were trying to create differences between the PDP and the Congress party. He also criticised Congress leaders for campaigning against the PDP candidates in the recently held assembly elections. Aftab reported that the proposed expansion of the state cabinet had been deferred indefinitely due to the emergence of the sex racket in which several politicians and administrators were allegedly involved. It was also reported that the government would provide 600 people with the latest type of weaponry in Doda district in order to strengthen the Village Defence Committees to face the militant threat effectively.

Alsafa reported on 14 May that the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen had lifted the ban on cable operators and allowed them to operate cable network normally. However, the Hizb also warned those who were reportedly spreading nefarious propaganda against hardline woman leader, Asiya Andrabi of Dukhtaran-e-Millat. Srinagar Times reported on 15 May that political changes would be effected in the state after the second Roundtable Conference on 25 May. This was stated by PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti while addressing a rally at Magam, Budgam. Alsafa reported Hurriyat leader Moulvi Ansari advising released militants to join the struggle for freedom. He made these comments at the party headquarters of Salvation Movement headed by Zaffar Akbar Bhat. Aftab reported on 15 May that the Jamiat Ahle Hadees had decided at a meeting in Srinagar to frame Mohalla and Village committees to root out immorality and degradation of moral values from the society. The meeting also decided that those involved in the sex racket should be identified and exposed.

Wadi Ki Awaz reported on 17 May that PCC chief Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed criticised PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti who had earlier urged her workers to prepare for elections in the state. Sayeed claimed that the Congress government would complete its tenure and also advised the PDP leadership to shun such type of negative politics and work for strengthening the coalition government.

Aftab reported on 18 May that a 3-member team of the CBI had recorded the statements of Sabeena, kingpin of the sex racket and names of 22 senior officers and some influential politicians had also figured in the investigations. Alsafa reported that a security review was undertaken by the government in view of the proposed roundtable conference slated to be held in Srinagar on 25 May.

Srinagar Times reported on 20 May that a CBI report had established that over 100 people, including one Commissioner/Secretary, one DIG/BSF, police officers and 42 women were involved in the recently exposed sex racket in the state. The State High Court ordered an immediate identification of all those involved in the racket. Aftab reported that Pakistan Foreign Minister Kasuri had said in the Pakistan parliament that Islamabad had only asked America to help Pakistan in its efforts for the resolution of the Kashmir issue and that it had never asked the US to mediate on the issue.

Srinagar Times reported on 24 May that while inaugurating the second roundtable conference, Prime Minister Singh hoped that peace would soon return to the state. Twenty-seven political leaders participated in the roundtable conference. Some of the prominent leaders included: Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mangat Ram Sharma, Bhim Singh, Mohd. Yusuf Tarigami, Harsh Deve Singh, T. S. Wazir, Surinder Singh, Asgar Ali Karbalai and others. Eleven separatist outfits including the two factions of the Hurriyat did not participate in the conference.

Wadi Ki Awaz reported on 25 May that the second roundtable conference ended without any result as no important announcement or suggestions emerged during the conference. Aftab reported on the press conference held by the prime minister after the conference where he said that the government could reduce troops if the violence levels in the state dropped. He also announced the formation of 5 working groups which would review different aspects for the resolution of the Kashmir problem. The five groups would focus on rehabilitation of militancy-affected families, cross LoC links and communication, economic development of the state, transparent administration and eradication of human rights violations and strengthening Centre-State relations.

Srinagar Times reported on 29 May that India would raise the issue of the closure of 50 terrorist training camps in PoK during Home Secretary level talks with Pakistan on 30 May 2006. Uqaab reported that exiled former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had blamed General Musharraf for the Kargil misadventure in 1999. Sharif disclosed that he had come to know about the Kargil incursion from then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Srinagar News reported that militant outfits had planned to attack the roundtable conference venue by missiles with 8 km range. Militant outfits had also planned to attack the conference by using car bombs and grenades but could not do so due to the high level security.

Roshni reported on 30 May that C. Phunsog has been appointed the new Chief Secretary, J&K. He would replace Vijay Bakaya, who has been appointed Advisor to the Chief Minister. Similarly, S. M. Sahal has been appointed as the new IGP, Kashmir, in place of K. Rajindra, who has been posted as IGP, Human Rights.

Reports in Srinagar Times, Aftab and Alsafa published the reaction of J&K Governor over the attacks on tourists. The Governor termed these attacks as cowardly. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad termed it a direct attack on the State's economy as people associated with the tourist industry would suffer due to such incidents. Nida-i-Mashriq reported Pakistani opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman as saying on returning after his visit to India that he had noticed a perceptible flexibility in the Indian leadership towards resolving the Kashmir issue. He also said that India had not rejected Pakistan's suggestions of self rule, demilitarisation but was considering practical implementation of such measures.

Editorial Focus
In its editorial, Roshni reflected on the ongoing strike by doctors against the proposed reservation policy unveiled by the UPA government. The editorial observed that Union Minister for Human Resources Arjun Singh's refusal to talk to agitating students and doctors over the reservation issue was counter productive. The editorial observed that the government should have taken the people into confidence before unveiling a controversial policy. The editorial also observed that Prime Minister Singh should take the initiative to settle the issue amicably. In its editorial, Sringar News commented that though the coalition government in Kashmir was surviving, differences had emerged between the ruling Congress and the PDP over several issues. The editorial also said that the PDP holds the view that the state government is always controlled by New Delhi. Therefore it did not matter whichever party was in power in Kashmir. The editorial also observed that some in the state believed that the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was being wooed to join the electoral process. In such an eventuality, the editorial observed that the Congress pary would rather seek alliance with the separatists instead of sharing powers with the National Conference or the PDP.

In its editorial on 17 May, Subeh-i-Kashmir observed that the coalition government in the state under chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was functioning smoothly. However, the editorial said that misunderstandings between the Congress and the PDP would disturb the working of the government in the future. The editorial said that other parties such as the National Conference was keeping a close watch on the developments and would seek to exploit the situation in case mid term polls were held in the state.

In its editorial on 18 May, Alsafa commented on the political situation in the state and observed that serious differences had emerged between the ruling Congress and the PDP. It observed that the differences had taken a serious turn especially after the Congress party took over power in November 2005. Allegations and counter allegations betwen the two parties of the coalition clearly indicated that things were not good though both parties claimed that there was no threat to the stabilty of the coalition government.

In its editorial on 20 May, Uqaab reflected on the importance of the proposed roundtable conference slated to be held in Srinagar on 25 May. It said that it was the responsibility of the government to put forward the agenda of the conference in order to avoid misgivings. The editorial also said that it was better for mainstream political parties and separtist outfits to come up with their respective roadmaps so that there was no confusion about the agenda of the conference.

In its editorial, Tameel-i-Irshad observed that the first roundtable held in New Delhi did not achieve the desired results as both factions of the Hurriyat did not participate. Though efforts were underway to convince the separatists to participate in the second roundtable, the editorial observed that the separatist outfits were maintaining divergent positions on the issue leading to confusion among the people in Kashmir. The editorial urged the leadership to come up with an acceptable solution for the Kashmir issue, which could become the foundation for talks between India and Pakistan.

Kashmiri news papers wrote editorials on the roundtable conference, reflecting the purpose and fallouts of the initiative undertaken by the prime minister. In its editorial, Srinagar News observed that the outcome of the second roundtable was not different from the first roundtable. The editorial observed that while political observers and parties like the National Conference and PDP were expecting novel announcements by the prime minister, nothing of that sort happened and Prime Minister Singh even ignored the suggestion of the two parties regarding autonomy and self rule in the state.

An editorial in Srinagar Times focussed on the Hurriyat boycott of the roundtable conference and observed that such conferences only added to the hardships of common people as all activities come to a standstill due to security concerns.

In its editorial, Srinagar News observed that holding the roundtable in Srinagar was a bold decision under the current security situation in the state. It observed that the conference failed to achieve its goal due to the non participation of separatist leaders though the prime minister hoped that they would participate in future discussions. The editorial also said that popular expectations of release of detainees in the state were belied as nothing was announced to this effect. An editorial in Srinagar Times reflected Prime Minister Singh's disappointment at the non participation of separatist outfits in the conference.

In its editorial on 28 May, Aftab observed that though the coalition government had completed four years in power, it had failed to provide clean administration to the people. The editorial painted a dismal picture of the economy and the political situation in the state and blamed all political leaders for the hardships faced by the people. Tameel-i-Irshad observed in its editorial on 29 May that Pakistani opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who had recently visited India, had expressed satisfaction over the outcome of his meetings with Indian leaders. He also expressed hope that Pakistan would take advantage of the changed situation in its relations with India and both countries would soon resolve the Kashmir issue. The editorial also advised hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to take a lesson from the Pakistani leaders' statements and adopt a flexible approach on the Kashmir issue.

In its editorial on 30 May, Srinagar Times observed that opposition parties in Kashmir were always seeking to undermine the ruling party. The editorial observed that revelations made by Dr. Karan Singh about the fact that scandals began in India when V. P. Singh was the prime minister and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was the chief minister and the endorsement of these observations by the National Conference clearly indicated that opposition parties were always trying to tarnish the image of the party in power.

In its editorial, Tameel-i-Irshad complimented Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at the Unified Command Council in Srinagar where he urged security forces to ensure that human rights were not violated in their dealings with the people. The editorial observed that despite the prime minister's advise, violations were continuing and the people did not trust the security forces. The editorial urged the government to take strict actions against all erring officials and officers who violate human rights.

In its editorial, Aftab reflected on the two-day strike observed in Srinagar during the second roundtable conference. It termed the roundtable as fruitless and said that most sections of people believed that it was a government conference while some said that it was a meeting of government officials. The editorial urged for all parties to come together and adopte a unified approach taking into account popular aspirations.

Militant and Secessionist Events
Shabir Shah was quoted by Sringar Times as saying that instead of obseving martyrs day on different dates, it was better that a fixed day was declared to commemorate the occassion. Wadi Ki Awaz quoted Sheikh Aziz of Peoples League who said that he fully supported Pakistan President Musharraf's proposal to resolve the Kashmir issue. Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expressed reluctance to participate in the forthcoming second roundtable conference. Farooq also criticised the invitation extended to Bakarwals, Dogras and other ethnic communities and questioned as to how could these groups resolve the vexed Kashmir issue. Srinagar Times reported that Peoples League led by Ghulam Mohiuddin Sopori rejecting the self rule, autonomy and internal autonomy proposals for the resolving the Kashmir issue. The outfit said that only UN resolutions could solve the problem.

Sringar Times reported the Hurriyat Conference (Geelani) taking notice of the press statement given by some of its members. The oufit also issued show cause notices to the four leaders of its constituent organisations including Azam Inquilabi, Firdous Ahmed Shah, Yasmeen Raja and Saidullah Tantray. Alsafa reported that a senior separatist leader, accompanied by Prof. Saifuddin Soz (Union Minister for Water Resources) had held a secret meeting with the Prime Minister immediately after the PM-Hurriyat talks held on 3 May.

Wadi Ki Awaz reported that while addressing a public gathering in KMD mosque in Anantnag, Azam Inquilabi expressed his support for Pakistan's suggestions of self rule and demilitarisation. He urged both countries to withdraw their troops and provide self rule in Kashmir. Roshni reported that representatives of PoK based constituents of Hurriyat (Geelani Faction) had been served written instructions coercing them to support Musharraf's proposals of self rule and demilitarisation. The report also said that similar notices would be served on all PoK based militant organisations including LeT, JeM, and others.

Wadi Ki Awaz reported that Syed Ali Shah Geelani was put under house arrest before the commencement of the roundtable conference. Sringar Times reported on 24 May that the Hizbul Mujahideen had refuted claims that the people of Kashmir were fed up with the freedom struggle. A Hizbul spokesperson claimed that the strike during the conference clearly indicated that people still desired freedom.

Subah-i-Kashmir reported Syed Ali Shah Geelani as saying that the roundtable was an attempt to sideline the Kashmir issue though the strike observed by Kashmiris negated this attempt. He termed the conference a fruitless exercise and said that his outfit was in favour of a meaningful and final dialogue to resolve the problem.

Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen was quoted by Tameel-i-Irshad as saying that the Kashmir issue was not an unemployment or economic matter. It also criticised the prime minister's statement regarding the return of PoK based Kashmiri militants. Moulvi Farooq of the Hurriyat also termed the roundtable conference a failure though he expressed satisfaction over the prime minister's announcement regarding return of PoK based militants.

Alsafa reported on 28 May that Hizbul Mujahideen had denied involvement in the attack on tourists. The outfit criticised the attacks on tourists and said that it was aimed at tarnishing the image of militant outfits.

In a faxed statement, the Hizbul Mujahideen denied involvement in the massacre of Hindus at Doda, prior to the second roundtable conference. A Hizbul spokesman also denied involvement of militants in attacks on tourists during the conference.

Aftab reported that some influential personalities had accelerated efforts to unify the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference. The report said no progress could be achieved regarding resolution of the Kashmir issue as the Indian government was taking the divided Kashmiri leadership seriously.

Wadi Ki Awaz reported that from 1 May till the conclusion of the roundtable conference on 26 May, 21 civilians, 27 militants, 7 police personnel and 7 army soldiers had been killed and 113 people had been injured in militancy related incidents in the Valley.

Nationalist and Political Parties
Uqab reported Omar Abdullah of National Conference saying at a public meeting in Achabal, Anantnag, that Prime Minister Singh would announce a political package for restoring peace in the state. He said that his party would submit proposals on autonomy during the second roundtable conference. Abdullah also criticised the PDP for the insecurity in the state. Srinagar Times reported Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad as saying that he would take up the issue of the Salal project with the prime minister and urge him to hand it over to the state government.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah was quoted by Srinagar News as expressing support for the participation of PoK leaders in the roundtable conference. He also claimed that results of a probable mid term poll would change the political situation in the state. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad warned that militant outfits, in order to show their relevance, could undertake attacks to disrupt the roundtable conference. However, he claimed that his administration had made foolproof arrangments to hold the conference. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah expressed regret over the non-participation of separatist leaders in the second roundtable conference.

Uqaab reported Mehbooba Mufti of PDP as saying that the prime minister had accepted almost all suggestions put forward by her party during the roundtable. These included self rule, release of detainees, honourable return of PoK based Kashmiri militants, simplifying trans LoC travel procedures, reduction of troops and empowerment of local police authorities. Mohd. Yusuf Tarigami of CPM said that the prime minister showed positive response on all proposals put forward by his party during the conference.

Aftab reported on 28 May that Indina Army Chief Gen. J. J. Singh had stated that infiltration from across the line of control had decreased and the situation was returning to normal. He however claimed that militant training camps still existed in PoK. It was also reported that identification parade and questioning of 30 persons involved in the sex racket issue was undertaken during 25-27 May. PCC chief Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed said that there was no evidence regarding involvement of a Congress MLA, Ghulam Ahmed Mir, in the racket. Separately, it was reported that over 9000 tourists had arrived in the Valley on 28-29 May, marking a record breaking inflow of tourists compared to the figures for the corresponding period last year. It was announced that voting by the members of J&K legislative assembly for electing a member for the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) would be held on 15 June 2006.