On September, 21, a day after the visit of the All Party Delegation (APD) to Kashmir, I landed at the Leh Airport and proceeded straight to Kargil. The evening earlier I had remained glued to the television to get inputs on the activities of the delegation. It was quite animating to observe the discomfiture of the separatist leaders when some of the delegates took the statesman like decision to meet them in their own houses despite their declared boycotted of the delegation. It was also quite interesting to hear their lame efforts to justify their impractical agenda’s to the visiting delegates.
Geelani termed the status of Kashmir as one of “illegal occupation” by India. Mirwaiz maintained that Kashmiri’s want solution to the dispute not peace and that “Azadi” was the only solution. Yaseen Malik stated his inhibitions on initiating a dialogue process within the purview of the Indian Constitution. The delegates, in turn, made no bones about the non-viability of the concept of Azadi and holding talks outside the purview of the Constitution. Beyond this they assured their hosts that the Indian Nation would be more than forthcoming in understanding and facilitating the justified aspirations of the Kashmiri people. The discomfiture of the separatist and mid-stream leaders like Mehbooba Mufti was even more obvious in their interviews with the media where they were seen skirting penetrating questions on their misguided policies. The proceedings of the day left a gratifying feeling that the Indian Nation had, at last and across party lines, made it very clear that National integrity was sacrosanct and no argument in this aspect was likely to be entertained either now or ever.
The next day during my long and tedious journey from Leh to Kargil I witnessed the paradox that defines the political landscape of the State of J&K. While a national delegation was in the process of appeasing a so-called frustrated segment of the State’s polity the region of that the State where I was travelling exhibited absolute peace and tranquility. Markets in Village’s en-route were abuzz with activity, there was no presence of security forces and the people looked very happy and contented. The most encouraging sight was the large number of children, especially girls, who were seen coming back from school in small, energetic groups. In Kargil, the development after the Kargil War, when I last visited the region, was astounding. The place is marked with hundreds of vehicles, vibrant fruit orchards and fields and very large markets that sell all modern amenities.
Having, on earlier occasions, seen a similar happy situation in the Jammu, Poonch, Rajouri, Reasi, Udhampur and Doda/Kishtwar regions right up to the Banihal tunnel, I am left with no option but to agree with the argument put forth by the Jammu State Morcha in its memorandum to the APD that the Hurriyat Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and, to an extent, the National Conference represent only the Kashmir Valley which is geographically a very small segment of the State which includes the vast Jammu and Ladakh region. In terms of population also they represent a very small section of Sunni Muslims who form the polity of the Valley. Amongst the Muslims they do not represent the Shia Muslims nor the Gujjars and Bakarwals even though the latter are Sunni Muslims. Secondly, all the regions mentioned above have no issues with the presence of the Army, in fact, they welcome the existence of an Army camp in their vicinity since it provides protection from foreign sponsored terrorism and also enhances commercial activity.
My observations find favour in view of the response that the APD got from the people of Jammu with whom they interacted on September, 21. Despite the fact that a large number of groups and political bodies did not get an opportunity to interact with the APD, either due to a deliberate effort by the government or due to lack of time, what emerged from the deliberations was loud and clear. First, nationalist sentiment is very strong in the Jammu. Second, any move by the government to dilute or revoke the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) is likely to trigger a massive negative response amongst the people of Jammu. Interestingly, the cadre of the Congress party in Jammu has openly opposed any tampering of the AFSPA leading one to believe that any decision in this direction may lead to a split in the party and the fall of the Omar Abdullah led government.
The response of the delegates on their return from the State has been muted. They have refrained from deriving political mileage by openly come out in favour of the separatists and by doing so they have confirmed outright rejection of the separatist ideology. Instead, they have recommended an approach based on dialogue aimed at isolating the separatists. “The distant dream of a separate State has to be removed. There has to be an eradication of the idea of separatism and the State has to function within the Constitutional framework of India,” the BJP has asserted with concurrence from none other than the Left parties
The Centre has announced a slew of confidence building measures on the evening of September, 25. These include release of protestors, additional grant of dole amounting to Rs 100 crore, unconditional release of youth detained for stone pelting and appointment of interlocutors amongst others. All of this may I are welcome steps as soft measures aimed at diffusing the situation. However, the hard options are expected to come by in the week ending October, 03 after the crucial meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The CCS will have to weigh all aspects very carefully before reaching to a decision. It has to ensure that the sentiments of the predominant nationalist segments are not hurt in an attempt to appease a small wayward segment which has made politics of agitation a business.