As Kashmir burnt, home minister Shivraj Patil stayed his hand, arguing that since law and order was a state subject, the Centre could not get involved in every problem in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.
At his all-party meeting in Delhi on Tuesday, some participants proposed that the two sides in the dispute—the pro-Vishwa Hindu Parishad Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti which wants 100 acres to be transferred to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) for facilities for pilgrims, and Kashmiri leaders who believe such a transfer is not on—should talk to each other across the table to find a solution.
That may not work.
Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq announced in Srinagar on Tuesday that 15 August would be marked a “black day” and that he would afterwards announce a programme of “tangible objectives”. The distance between New Delhi and Srinagar has just increased.
The buzz in the Capital was that the government had sent an aircraft to bring Mirwaiz for talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but he refused.
For the first time since 1947, when India and Pakistan were partitioned into two nations and Kashmir fought back armed tribals sponsored by the Pakistan army, the valley’s Muslims are rising together against Delhi.
The refrain—“it was never like this even in 1990”— is echoing across the valley, a reference to the year that marked the beginning of Pakistan-sponsored militancy.
Thousands of people—estimates in media reports range between 40,000 and 400,000—marched from Baramulla and Sopore towards the Line of Control (LoC) two days ago, defying a curfew, shouting “Muzaffarabad Chalo” (To Muzaffarabad), the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The protesters were stopped by the Army and state police only 40km from the informal border with Pakistan.
Congress leaders privately acknowledge that the government and the party failed to anticipate this mass uprising, and admit that former chief minister and Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad failed to keep the party informed about the politics over the land transfer to SASB.
One Congress leader, who didn’t want to be named, said Azad, hoping to score over coalition partner, the People’s Democratic Party, had preferred to keep the company of pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) S.K. Sinha, the former governor and architect of the land transfer to SASB.
Meanwhile, New Delhi’s prized pro-people initiatives, connecting Kashmiris across LoC, are in serious jeopardy. The weekly bus service from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad, scheduled to start from 24 August, may never take off if the crisis continues. The irony of a Congress government, which had hoped that LoC would over the time become a “soft border” and integrate the people of a divided Kashmir, having to shoot to kill to prevent people from walking across LoC earlier this week, is tragically complete.
Manmohan Singh, it was being said in the wake of the post-nuclear vote euphoria, would surely undertake a visit to Pakistan, during which long-standing disputes over Siachen—where Indian soldiers are fighting both frostbite and an imagined enemy—as well as the maritime boundary at Sir Creek in the Rann of Kutch would be resolved.
But as Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, part of a civilian government, and former army chief President Pervez Musharraf lick their lips at the opportunity to tell New Delhi to go easy on the Kashmiris, bilateral relations have plunged to a new low.
It’s clear now that Manmohan Singh may never be able to visit his beloved Gah, the village in Pakistan’s Jhang district, where he was born, not while he is prime minister in this term. Some people expect national elections in late winter. Talk of a hugely truncated monsoon session of Parliament, for perhaps a week in September, is in the air. And elections that were supposed to be held in Kashmir in October are likely to be postponed forever.
It is all these unfulfilled promises and missed opportunities that make up the cauldron that is Kashmir.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz, the Hurriyat leader who was shot as he led the “Muzaffarabad Chalo” procession two days ago, was a militant leader in the early 1990s and used to accept the salute of a few thousand militants on 14 August, Pakistan’s independence day.
Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz, desperate to make peace with Delhi, says he feels betrayed by Delhi because it has never discussed a political solution with him.
And what of Jammu? The government’s inability to open informal channels of communication with the opposition BJP and request it to take control of the raging resentment in the plains has added to the staggering sense of uncertainty and loss in the state.
Apart from the fact that the government simply hasn’t been able to get its act together and appoint a point person in charge of Kashmir policy—just like it did for the nuclear deal—the post of special secretary, in charge of internal security, has been lying vacant since national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, who took over after J.N. Dixit died in January 2005.
Jyoti Malhotra is Mint’s diplomatic affairs editor and writes on the intersection of foreign policy, trade and politics every week. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read all of Jyoti Malhotra’s earlier columns, go to www.livemint.com/betweenthelines-