Kashmir has, for long, been in the throes of a separatist movement aided and abetted by our neighbour from across the line of control. A widespread armed insurgency started in Kashmir after the disputed 1987 elections to the State Legislative Assembly. Some elements, dissatisfied with the conduct of the election, which they said was rigged, joined a movement of militancy which culminated in large scale armed insurgency. According to official figures released in the J& K Assembly, there were 3800 disappearances as on July 2011; the conflict had left more than 52,000 dead. However, the number of insurgency-related deaths has fallen sharply in the last five years; since the start of a slow moving peace process. Of course, the Army along with the Para Military Forces and JK Police had a major role to play in the decline of terrorism.
Regardless of the emerging peace, brinkmanship amongst a few feudal families of Kashmir who share the political space continues to be the order of the day. Post the summer of unrest in 2010, the knives were out again, with the National Conference President, Farooq Abdullah, accusing the Hurriyat Chairman, Syed Ali Geelani, of “wanting Kashmir to be a graveyard and in ruins”. Speaking in the backdrop of the violence which had led to killing of over 100 civilians, he urged that, “Hartals, stone-pelting and burning down school buses only cause destruction and poverty. It is not going to work. The vendors suffered immensely. The schools remained shut. I want to ask people how their children would compete with their counterparts in Jammu and other states with schools shut?” Without naming any separatist, Farooq said: “They send their children for studies to Malaysia and America but deprive others of studies”.
It is surprising that the Abdullahs, whose three generations have been in power, now regret the State’s accession to India. Perhaps they nurse the ambition to make J&K a sovereign and autonomous entity with their family at the helm. On the other hand, PDP is restless and ill at ease with respect to all initiatives taken by various political parties and groups. Mufti Mohd Sayeed laments that New Delhi is not seeing the “inevitability of resolving the Kashmir issue”. There are many other instances of immature politicians speaking out of turn and spoiling the peace process. Take the case of a senior Congress leader in Jammu and Kashmir, Gulam Rasool Kar. He has most obnoxiously declared, “Every Kashmiri is emotionally attached to Pakistan whether they are in Congress or National Conference”. Kar termed Kashmir as disputed and urged Congress to strive for a resolution with Pakistan on the issue. Obviously, fault lines do exist in the political landscape of the region.
The story of the separatists has its own twists and turns. Last winter, in a sudden bout of truth-telling, separatist leader Prof Abdul Gani Bhat had set the cat among the pigeons by openly stating that Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq (Hurriyat chairman Umar Farooq’s father) and Abdul Gani Lone (father of Sajad Gani Lone) were killed “by our own people”. Following this, mainstream parties including the ruling National Conference applauded Bhat for his “courageous revelations” while most of the separatist groups including the Hurriyat faction, remained mum. In the meantime, Syed Salahuddin, the Hizbul supremo, in an interview with a Kashmir based news agency had said, “Those who killed innocents should be brought to public court. They are accountable before the Almighty Allah as well as people of Kashmir”.
According to political analysts, this indicated a dramatic shift in Kashmir’s polity. While Professor Bhat’s statement created ripples in Kashmir’s political circles, it also signaled the beginning of a healthy and much needed process of questioning and accountability. Though late, the Hurriyat leadership finally realised that it is not only the state but the non-state actors also who should be blamed for killings and rights violations. Tahir Mohiuddin, chief editor of a weekly `Chattan’ said, “Though people always knew who killed whom in Kashmir, the statement is instrumental in breaking the silence over such killings. Now people can openly question political strategies and seek answers to demystify various secrets kept in cold storage so far”.
It is well known that Kashmiri Pandits, Jammu Dogras, Ladakhi Buddhists, Sikhs and other non Muslim minorities of Jammu and Kashmir shall be the worst sufferers should the political dispensation change in the State. Also, the fallout of a weak approach shall amount to catering to the protagonists of Azadi or Pakistan inspired secessionism. It could pave the way for yet another partition on the basis of religion, which may grossly endanger our democracy and prompt other areas of India to nurture similar aspirations.
With peace emerging as a reality and it being well known that the political divisions in the Valley are personality rather than ideology driven; the question is – why should the weak, inept, consistently wavering and ineffective Kashmir policy of the central government not be decisively revisited by firmness befitting the stature of the largest democracy of the world? The appeasement by the present set-up has led to a mess, given Pakistan an upper hand, the separatists the license to sell anti-India, anti secular and disruptive ideology, while most of them own assets and fortunes disproportionate to their incomes.
India should not bow to any extraneous pressure. If suffering is destined for disregarding “pressures”, why not accept the same like a truly sovereign and powerful country? Now is the time to get all actors on the table and resolve all issues decisively, within the framework of the Indian constitution, sans any external interference. The sooner the better since the clock is ticking away and the moment of peace may just fade way.