Autonomy" and "self rule" have entered the rubric of the Kashmir peace process. During this week's Round Table Conference for which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Srinagar, it was decided to refer the job of defining these two issues in the context of J&K to one of the five groups which were constituted to implement the UPA Government's vision for appeasement of terrorism. The Prime Minister's spokesman went to the bizarre extent of stating that the objective of the group would be to review the "special status" of J&K within the Indian Union.
While Kashmir burned throughout the week - terrorist attacked security forces as well as innocent tourists from Gujarat - the Prime Minister played sweet music for the agents of secession. It was obvious to most that the UPA was out to mollify the Hurriyat Conference which stayed away. The tendency to give overriding importance to the pro-Pakistani elements has been the hallmark of Mr Singh's Kashmir policy. The Government's act of bending backwards to please a grouping whose leaders shun elections and make no secret of their links with Pakistan caused the BJP to stay away from the exercise, while activists of the Dogra Liberation Front demonstrated outside the Jammu Raj Bhavan waving placards that decried the "self rule" concept.
The exclusion of "nationalistic" elements from the multilateral process has been one of the most regrettable features of the UPA's Kashmir policy. It was clear that the Communist-backed regime was treating the 1994 Parliamentary resolution on Kashmir as a disposable commodity. During the week, Mr Singh made two ridiculous statements which had the effect of sapping the national resolve to combat cross-border terror. First, he surrendered to typical human rights dogma by giving his "zero tolerance" order whereby the security forces were made to appear as the aggressors rather than the victims of terror. Then, he appealed to Kashmiri "militants" to "return home".
He said: "In the light of the changing environment, we are reviewing the cases of all detainees. Included in this is a review of those (who) crossed over (to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir) after violating our laws and who are now anxious to come home." The national security establishment was left speechless by the innocence displayed by Mr Singh to the reality of Kashmir, the most burning problem of South Asia. The figures on terrorist modules, attacks and victims claimed as a result of Pakistan's Kashmir-oriented terrorism don't indicate a "changing environment". Indeed, the condition of Srinagar, as it was besieged during the two-day Round Table, should have forewarned the Prime Minister's spin doctors against making such outlandish claims.
The signals sent out by this sleight of hand to the sentiments of those who are labouring night and day to keep India united on J&K cannot be underestimated. To the wider world of India baiters, the unequivocal impression now is that New Delhi is suffering guilt pangs for defending its national indivisibility. From a Prime Minister who had gained plaudits for saying early in his term that a solution to the Kashmir problem should exclude a second partition of India, this is extremely unfortunate in that it reinforces the old soft state stereotype which Pakistan so celebrates. The remark of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the most prominent face of Pakistan encapsulates the growing temerity of the Hurriyat. He had the gall to dismiss the initiative of the Prime Minister saying: "There have been 130 conferences and dialogues on Kashmir since 1948". This kind of insouciance can only thrive when New Delhi is perceived as weak.
On the eve of the "official event", the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management organised a seminar on "Alternative Futures" for the strife-torn State. It mobilised free thinkers and activists who wanted to speak out against the growing tendency of the Government and the neo-liberal elite now dominating the national media to gloss over the reality of Kashmir.
A crucial resolution adopted at the event held that isolationism and ghettoisation militate against the empowerment of the Kashmiri people. The aspirations of the people cannot be met by a mere political redistribution of power between regional or factional elites, but requires the establishment of clear mechanisms that ensure access to developmental opportunities and safeguarding economic and natural resources for the benefit of the people of J&K.
The most visible victims of the 16-year-old terror, the Hindus of Kashmir, have been ignored by the UPA regime. During his first trip to the State in 2004, Mr Singh practically asked them to forget about their ever recovering their lost homes and prestige in Kashmir's economy and society. Whereas previous Prime Ministers had at least paid lip service to their aspirations to return to re-occupy their once considerable estates in the Valley, Mr Singh announced that they should accept two-room hovels in Jammu.
The seminar sounded a warning against any move to marginalise Hindus and other minorities of J&K by succumbing to the arm-twisting tactics of Pakistan. "Any solution or meaningful perspective on J&K must accommodate the multiple identities of the State, the significance of every constituent community and sub-region, and the imperatives of an integrative approach to the resolution of conflicts." It also held that this logic should not be limited to J&K, but also include their brethren in the regions illegally held by Pakistan. The condition of Gilgit-Baltistan (see The Other Voice) got special focus.
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