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Wary of 'raw anger against India', Jaswant Sinha-led Citizens Group suggests talks with Hurriyat

Concerned Citizens Group (CCG), the senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha-led initiative to find answers to the Kashmir imbroglio, has concluded that there is raw and palpable anger against India in rural Kashmir, despair and lack of fear among youngsters confronting security forces and apprehension among Kashmiris that the worse is yet to come.

Among many suggestions, the group has strongly recommended holding dialogue with stakeholders, including Hurriyat, which the Indian government has avoided so far.

Though the initiative is being dubbed as a Track-II initiative facilitated by the government, the Modi government has not owned up to it. However, informed government sources say that the Centre is keen on seeing the findings and recommendations.

The CCG did a follow-up visit to turmoil hit towns of Budgam, Shopian, Anantnag and Baramullah in December 2016 and admits in its report that “Kashmiris believe that there is a ‘crisis of acknowledgement’ of the Kashmir problem with the Indian state. They feel that India refuses to recognise that Kashmir is a political problem and, therefore, requires a political solution.”

“Almost every Kashmiri we met said that there was a need for a one-time political settlement and that unless the basic political issue was resolved, death and destruction would continue to visit the Valley with increasing frequency,” says the report.

“Kashmiris claim that they have lost faith in India because India has failed them. Now the trust-deficit is widening. Some Kashmiris believe that the Indian State looks at Kashmir only within the framework of national security. They all hark back to the Vajpayee proposal of resolving the Kashmir issue ‘within the ambit of humanity’ as something that had offered a ray of hope. However, they do not believe that the present dispensation in Delhi is interested in that approach,” the report adds.

Besides Sinha, the CCG had Wajahat Habibullah, Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) KapilKak, Bharat Bhushan (Editor, CatchNews) and Sushobha Barve (Executive Program Director of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation-CDR) as members.

In its frank appraisal, the report says that people even object to the language used to describe the situation in Kashmir. “Unrest”, they say, is the wrong term to use as Kashmir has never been at rest since 1947, and “peace and normalcy” are the most abused words in the state as no one knows what they are meant to signify.

The report notes that “there is an increasing lack of fear in the youngsters—or so they claim—in confronting the security forces. Today, they claim, they take death in their stride.”

“The best thing for which we are thankful is that your use of weapons, including pellet guns, has killed the fear in us. We now celebrate the martyrdom,” one youngster said.

The group met scores of individuals, senior journalists, young professionals and other civil society organisations in Srinagar, representatives of the minority Shia and Sikh communities and the GOC 15 Corps. The group also met political leaders, notably, engineer Rashid, Saifuddin Soz and Dr. Farooq Abdullah, and other leaders from the National Conference.

The report acknowledges there is a strange apprehension among Kashmiris that something untoward is going to happen once spring sets in 2017. What happens in the period after April 2017 is expected to be much higher in magnitude and intensity.

“Revocation of controversial laws like AFSPA and PSA may cool down tempers but do not mistake that for a permanent solution. People we talked to suggested that there can be no permanent solution to the Kashmir issue unless Pakistan and the leadership of the All Party Hurriyat Conference are involved in a dialogue,” the report added.

There are some who say that there was no point talking to the Hurriyat leaders as they are nothing but a creation of the militants. Therefore, a solution will come only by talking to the militants. It was even suggested that if a real dialogue has to take place, it must begin with a Track-II process with Syed Salahuddin.

Three things, the report suggested, needed to be done immediately— improving the human rights situation in Kashmir, a multi-dimensional dialogue for settling the Kashmir issue between India and Kashmiri leaders and between India and Pakistan, and institutionalising the process of interaction between civil society groups from the rest of India and the Kashmiris by involving more opinion makers and concerned citizens.

It suggested that India should not oppose the China Pakistan Economic Corridor as CPEC is seen by Kashmiris as a revival of the Silk Route of yore. Overall, the report says that the dominant feeling was that no amount of financial packages would help resolve the political issue of Kashmir.

The report recommends improving the human rights situation in Kashmir and encouraging more humane attitude by the security forces with the public, police reforms, need to resuscitate democratic linkages between the government and the citizenry, urgent psychological counselling to minors being released from detentions, nod for assemblies/meetings of people to hold discussions and interface between civil society groups, district civil and police officials for confidence building.