Another hurdle for harmony in Kashmir

 Yeh to bahut badi himakat hai (This is a huge blunder)’ was the first reaction of a mainstream Kashmiri to the execution of Mohd Afzal Guru on February 9.

This was followed by a volley of questions: Whose decision was this? Whose agenda would it serve? Why now when not all these years? Has anyone bothered to consider what the repercussions might be on the always fragile peace inKashmir? Does anyone care about Kashmir inDelhi?

Or, as Khalida Shah put it subsequently, Afzal Guru’s hanging at a most inopportune time has delivered a huge setback to the painstaking process of normalisation. More philosophically, the Kashmiris might say that such is their luck that something always goes wrong when things look their best.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has had to bear the brunt of the Kashmiri ire over the hanging. It makes his position extremely vulnerable if not untenable. He had consistently argued against Guru’s execution because of its ramifications and the difficult position he would be placed in.

Which reminds one of what Prof Abdul Ghani Butt once said: Kashmiris are descended from Nagas – not quite straight but leave them alone and they will never bother you; but unnecessarily provoke them or cross their path and they sting hard.

Has their path been violated again? Omar Abdullah’s angry reaction within a day of the execution would suggest so.

Dr Farooq Abdullah has remained stubbornly loyal to the UPA, however much he may be troubled within but National Conference (NC) leaders in the valley have found it impossible to conceal their disapproval.

As MP and senior leader Mehboob Beg put it, the NC had been rendered virtually politically impotent.

Whatever the long term implications for the party that Omar Abdullah alluded to in reference toKashmir, the next election is not going to be as easy for the National Conference as 2008.

For the PDP, the hanging has provided a political lifeline. And it has grasped it with both hands, directly attacking the Chief Minister and accusing him of being a party to the conspiracy to execute Guru – allegations that the National Conference will find hard to live down in the immediate aftermath of the hanging.

Kashmirhas been in mourning. Anger is palpable but more than that is the hurt and disappointment over what is perceived as a grave injustice toKashmir.

Nothing is more dangerous than this despair and sullenness in the valley. The take-it-or-lump-it attitude just does not work inKashmir. If it did, we would never have a problem. How this will play out in the long term, only time will tell.

Between the worst and best case scenarios there are always grey areas which provide opportunities for peace and reconciliation inKashmir. It is a difficult situation that needs sensitive and skilful handling.

More than 800 years ago the sage and historian Kalhana, in his immortal work Rajtarangini, observed that ‘Kashmir could be conquered not through arms but through virtuous deeds’.

It was virtuous deeds that earned us respect inKashmirin the mid 1990s once militancy had been contained by the security forces. But somewhere, somehow we seem to have lost the script.

The security forces have again demonstrated admirable restraint in containing the situation thus far. What shape militancy might take in the summer or in time to come is anybody’s guess.

Kashmiris want peace more than anything else but peace with honour and dignity. Pakistani ‘niyat’ (sincere intention) always plays a role.

Of late, for whatever reasonsPakistanhas been holding back inKashmirbut it has its tentacles widely spread in the Valley, not only among the separatists but increasingly the mainstream as well – in a subtler, less conspicuous manner than Yasin Malik caught on camera with Hafiz Mohd Saeed.

And can the Kashmiri be blamed for looking west when he feels all avenues denied to him within?

InLahore, Yasin Malik is the ‘Jawai Babu’; here we are threatening to lock him up even though he could not have gone across without an Indian brief.

Something just doesn’t gel. Why the ‘insecurity’?

Omar Abdullah has suggested thatDelhishould revisit the political process inKashmir.  Engagement is the key. Our standard response is that Kashmiris are not prepared to talk, or are not sincere about dialogue.

Not so long ago the moderates among the separatists were engaged in what they thought was a serious dialogue with GOI, so much so that they came to be branded as ‘Advani Hurriyat’ in the valley.

For the present it may be easier to revive the political and democratic process by seriously involving Dr Farooq Abdullah, still the most solid bridge betweenSrinagarandDelhiand the former Union Home Minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed. Whatever their prejudices, they know each other andKashmirbetter than anyone else.

In course of time separatists of all hues need to be included in dialogue. It seems unlikely, but it is not inconceivable that the separatists may even contemplate participating in the 2014 elections if they could be assured a level political playing field and no repeat of 1987.

Pakistantoo needs to be in the loop. According to the electoral calendar, general elections will be due before elections inKashmirin 2014.

However, it may be prudent to hold elections inKashmirbefore the national elections –because who knows, by then the devil may have taken the hindmost.

And there could still be something to retrieve from the elections inKashmirin 2014.

– A S Dulat