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Kashmir- another false start ?
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

K C PantAlmost a year after Government of India invited the All-Party Hurriyet Conference to talks, and four months after the so-called ‘ceasfire,’ New Delhi has named deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, KC Pant, a former minister under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, as the Indian interlocutor who will talk to all Kashmiri groups within India. As with earlier ‘talk’ offers, the APHC has not received any formal invitation so far.

Pant seems to be acceptable to the various Kashmiri groups which reportedly vetoed two earlier choices: BG Verghese, who secured eternal infamy for himself by giving clean chit to uniformed criminals in the Konanposhpura mass rape case of February 1991, and George Fernandes whose revolutionary postures stand exposed after the tehelka.com exposé.

It is not known when and if KC Pant will start his mission in earnest. His appointment, on the eve of Jaswant Singh’s Washington visit, may be yet another attempt to ward off mounting international pressure on New Delhi to sort out the Kashmir tangle which has soured Indo-Pak relations all these years since Independence and may lead to yet another war between the twin countries.

The much touted ‘ceasfire’ has not led to any tangible change on the ground in the Valley and other militancy-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Military and militant operations continue unabated and the major sufferer is still the ordinary man as usual. From 1 January this year to 6 April a total of 701 people lost their lives in J&K. Out of these 270 were civilians, 294 militants and 137 security personnel. Official and non-official estimates of the total lives lost in Kashmir since the eruption of militancy in 1988 vary from 20,000 to 80,000 lives in addition to huge losses to property and economy.

It is not clear where the supposed negotiations, if they ever do take place, will lead to. Authorities still look at militancy as a law and order problem which, they think, may be tackled by use of excessive force. India still refuses to talk to Pakistan which has gone out of its way to rein in militant outfits operating on its territory.

Indian policy in Kashmir may be described as mostly rudderless in political terms. A military response is sought to solve a fundamentally civilian and human rights issue. Even the outgoing and current army chiefs have aired their doubts about the efficacy of this approach. It is time New Delhi formulated a clear-cut policy that would satisfy the majority of the people in the state of J&K.

A related recent development has clearly demonstrated why the majority in J&K is alienated. Discrimination against Muslims, documented and undocumented, is a fact of life in J&K as in other parts of the country. Top bureaucratic and security posts are almost reserved for non-Muslims even in this Muslim majority area. J&K Muslims have long complained that there is a concerted effort to change the state’s demography by settling non-Muslims in various parts of the state in violation of the provisions of the state’s constitution. Until recently ‘pandits’ monopolized bureaucratic posts. This changed only after their en masse emigration from the Valley under debatable conditions. It is alleged that they were persuaded by Mr Jagmohan, the then governor of Turkmangate fame, to move out for a few weeks while he tackles militancy by means which have gone into history like firing on marchers and funeral processions.

These perceptions received a fillip early this month when the army published notices that ‘Muslims and tradesmen’ need not apply for new low-rank posts. After an outcry, a further notice was issued for publication which said that the army is not bound to be ‘secular’ in its recruitment policy. According to the Asian Age (6 April) this arrogance was realized at some level and the second notice was hurriedly withdrawn from the offices of newspapers. Such tactics, however embellished and eloquently defended, will not help winning the Kashmiris’ hearts and minds.
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