Paradise on Precipice’
Kashmir, the world acknowledged paradise on earth is in abominable condition after Lethpora Pulwama attack which left 40 CRPF personal dead and dozens injured. After the attack, Jammu and Kashmir which has already been declared disturbed thirty years back is again in absolute uncertainty, mayhem and confusion. The political leadership, regional or national has left the people at the mercy of God. People of state, from time to time, have cast their vote and elected government, trusted them; tested them with the hope that they will pull out state from present crisis, chaos and confusion. But the leadership has always run after their interests. The regional parties continue their family rule even after 2010 and 2016 unrest and central government provided them every possible support to suppress genuine voices and grievances of people of state.
After the Lethpora attack, the union ministry of home affairs issued strict advisory to forces deployed in different parts of the valley, directing them to follow guidelines while travelling from Jammu to Srinagar or Srinagar to Jammu. On some sensitive places, CRPF has been replaced by BSF and other security agencies. Situation across country got appalled. Protests erupted in different cities and target was a Kashmiri Muslim. The Kashmiri traders and students were assaulted, targeted and beaten up in more than 10 states of India like Haryana, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. These students were pursuing their academic and professional courses in these states. The students were forced to leave respective institutes and colleges. It was very awful situation when Kashmiri students were even forced by landlords to vacate their rented accommodation. Despite advisory by central leadership and governor administration to different states and union territories, appointing of nodal officers and helpline for Kashmiri students, there was visible failure on ground. Sikh community came forward and arranged boarding and lodging facility for displaced students including transport facility for their safe return to the valley. On one hand students sought help to return home, and on the other closure or Srinagar–Jammu National Highway and hike in airfare exposed flawed policies of state administration which has totally failed to streamline the airfare between valley and other states. Jammu city, which we treat as a peaceful and safe region of state witnessed anarchy when a bandh call was given by traders association against Pulwama attack. The protestors in Jammu targeted Muslim community and their properties. Dozens of vehicles of Kashmiri were set ablaze. Situation got out of control and the civil administration imposed curfew in Jammu city. Thousands of employees and students of valley took shelter in mosques and other safer places.
People in the state especially in the valley were apprehensive that some untoward incident would happen before parliamentary elections. What happened from Kashmir to Mumbai from 15 February onward? The tensions between India and Pakistan escalated. India withdrew Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan; guns and artillery were fired and tension gripped whole south Asia when India carried surgical strikes in Pakistan, claiming causalities of militants that was quickly rebutted by Pakistan. The OIC’s timely intervention and diplomatic pressure by different countries including United Nation ensured the escalation didn’t reach to the point of where a catastrophe could have happened. Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan under goodwill gesture released Indian pilot Wing Commander Abinandan. This positive step towards peace and normalcy by Pakistan was appreciated and acknowledged across globe and this gesture ensured ease in tension between India and Pakistan. Some political groups tried to garner support on the issue for political benefit. To end the gloomy period between India and Pakistan, back channels and civil society groups played key role between two neighbors.
After the ECI announced poll dates for Lok Sabha elections across country, people from valley residing temporarily outside state due to their business or studies are very apprehensive about their safety. Hundreds of Kashmiri students pursuing studies outside and who have returned after Pulwama attack have not yet joined their respective colleges due to fear psychosis. The tourism sector of valley has got badly affected as there is mass cancellation of bookings after Pulwama attack. It is not only common Kashmiri who is facing the brunt, the forces too are suffering. In the Handwara encounter two CRPF personnel, including an inspector rank got killed. When men in uniform were taking the dead bodies of their colleagues out from the gunfight site, they cried in the hospital premises, giving a clear message that gun was not solution to any problem including Kashmir. Army chief and other officials during functions and media interactions have repeatedly said Kashmir is a political issue and needs a political approach for its permanent settlement. Dialogue is the only way to move forward to settle Kashmir dispute. The decision by government of India and governor administration to ban Jama’at-r-Islami in Jammu and Kashmir has widely been criticized across the state. The tyranny will lead to more alienation of youth as the youth of valley is already fed up with the system and policies of central government to handle sensitive Kashmir issue. The government of India has never followed a permanent policy on Kashmir. During UPA regime the government never drafted a Kashmir policy but only cosmetic measures to bring peace and stability. But these temporary measures failed from time to time. In 2014 when Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister, he invited distinguished leaders from across the globe for oath ceremony. Nawaz Sharief, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, was also invited to attend oath ceremony. People had expected that Modi, having a thumping majority, can settle all pending disputes including Kashmir, Siachen and water dispute. But during his tenure there was more aggression than solution.
The day Imran Khan took oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan he not only brought some visible changes in Pakistan politics and administration but he changed his attitude towards India and made an appeal to Indian side for dialogue on all issues including terrorism and Kashmir issue. Indian leadership on one pretext or other rebuffed the offer. India on diplomatic front followed escapism to avoid talks only due to political compulsion. There is only blame game but no policy for Kashmir issue yet.
If India is serious about Kashmir and other pending disputes, the leadership has to initiate a dialogue for permanent settlement. This seven decade problem has given us only sleepless nights; lakhs of people have lost their precious lives due to this conflict. (The author is chairman Centre for Peace & Protection of Human Rights and can be mailed email@example.com).