Can Rajnath Singh's visit broker peace in Kashmir?
The home minister held talks with eminent non-Kashmiri Muslims before visiting the state this time.
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Home minister Rajnath Singh is in Kashmir for a two-day visit - his second in less than a month. He is slated to meet officials from the state administration, state leadership and other stakeholders. Do other stakeholders include separatist leaders from the Valley?
The Indian government has been non-committal on the issue and the August 12 all-party meet had seen a similar stand. Before embarking on his visit this time, Singh held two rounds of talks with some eminent non-Kashmiri Muslims - on August 18 and 21. It raises the obvious question: why non-Kashmiri Muslims only or why Muslims only?
Some of the Muslim leaders present at the meetings were Shahid Siddiqui, former Rajya Sabha member, Qamar Agha, security affairs expert, Ishrat Masroor Quddusi, a judge of the Orissa High Court, Zafarul Islam Khan, editor of Milli Gazette and MM Ansari, a J&K interlocutor.Rajnath Singh is on Mission Kashmir.
One may interpret that these meetings say the government thinks only Muslims can suggest better ways to handle the Kashmir unrest. If so, is this not bracketing the whole Kashmir problem as some religious/community issue? Or it is just half the story?
If Kashmir is an integral part of India, as every Indian must believe, then isn't every Indian a stakeholder in the Kashmir peace process, whether Hindu or a Muslim? The exercise that Singh has done in New Delhi needs to see its extension in Kashmir. Most of the representatives in these meetings felt that the Kashmir situation was mishandled and an immediate course correction was needed.
The exercise that Singh will hold in Kashmir today and tomorrow should adopt this context as its backdrop, otherwise it will further alienate the Kashmiris who have genuine grievances.
The Indian security forces have efficiently checked cross-border infiltration, yet the current phase of unrest is now in its 47th day. That is unprecedented. An unrest so long cannot sustain itself if people come to realise that their demands are illegitimate.
Though J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has said only five per cent of Kashmiris are instigating the unrest and finance minister Arun Jaitley has added that the stone-pelters of the Valley are "aggressors and not satyagrahis", and blamed Pakistan for instigating the Kashmiri youth, there seems to be a clear departure in the government's strategy this time.
The words of Mufti or Jaitley or other leaders on these lines indicate a tough stand that does not endorse the dialogue process. However, the efforts before Singh's visit and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent emphasis on the dialogue process, reveal there is now a rethinking on the policy adopted so far by the Indian and Kashmir governments. It makes sense when we see the intent of Singh's visit in the context of the outcome of Modi's meeting with the delegation of J&K's opposition parties, led by Omar Abdullah.
Modi, after meeting the delegation on August 22, had emphasised on the need for dialogue and to reach out. He tweeted after the meeting: "I appreciate the constructive suggestions given during today's meeting. All parties must work together to find a solution to J&K's problems."
Unlike Jaitley, he didn't paint the stone-pelters as aggressors. When he said every life lost in the Kashmir unrest, be it the youth, or security personnel or the police, is Indian, it was an indication of the things to come. And then came news of Singh's visit.
Let's hope the momentum sustains this time. The deployment of BSF companies in the Valley also tells us how serious the government is this time. It seems it doesn't want to leave any loose ends. Initiation of the dialogue process to find a credible solution is a must but for any such attempt to succeed, it is also equally important to control the rogue elements who will try to sabotage any peace initiative.
The additional BSF reinforcement will account for any shortfall in security personnel numbers and will ensure effective patrolling of areas.