Rush of tourists and Chidambaram’s ability to walk in the downtown Srinagar may indicate some semblance of normalcy in Kashmir but the message of the home minster to security establishment was to avoid a repeat of last three summers. Iftikhar Gilani reports
Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s political initiatives in Kashmir right from the “quiet dialogue” with separatists to the appointment of interlocutors may have failed to take off, his unambiguous message to security administration during his recent visit to Srinagar was that India can ill-afford a repeat of 2008 or 2010 public outpourings. Behind the close door meetings with the security administration, his mantra has been observing “restrain” and concentrating on pre-emptive steps to rein in the chagrin.
Corridors of power in Delhi are abuzz with whispers that interlocutors’ mission has failed to gain desired results. Though, nobody wants to disturb the panel, idea of setting up a credible mechanism at an appropriate level to engage a separatist is gaining momentum. However, insiders say Chidambaram’s visit was basically a security review in the wake of evolving situation in Pakistan and the American engagement with Taliban that might lead an early withdrawal of US forces.
Governor N N Vohra briefed the Home Minister twice, during his visit, on the political situation. It is believed that he has been told to use the peace period for evolving a credible political solution, lest the disturbances once again shift focus. State Congress unit president Prof Saifuddin Soz is also believed to have asked him to take the initiative. Chidambaram has unequivocally stated that no amount of force sent to Kashmir to quell any potential disturbances would be effective in absence of an effective administration.
When he took over as Home Minister in the aftermath of November 2008 Mumbai attacks, P. Chidambaram, known as tough task master, had hit a right chord in Kashmir. He was perhaps the first Indian leader who talked about “to work for an honourable solution to Kashmir problem.”
During his first sojourn to Srinagar to participate in the All Indian Editors’ conference, he committed that “separatist voices would be heard.”
“There will be a unique, honourable and acceptable solution to the problem in Jammu and Kashmir. We are working on it,” Chidambaram told reporters. He further said the government was not afraid of talking to anyone. He even said the government was working on a “quiet diplomacy and this would only be made public after the desired results were achieved”.
Many in Srinagar believed he was different. Instead of issuing threats to separatists and militants, he tried to reach a political solution. Even, he was highly positive in admitting that Jammu and Kashmir had a unique geographical location and unique history. And there was need for finding an honorable solution to the problem acceptable to vast majority of people. He was right in stating that any solution that fails to recognize the uniqueness of the problem will not work.
But, two years down the line, his words are still to translate into reality. Rush of tourists and Chidambaram’s ability to walk in the troublesome downtown Srinagar do convey normalcy, but the embers have not yet extinguished. Despite repeated assertions by some central and state leaders to back National Conference (NC), the biggest question in Srinagar is whether the chief minister will survive his full six-year term. Limited of delivery mechanism, unimaginative schemes and insensitive administration coupled with corruption has turned hopes into despair.
Acrimonious exchanges between Congress and NC leaders have hit a record low. Armed with statements of NC leaders calling Congressmen “snakes” and “gutter worms”, some 20 middle rung leaders are descending on Delhi to register protest with the high command. They have even threatened to resign en-mass in case high command does not take notice of such acerbic language.
Omar’s alliance partner, Congress, is also openly questioning the functioning of the chief minister. Though, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh recently chewed his words after expressing displeasure over the chief minister’s frequent trips to Delhi and elsewhere, the message got conveyed.
Recognising that interlocutors have failed to break ice in Kashmir, Home Minister is weary about resuming “quiet” and “secret talks” with the moderate Kashmiri leaders. It is believed that chairman of separatist conglomerate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had met Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram before visiting New York to attend the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) meeting in 2009.
During the meeting, Mirwaiz had taken the plea to consult Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session to seek support for his engagements with New Delhi.
India also wanted Mirwaiz to use his influence to ask Islamabad to put an end to “residual militancy” to enable Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to abide by his commitments on “de-militarization”, revocation of draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and release of prisoners. But Pakistani leader had asked Mirwaiz to first build the widest possible consensus within Kashmir by taking hardline leaders Syed Ali Geelani and others like Shabir Ahmed Shah and JKLF chief Mohammad Yasin Malik on board.
During his meeting with Chidambaram, Mirwiaz Farooq discussed the prospects of the Hurriyat bringing to table a clear cut agenda for talks. It is believed that a 12-point charter of discussion handed over to Government of India in 2009, had asked for an “interim administration” in Jammu and Kashmir to facilitate talks, implying that Hurriyat was apprehensive of continuing dialogue when the NC-led state government was at the helm in Srinagar.