5 September 2005
Zero tolerance towards human rights violations and terrorist violence is the most important CBM that the Government and the Hurriyat must agree upon.
See text of statement issued by PMO after Manmohan Singh-Hurriyat meeting, 5 September 2005
Dialogue in search of common ground
THE GOVERNMENT of India and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference have had two unmemorable encounters in the past but Monday's meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Kashmiri outfit could well prove to be third time lucky if the two sides concentrate on the low-hanging fruit.
So great is the distance separating the formal positions of the Government and the Hurriyat that finding anything remotely resembling common ground is a difficult task at the best of times. Though the erstwhile Vajpayee Government deserves credit for having first invited the Hurriyat for talks, the BJP's approach to the Kashmir question was too rigid to allow any meaningful outcome. This was, after all, a government that had dispatched the autonomy resolution of Farooq Abdullah to the gallows without even the courtesy of a formal appraisal. The first pronouncement made by L.K. Advani after being named official interlocutor for the Hurriyat talks was predictably unhelpful: he said the only matter to discuss was "devolution." It took several weeks of delicate political surgery by concerned intermediaries — and the Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting in Islamabad on January 6, 2004 — to finally bring the Hurriyat leadership and Mr. Advani together.
The first meeting was held on January 22, the second on March 27. However, both produced little more than comforting photo-ops. The Hurriyat said the "role of the gun should be replaced by the sound of politics" and Mr. Advani promised "zero-level human rights violations" as part of his plan for "security with a human face." Of course, neither side delivered much. Critics in Kashmir lampooned the talks as encounters between a shopkeeper who had no desire to sell and a customer who had no money to spend.
The change of government at the Centre did little to push the process forward. Shivraj Patil, as Union Home Minister, inherited both the mantle of official interlocutor and his distinguished predecessor's penchant for setting out unnecessary preconditions. His statement that the dialogue had to be "within the four walls of the Constitution" effectively ensured no further meetings with the Hurriyat took place. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wisely stepped into the breach with his own invitation but even then, it has taken several months for the right conditions to emerge.
Then and now
When the Hurriyat leaders meet the Prime Minister on Monday, they will do so in circumstances quite different from when they were last entertained on Raisina Hill. For one, the India-Pakistan peace process is rolling along with a third round of the composite dialogue to be launched in January 2006. A bus service operates between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and an in-principle agreement has been reached to ply trucks on the same route. The Hurriyat leaders themselves travelled across the Line of Control and onwards into Pakistan, something no government in India had had the courage — or acuity — to permit in the past. Pakistani journalists have begun making forays into Jammu and Kashmir. Most recently, India issued visas for the first ever intra-Kashmir dialogue involving politicians and intellectuals from both sides of the LoC to be held in Srinagar. The dialogue, sponsored by the Delhi Policy Group and Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation saw the participation of a number of delegates from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas.
Of course, underlying conditions in the State continue to be difficult, if not grim. Militancy and infiltration continue, albeit at lower levels, but the desperation of those who wield the gun is reflected in a growing number of terrorist attacks near schools and other public places. `Breakaway' Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, too, remains a significant fly in the ointment. Though disowned by Pakistan and the Jamaat-e-Islami of Kashmir, he continues to have a measure of public support in the Valley, certainly more than the Hurriyat leaders, as evidenced by the rally outside his house in Hyderpora last month on the first anniversary of the founding of his Tehreek-e-Hurriyat.
Convinced it has militancy on the run, the Army is unwilling to countenance another unilateral `non-initiation of combat operations.' Elements within the Hurriyat are open to the idea of encouraging groups such as the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen to come forward with a ceasefire offer but they will be able to deliver on this account only if Pakistan weighs in with the same demand. While the idea of a ceasefire is worth exploring, the Hurriyat and Dr. Singh should begin on Monday with three simple proposals: First, there should be zero tolerance towards violence against civilians; secondly, the logic of `confidence-building measures' as a way of creating room for a political settlement between India and Pakistan in Kashmir must be allowed to continue; and third, the space must be created for peaceful political protest.
Zero tolerance towards violence against civilians means the government must not put up with human rights violations — whether deliberate or inadvertent — and must act punitively in those cases where the facts establish wanton violence against civilians. What the Manmohan Singh Government does in the Pathribal-Panchalthan incident — where the Rashtriya Rifles abducted five civilians at random in March 2000 and killed them in cold blood in order to pin the Chittisinghpora massacre of Sikhs on them — will be an important test case for establishing its bona fides. The matter is an open and shut case of murder and the CBI is believed to have recommended the prosecution of the Army officers involved. By sanctioning prosecution, the Government can demonstrate that it means business and that there will be no protection for those who violate the law.
On its part, the Hurriyat must take a clear and unambiguous stand against terrorists who target — or endanger — civilians in Kashmir. Just as a civilised society expects its security forces to abide by the rules of conflict, so must it insist that militants have an equal obligation not to harm civilians. Whenever there have been terrorist killings in Kashmir, the Hurriyat leaders either maintain an unbecoming silence or disingenuously try to blame the Government. The Hurriyat must declare that the killing of civilians — and the planting of explosives in places where civilians are likely to be killed or injured — is a crime against humanity and demand that militant groups stop these activities.
As for confidence-building measures (CBMs), the Hurriyat has a crucial role to play in convincing the Pakistani establishment that the interest of the people of Jammu and Kashmir will be served by allowing greater freedom of movement of individuals, families, trade and commerce across all main points of the LoC.
To the extent to which Islamabad is wary of starting bus services from Poonch to Rawalakot, Jammu to Mirpur and Kargil to Skardu, the Indian Government should ask the Hurriyat to press for the same. Similarly, mail and telephone services could be liberalised so that communication could be quicker and cheaper.
Finally, if the Government wishes to delegitimise violence and promote dialogue and politics, it must provide legal avenues for the expression of protest and dissent. Rallies and demonstrations are an important — and crucial — part of political culture throughout India. Given the possibility of disruption by agents provocateur, suitable parameters and protocols need to be devised to ensure protests remain peaceful. Nevertheless, it is time the Central and State Governments conceded the principle that peaceful protest — by the Hurriyat or any other force — cannot be prohibited indefinitely in Kashmir.
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