Shun Seige Mentality

17 Jul, 2013    ·   4040

Shujaat Bukhari discusses the importance of finding a middle ground for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

Two important developments are taking place in the month of August vis-a-vis the otherwise “dead” peace process aimed at bringing the stakeholders from both the sides of Line of Control (LoC) at the table and to revive the linkages aimed at finding a middle ground to move towards the resolution of Kashmir dispute.

The first is that from August 18-20, Italy based NGO Pugwash International is organizing a conference in Islamabad to revive its efforts to bring together the representatives of political parties and civil society to pick up the threads from its 2006 initiative when the participants from entire political spectrum had converged in Islamabad to discuss ways and means to minimize the level of mistrust on both sides and to create a space for reconciliation. At that time the then Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf had held discussions with the participants from all shades of opinion. It had created an atmosphere of inclusiveness in the process of dialogue, thus minimizing the element of ego in the process.

The Pugwash initiative was running parallel to the composite peace process between India and Pakistan in which Kashmir had assumed central position and the Confidence Building Measures paved way to create a broader space for a final resolution. There were of course apprehensions from different quarters, particularly from those known as “hardliners” in Kashmir’s resistance camp. However, the general impression was that this process had struck a chord with the majority of stakeholders. Despite the opposition from certain sections, it had an impact on the situation.

Now that there is a change in the government in Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif has made it clear that he would tread the same path of peace as he did in 1999, the hope is filled with optimism. But this has to be reciprocated by New Delhi in an equal measure. The onus is on New Delhi not only to reach out to people in Jammu and Kashmir but also to create an atmosphere in which the democratic space is open to those who challenge its rule in Kashmir. In its concept note the Pugwash has outlined the agenda of conference like this: “The goal is to discuss and develop ideas and proposals that, if applied, would improve in concrete terms the connections across the LoC, would eliminate the restrictions that limit the movement and the freedom of the people in the entire region, and would promote economic cooperation and development in the entire region.

“While weapons and armed struggle are largely no longer considered as instruments for ‘solving’ the problem of J&K, still the ‘dividend of peace’ is not yet available and the situation on ground needs improvement. The limitations on the movement of people and circulation of goods and ideas are still severe, and people from the entire region resent the excessive militarization of the territory and the various types of discriminations to which they are subjected”.

For achieving this goal the organization has invited many stakeholders and among them are heads of two factions of Hurriyat Conference viz Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. But both these leaders don’t have travel documents. In the case of former the government has been too harsh. Since his arrival from Delhi in March, he has not been allowed to move out and engage with the public. On the top of it, he missed his 19th Friday prayers on July 12 as he is confined to his house. Geelani is seen as a “threat to peace” by the government. One may have difference with his ideology and strategy but at the end of the day, government cannot ignore him or his role in the process that is aimed at sustainable peace.

It is true that when he is out, people get a boost to give vent to their feelings and especially youth feel elated in his company. And in some cases his programmes may turn violent. But to cage him indefinitely is not an answer. So if Pugwash has invited him, the government should release his travel document and allow him to be part of this significant meeting in which people across the board would take part. It is true that Geelani has been consistent with his “strategy” which many believe does not help the “cause” to explore the possibilities of engagement at different levels. He refused to take part in the bus ride to Pakistan Administered Kashmir in 2007 when entire leadership of his ilk traveled to address the PaK assembly and held discussions with their counterparts. But it is a fact that it was Geelani who played a role in putting an end to unrest in 2010, given his influence in public. He believes that he is pursuing the struggle through democratic means and government should give him and others a space to practice that.

By putting unending restrictions on them the government is negating its own claim of practicing democracy in a “normal” Kashmir. If Kashmir’s peace is real and unbeatable then government should feel safe in upholding democratic principles. However, to ensure that any such activity does not lead to violence that could claim civilian lives, is their (separatists’) responsibility as well. Because we are aware that those getting killed in the violence at the hands of state, unfortunately have to knock their doors only for compensation and means of livelihood. Example of 120 innocent civilians is something we all ignore.

So in order to help build a broader consensus for peaceful resolution, it is important that government allows free movement of leaders viz Geelani and Mirwaiz to Pakistan to attend the Pugwash conference. Though Mirwaiz was in Islamabad in December last, his travel document has expired. Governments in Srinagar and New Delhi should realize that by creating “exclusive spaces” it is putting a hurdle in any peaceful resolution and that does not hold any good, neither for people nor for Delhi itself.

Another important event that is scheduled in August is that the first ever trade delegation from Jammu and Kashmir will travel to Pakistan Administered Kashmir. The much-awaited visit is in reciprocation of a similar one to AJK Chamber of Commerce in 2008. It was due to derailment of peace process that the traders could not travel to other side to further firm up the process of a viable, sustainable and productive trade across the LoC. It has sustained even as a barter trade but to make it real trade, both governments should shun the dogmatic approach and allow it to happen on Wagah pattern. This is an important CBM and the visit has a potential to give a fillip to overall process of understanding on both sides.

Should the governments on both sides play a positive role in removing the bottlenecks for these two important events, it can open up a larger space for moving forward for a process that could define the fate of resolution for Kashmir dispute. This is time to learn lessons from past mistakes and not remain chained to “set mind” mentality that has been promoted by vested interests for a long time now.

By arrangment with Rising Kashmir