September 13 was not only the bloodiest day in the recent turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir, it also triggered a plethora of political activity on the explosive situation in the region, both internally and internationally. On this day, 18 people were killed by police and paramilitaries in Valley, who were, apparently, protesting against the alleged Quran desecration in the US. The protests and the retaliation were harsher in the undercurrent of continued turmoil in the Valley. The carnage coincided with the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting in New Delhi, which deplored “governance deficit” in the state and urged for a consensus to explore solutions to the explosive situation. The CCS decided to hold all-party meeting on September 15, which eventually decided to send the 39-member Parliamentary delegation headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram to state to explore the situation.
By the time, the all-party delegation arrived in curfew-bound Srinagar on September 20, the turmoil had passed the hundredth day with civilian death toll crossing 100. The Parliamentarians had the gumption to visit a hospital in Srinagar to meet the injured. Srinagar hospitals have received more than 1500 patients with firearms injuries and ruthless beatings.
On September 23, most members of the delegation met Home Minister to offer their feedback. The Home Minister is preparing the report on J&K to submit to the Government, which is likely to coincide with Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s speech at the UN. This would partly serve the purpose for rushing an all-party delegation to Kashmir. The unexpected prolonging of the turmoil and continuation of avoidable civilian killings embarrassed the government at international level. For example, the UN Secretary General Bann Ki Moon expressed concern over the prevailing situation in Kashmir. Similarly, the Organisation of Islamic Conference called for resolution of Kashmir issue and expressed “disappointment over the use of force and violence against the people”. Certainly, Pakistan played its role to highlight the issue. Both Houses of Pakistan parliament passed resolutions favouring “freedom struggle” of Kashmiris and vowed to continue “political, moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris”. India immediately “rejected” them and questioned the locus standi of Pakistan to speak about Kashmir, which according to Foreign Minister is in “illegal occupation of some parts of Jammu and Kashmir”.
The purpose of sending an all-party delegation to Kashmir ahead of the annual UN General Assembly meeting was to communicate to the world that Delhi was making serious efforts to address the grievances of the people whether political or economic. This explains as to why the subgroups of the delegation took initiative to meet separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik, despite the latter’s unwillingness to interact with them. Though separatists were content with putting across their point of view, Pakistan took it with a pinch of salt.
“Unless India takes a fresh look at its Kashmir policy, does some introspection and stops treating Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part and stops harping on seeking a solution within the Indian Constitution, we do not believe that we can really have any meaningful or result-oriented discussions with India on this (issue),” said Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit after the all-party delegation had left Kashmir. Indian reaction to this statement was equally hard-hitting. Reprimanding Pakistan to stop counseling India on what needs to be done in Kashmir, SM Krishna showcased all-party delegation’s visit as consciousness of India’s responsibilities. “Institutional mechanism and individual mechanism will be put in place so that the genuine grievances of Kashmir and the people of Kashmir will be addressed squarely and directly,” he said.
When Marxist leader Sitaram Yachuri emerged from South Block after briefing Home Minister he boasted over the change in ground situation in Kashmir following the APD’s visit. There has been no major incident of violence, he said. What he did not mention was the continuation of curfew in the Valley since September 12. Syed Ali Geelani who issues protest calendars had asked the people to resume routine work on September 23 and 24 but in order to show that Geelani does not run a parallel government in Kashmir, the authorities continued imposition of curfew. The net result of this face off is more disenchantment of the common people. This is bound to be counter-productive for the government. Worse, the publication of local newspapers stopped as authorities imposed a virtual ban on the press without announcing it.
The short-term measures suggested by the APD would be release of political prisoners and youngsters accused of stone-pelting, some economic packages, area-wise withdrawal of Armed Force (Special Powers) Act, or even the change in guard for which PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed is being actively consulted. But these measures may not change the ground situation, unless long-term measures to address the political aspect of the problem are not initiated.
The disappointing track record of the UPA government on this count brings in pessimism. The Manmohan Singh government unilaterally terminated dialogue process with the sections of Kashmiri separatists in 2007, which the latter had plunged into at the cost of their security and credibility. This government lackadaisically pursued the fifth working group assigned to find out ways to develop center-state relations. Justice (retd) Saghir Ahmad’s report has not been pursued ever since it was submitted to the government.
There is complete mismatch between the narratives in Kashmir and New Delhi. Home Minister declares that Kashmir’s future is secure with India, which is in contradiction with the dominant street voice for azaadi. Common Kashmiris are waiting as to how the South Block, which has acknowledged the uniqueness and history of the Kashmir problem, would address the political aspect of the issue. The fingers are crossed.