In the end all it took was a month of stone pelting in Srinagar for the powers that be to appeal the top secessionist in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Syed Ali Shah Geelani, for help.
Geelani has obliged. On Wednesday, he appealed to the anarchic crowds of Srinagar for calm. His words worked and for a moment, if only a moment, normalcy seems to have returned. He, of course, demanded a price for his support. It will be high. This is not evident now, but it will be, in the times ahead.
In the past five-odd years, overt support for pro-Pakistan groups in the Kashmir valley came down considerably. Two factors played an important role in this development. Talks between then president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, with whom Geelani never agreed, had borne some fruit. This led to some respite from the Pakistani side, real and rhetorical. It was this declining support for militancy that permitted the conduct of assembly elections in 2008. Violence and dislocations over the years resulted in the yearning for peace in Kashmir. Geelani’s politics, and in turn his fortunes, were on the wane in this period.
This, however, does not fit into the new Pakistani game plan. A civilian government lends too much legitimacy for “Indian rule” in the state. From Islamabad’s perspective, it becomes vital that there be a governance paralysis in J&K. What better than recurring images of stone-pelting crowds of young people, some as small as nine years of age. It is a different question, however, to ask if a nine-year-old can comprehend complex political questions. But then Kashmir has never been a place interested in resolving difficulties. Azadi is a painkiller for all its ills.
In this situation, to permit political space to Geelani is a dangerous move. By his own admission, an aide to chief minister Omar Abdullah approached him with an “offer”. What this “offer” will do is to eat away all the space for mainstream political parties such as the People’s Democratic Party and Abdullah’s National Conference, space that has been won with the blood of soldiers. If there could be a setback to normalcy in the state, this is it.
The international context, too, is not propitious, if it ever was. A Pakistan that feels it’s “winning” against India, combined with re-legitimization of secessionist politics, is a box of dry gunpowder. It is waiting to explode.
Should the government have allowed more political space to Syed Ali Shah Geelani? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org