From The Hindu: “The only package Kashmir needs is justice”
“Whatever his other failings, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah deserves praise for acknowledging that the protests which have rocked the Kashmir valley these past few weeks are ‘leaderless’ and not the product of manipulation by some hidden individual or group.
This admission has been difficult for the authorities to make because its implications are unpleasant, perhaps even frightening. In security terms, the absence of a central nervous system means the expanding body of protest cannot be controlled by arresting individual leaders. And in political terms, the spectre of leaderless revolt makes the offer of ‘dialogue’ or the naming of a ‘special envoy’ for Kashmir — proposals which might have made sense last year or even last month — seem completely and utterly pointless today.
“…intelligence officials have been wasting precious time convincing the leadership and public of India that the protests are solely or mostly the handiwork of agent provocateurs.
“Central to this delusional narrative of manipulated protest is the idea that the disturbances are confined to just a few pockets in the valley. Last week, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters the problem was limited to Srinagar and two other towns.
For the women who came on to the streets with their pots and pans and even stones, or the youths who set up spontaneous blood donation camps to help those injured in the demonstrations, this attempt to strip their protest of both legitimacy and agency was yet another provocation.
In the face of this mass upsurge, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has two options. He can declare, like the party apparatchiks in Brecht’s poem, that since the people have thrown away the confidence of the government, it is time for the government to dissolve the people and elect another. Or he can admit, without prevarication or equivocation, that his government has thrown away the confidence of the ordinary Kashmiri.”
It is too early to gauge the reaction to Mr. Abdullah’s promise of a “political package” once normalcy is restored. But the people have thronged the streets are likely to ask why this package — which the chief minister himself admitted was “long in the pipeline” — was never delivered for all the months normalcy prevailed. What came in the way of amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act? Of ensuring there was zero tolerance for human rights violations? Of strengthening the “ongoing peace process both internally and externally”, as the all-party meeting in Srinagar earlier this month reminded the Centre to do?”
Whatever the immediate cause, however, it is also safe to say that young Tufail died as a direct result of Machhil. Though the Army has arrested the soldiers responsible for the fake encounter, the only reason they had the nerve to commit such a heinous crime was because they were confident they would get away with it. And at the root of that confidence is Pathribal, the notorious fake encounter of 2000. The army officers involved in the kidnapping and murder of five Kashmiri civilians there continue to be at liberty despite being charge-sheeted by the CBI. The Ministry of Defence has refused to grant sanction for their prosecution and has taken the matter all the way to the Supreme Court in an effort to ensure its men do not face trial. What was the message that went out as a result?
At the Centre’s urging, Mr. Abdullah made a televised speech to his people. His words do not appear to have made any difference. Nor could they, when the crisis staring us in the face is of national and international proportions. Today, the burden of our past sins in Kashmir has come crashing down like hailstones. Precious time is being frittered in thinking of ways to turn the clock back. Sending in more forces to shoot more protesters, changing the chief minister, imposing Governor’s Rule — all of these are part of the reliquary of failed statecraft. We are where we are because these policies never worked.
Manmohan Singh must take bold steps to demonstrate his willingness to address the grievances of ordinary Kashmiris. He should not insult their sentiments by talking of economic packages, roundtable conferences and all-party talks. He should unreservedly express regret for the deaths that have occurred these past few weeks. He should admit, in frankness and humility, the Indian state’s failure to deliver justice all these years. And he should ask the people of Kashmir for a chance to make amends. There is still no guarantee the lava of public anger which is flowing will cool. But if he doesn’t make an all-out effort to create some political space today, there is no telling where the next eruption in the valley will take us.”