Guest post by PEERZADA AASHIQ
Everyone is losing its plot in Kashmir — be it separatists, mainstream political parties, New Delhi or Pakistan. The biggest losers in the unarmed but stone-laden street uprising are Pakistan and separatists.
The failure of Pakistan in shifting paradigm of new realities in Kashmir can be gauged from its dwindling influence over separatists’ spectrum. It failed to unite fractured separatists to its 1992-like unified forum politics despite placing in half-a-dozen interlocutors between warring factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference led by Sayed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
Its influence over separatists’ spectrum has been wavering and waning. It was after former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf pick-and-choose policy that saw separatists cocooning and ensconcing their politics as per the public mood in Kashmir. If Musharraf’s four-point formula convinced moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, many hard-liners like Sayed Ali Shah Geelani and United Jehad Council chief Sayed Salahuddin rejected it.
The separatists approach towards 4-point formula completely divided public opinion unevenly with Geelani having bigger share. Geelani expressed his hatred for Musharraf, who closed down his offices in Pakistan, at a 2008 rally attended by more than 4 lakh supporters when he announced the breaking news of the Pakistan president’s fall. In the process, the Mirwaiz lost its clout in the new regime of Pakistan, which is equidistant to both the players.
Mirwaiz is batting on a sticky wicket. In drawing room discussions, the Mirwaiz detests the media label of being moderate. Rather, he wishes to be called as pro-dialogue leader. His failure to eke out any confidence building measure from New Delhi has seen him losing ground, very fast.
In 2002, a Friday before traveling to New Delhi for talks with the National Democratic Alliance leadership, more than 20,000 people pledged support at Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid to take the dialogue process to its logical end. On his return from New Delhi, the Mirwaiz with empty hands just saw 2,000 people waiting for him at the same mosque.
In the new reality of Kashmir, people see no hope in Geelani too in resolution process except for the fact he is custodian of anti-India sentiment. Geelani’s withdrawal of shutdown calls many a times has been turned over by street protesters, followed by general public. It was Geelani — of late who has banned provocative anti-India and pro-Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in his rallies — who doused street protests like the one sparked by Tufail Mattoo’s (17) killing in a teargas shell on June 11. Though he withdrew strike call and asked people to return to normal life, street protesters did not pay heed to him and continued with stone throwing — with many localities shutting on its own.
Geelani’s shutdown politics too has been usurped by the youth on the streets. Geelani’s Hurriyat had to change a protest calendar last week after youth protested against it and termed it as ‘soft’ one. Later, they changed it and asked people for 48-hour sit-in protests. Geelani is too moderate a voice in Kashmir now than the youth on the streets. The definition and scale of hard-line is changing fast. Geelani follows the hard-line voices of protesters, who threatened to unfurl Indian flag and red flag in protest against Geelani group if it doesn’t call for longer shutdown in Srinagar.
Now the biggest challenge is to allow separatist to consolidate leadership rather than allowing anarchy on streets dictated by disillusioned youth. Protesters anger is multi-layered. One is seeded in history, another day-to-day killings, then frustration of living in uncertain political future, shrinking of political spaces, no sincerity from parties involved to resolve the problem and criminalization of institutions like the army and police, which are involved in blood trade, obvious from fake encounters and fake arrests being made to earn stashes of money. Money is being charged from stone-pelters’ families to get theirs teens released and, in the process, allow criminalization of youth only with deep sense of vengeance.
New Delhi’s biggest disappointment has been its failure to institutionalize the dialogue process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s five working groups are nothing but files written by mainstream political parties and New Delhi. The institution of working groups was tanked by lack of political acumen in New Delhi. There is immediate need to announce publicly a political interlocutor to engage separatists and set time for rounds of talks. The people should be informed about the progress at regular intervals of time. Even if the talks yield zero, the news of zero has to be announced to keep public opinion in loop. The interlocutor can help douse street protests by selling small measures like withdrawing security forces from old Srinagar through separatists. The withdrawal could be assured only if separatists ensure nobody takes to the streets in the area designated for withdrawal of paramilitary. The area will still be managed by the police for basic law and order and to keep eye on ill-designs of saboteurs. The dire need is of systematic and continuous talks with all. Let it begin with separatist and at later stage others could be included too. New Delhi tried otherwise and failed.
Mainstream political parties too have failed to control public sentiment through good governance, despite higher percentage of votes. In 2008, the Peoples Democratic Party-Congress government fell after 60 people died in the Amarnath agitation in the Valley, in similar fashion to what is happening today. Omar Abdullah or Mufti Muhammad Sayed both have failed to assimilate and reconcile public sentiment through good governance. Time has come to engage all to ensure that protesters on the streets like 1989 do not take to the weapons. Situation demands quick response before Pakistan handlers use Kashmiri youth to wage war inside India for personal goals. Let’s cut supply to Pakistan jehad factory this time by extending hope and sincerity, which is not a difficult preposition.