This week saw three important and interlinked developments taking place in Kashmir. The first was an appeal coming from the army that there was an urgent need to involve all stakeholders including the separatists and seek their cooperation in ending the current turmoil in Kashmir that was resulting in death and injuries to protesters besides inconveniencing the local population. The second development was the decision of the Hurriyat to extend the ongoing protests upto September, 1 and the third was Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani outrightly rejecting any proposal to hold talks within the framework of the Indian constitution.
The army’s appeal to all stakeholders to come together for finding ways to end the ongoing violence in Kashmir has certainly taken the Hurriyat by surprise. Probably that is why the Hurriyat (G) Chairman has announced that “We don’t accept the Indian constitution, so talks within its framework are out of question.” With this announcement the chances of any dialogue between stakeholders to end the present crisis seems unlikely. Moreover, since the Hurriyat has yet once again decided to further extend the protests it is clear that the separatist leadership is in mood to relent and so the prospects of an early return of peace in Kashmir remains suspect!
Into its second month, the continuing protests in Kashmir have claimed more than five dozen lives and left thousands injured. Out of these more than a hundred persons may lose their eyesight or be partially blinded due to pellet gun injuries. Presently the situation is extremely volatile as the youth have lost control over their emotions and in their frenzied state of mind are unnecessarily exposing themselves to danger. With all this bloodshed and widespread misery, what Kashmir now needs most is someone who can calm down the public and the separatists are most suited to do so.
However, with Hurriyat (G) Chairman ruling out dialogue and instead declaring that “until India accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory and starts demilitarisation, our struggle will continue come what may,” the situation has become even more precarious. If the Hurriyat believes that this would force New Delhi to accept Kashmir as a “dispute” and “demilitarise” Kashmir then I fear it is a case of (in ex Pakistan ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani’s words) a “magnificent delusion”. What defies comprehension is that when the lives of their brother Kashmiris are at stake how can the Hurriyat leadership continue being so obdurate and insist on using strong arm tactics?
At a time when Kashmir is facing a humungous human tragedy, the question which arises is that does anyone genuinely care for the ordinary Kashmiris?
Pakistan no doubt is shedding copious tears on the civilian casualties in the ongoing protests but instead of addressing the problem in hand has been using this tragedy to further its own Kashmir agenda. It has asked for the UN and USA to intervene and also approached the OIC. After shocking the world by hailing a Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander as a “Kashmiri Leader” and demanding an “independent inquiry” into his death, Islamabad even broke international protocol by requesting Médecins Sans Frontières (commonly known as “Doctors Without Borders”) to provide medical assistance to the injured in Kashmir. To show its utmost concern for the people of Kashmir, Islamabad made an offer to send supplies for them.
Islamabad and the Hurriyat may be delighted that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern on the situation in Kashmir and so has Washington. But the point that they need to carefully note is that the UN Secretary General has asked both New Delhi and the protesters to “exercise maximum restraint” and address the issue through “peaceful means.” Similarly, Washington too has expressed its concern at “reports of clashes between protesters and Indian forces” thereby putting the onus of the civilian casualties on both the protesters and New Delhi. All that the OIC has done is to express “concern” on the situation in Kashmir and instead of taking any constructive steps has passed the buck by saying that “The international community has the role to play in this regard”
With such non committal international responses on the issue, if Pakistan is genuinely concerned about the civilian casualties in Kashmir then as a responsible nation what it needed to do was to go beyond mere rhetoric and do something productive. Islamabad should have by now conferred with the Hurriyat (which it is otherwise so fond of talking to) and requested them to end the protests as the price the people of Kashmir were paying far outweighs the results being achieved. But it is not going to do so since what is presently happening in Kashmir suits Islamabad as it is under the erroneous impression that each Kashmiri killed or injured would strengthen its claim on Kashmir. Au contraire, in a most comical development, Islamabad has dedicated this year’s Independence Day to the freedom of Kashmir” and thereby shown to the world that it supports the ongoing violence there!
The next ‘well wishers’ of the people of Kashmir are the Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) based militant leaders who in the past used to call off their activities whenever public protests were taking place. But this time they haven’t done so and there are at least five recorded instances where militants have taken advantage of protesting mobs to attack the security forces. This is despite United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin announcing ‘suspension’ of attacks and this dangerous trend is only further enhancing the vulnerability of protesters! But as Pakistan’s ex President and former army chief General Pervez Musharraf has admitted that militant groups were primarily created for getting New Delhi to the negotiating table on Pakistan’s terms, it would be naïve to expect militancy in Kashmir to stop!
As far as the Hurriyat is concerned, the very fact that it needed the ‘crutches’ of Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani’s death to launch the current protests goes to show how weak its own position is as far as mobilising the public is concerned. But now when it has finally achieved what it couldn’t in all these years, the conscience of the separatist amalgam is not likely to be pricked by mounting civilian casualties. This is evident from its unreasonable preconditions that New Delhi must first accept Kashmir as a ‘dispute’ and undertake its ‘demilitarisation’ before thinking about holding any dialogue with the Hurriyat. With Islamabad, the Hurriyat and militant commanders doing everything else other than taking steps for the return of normalcy, the poor people of Kashmir seem destined to experience a bleak autumn is year!
SAS Geelani may have said that “We don’t accept the Indian constitution at all” but this is his personal view and that of the Hurriyat. Though he may insist on holding talks only outside the framework of the Indian constitution his contention is something that no civilised nation or international forum will ever endorse. The Hurriyat has to learn to behave more responsibly and set realistic targets for themselves as just by riding on public emotions and wishing for the moon will get them nowhere. An example of this is that despite the UN Secretary General’s clarification that the role of UN in J&K is limited to the Line of Control the Hurriyat continues its public marches to the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan. If the separatists think that the status and scope of UN resolutions on Kashmir can be changed by such marches, then it is nothing but another “magnificent delusion”!