Dateline Srinagar

Delhi interlocutors in Valley, boycotted by separatists

A team of interlocutors nominated by the Centre for the state of Jammu and Kashmir on October 27 suggested to take the leadership of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Parliament on board to find out a permanent solution to the issue.

“We would like to visit PoK to get their point of view. Our exercise will be futile if Parliament that represents political opinion of country isn’t taken on board. We know it is a huge task but it has to be done”, said the chief interlocutor Dilip Padgaonkar, while interacting with media persons, here at the end of four-day visit to the valley, adding “There are parts in state that don’t share same view as people in the valley”.

He added “we’ll be meeting L K Advani, senior BJP leader to know about autonomy resolution and why it was discarded.”. He stated there is “no need of imposing section 144 to quell peaceful protests”.

“If there comes a time when all parties to Kashmir issue decided on a solution and that solution isn’t within Indian constitution, Indian Parliament can amend it”, said Radha Kumar, another interlocutor.

She stated “Indian constitution is a beautiful document and there is room for modification with changing times and we can even recommend for amendments in constitution to accommodate discussions on Kashmir issue and to find solution to problem in line with the aspirations of Kashmiris”.

The team that would visit state every month is expected to recommend several measures to be taken by centre. “We can recommend amendments in Public Safety Act (PSA), ask for release of political prisoners and ask centre to allow peaceful protests in valley as per democratic temperament of country”, said the chief interlocutor.

The panel has also decided to ask for an Action Taken Report (ATR) from Centre on recommendations submitted by five working groups formed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006.

A team of interlocutors on October 26 visited south Kashmirs’ rural areas, including Shopian. The team comprising of noted journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, academic Radha Kumar and Information Commissioner M. M. Ansari, interacted with youths and some prominent citizens. Pertinently, Shopian town witnessed public outrage in 2009 after rape and murder of teenage girl, Asiya and her sister-in-law, Neelofar.

The team also called on president of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), Parveena Ahanger, on October 26. The meeting lasted for over 30 minutes during which APDP president briefed them about the plight of families of the disappeared persons.

The panel on October 25 met Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and a cross section of people. They visited central jail in Srinagar and spoke to the inmates. They also met family members of separatist leader and chairman of Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) Shabir Shah at his uptown residence, here.

Pertinently, both factions of Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq declined to meet interlocutors. Mirwaiz on October 24 termed setting up of this committee as “a step of lingering Kashmir issue”. He added that there was no need of a committee of interlocutors as people have already expressed what they want during the past five months.

Restrictions keep life disrupted
Life across the Valley continues to remain disrupted owing to shutdowns called by separatists and curfew and restrictions imposed by authorities, off and on.

Educational institutions, private transport and government offices function normally whereas markets, shops and business establishments remain closed and public transport remains off the roads. Shoppers however, throng markets, especially in commercial hub, Lal Chowk, Karan Nagar and adjacent areas, on normal days. Markets, shops, offices, banks and other business establishments function normally. Serpentine queues can be seen at banks and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). Traffic jams can be seen at almost every entry point in city. Traffic cops have a tough time regulating smooth flow of traffic especially in city-centre.

Authorities on October 22, clamped curfew and restrictions in many parts of valley to thwart proposed separatist march to south Kashmirs’ Bijbehara. Hurriyat (G) had called for a march to mark the day 17 years ago when 43 people were killed in security forces firing in 1993.

Apprehending trouble authorities imposed curfew in various parts of valley. All entry points to Bijbehara were closed with razor wire and armoured vehicles while the areas around historical Jamia Masjid in Srinagar were sealed. Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other senior leaders of conglomerate were placed under house arrest.

Similarly, curfew and restrictions were clamped in many uptown and old city areas on October 21 to thwart proposed ‘Lal Chowk’ march called by the separatists. Apprehending trouble authorities imposed curfew in all areas falling in old city and in some uptown areas.

Lal Chowk, the venue of separatist march, was cordoned off by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and police. All roads leading to Ghanta Ghar were sealed off by security forces with spools of barbed wire and barricades.
Meanwhile, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on October 31 reviewed security situation in three north Kashmir districts along the Line of Control (LoC) that witnessed violent protests during past five months or so, with top officials of administration, police, CRPF and Army.

Chidambaram arrived in north Kashmirs’ town of Baramulla from Kargil in Ladakh region on the second day of his trip to the state and discussed overall security situation in Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara. Infiltration of militants from across LoC before onset of winter and steps taken to counter it were discussed. The Home minister also met several delegations and went around Baramulla town.

Terming ‘curbs imposed by government on Friday prayers at historic Jamia Masjid’ here over past five months or so as ‘brazen interference in religious affairs of Muslims’, Mutaheda Majlis-e-Ulema, a body of Islamic scholars and clerics on November 2 passed a resolution and warned government of serious repercussions.

The Ulama, during a meeting here, in addition to warning government of serious repercussions also asked the separatists groups to exempt Friday from protests and strikes. Ulama from different schools of thought and Imams from major mosques across the valley attended the meet at Mirwaiz Manzil in old city that was called by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Mirwaiz, however, couldn’t attend the meet as he was placed under house arrest.

Police remand of detained separatist leader and general secretary of Hurriyat (G), Masrat Aalam Bhat was extended till November 8. The court also ordered that Bhat shouldn’t be kept in Cargo camp of Special Operations Group (SOG), but in a lockup.

Authorities on October 28 booked Yasmeen Raja, chairperson of Muslim Khawateen Markaz under Public Safety Act (PSA) and lodged her in Central Jail, Srinagar. She was arrested on October 26 during a raid by police on her house at Pampore.

Hurriyat signature campaign
Expressing his satisfaction over mass participation of people in its signature campaign, chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on October 30 vowed to gear up efforts on internal and external fronts in order to seek support for resolution of Kashmir dispute.

“During an executive council meeting presided over by Mirwaiz at the party headquarters, several Hurriyat leaders were assigned roles to make signature campaign successful”, said a spokesman of Amalgam, adding “large number of people participated in signature campaign launched in Muzaffarbad, as well”.

Hurriyat (M) launched a signature campaign throughout the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which after November 5 will be submitted to the visiting US President Barack Obama through US Embassy in New Delhi. Meanwhile, chairman Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Mohammad Yasin Malik on October 29 asked India, Pakistan and international community to respect ‘sacrifices made by Kashmiri people for the cause of independence’.

“Kashmiris have paid huge sacrifices for independence. We respected the demand of international community and made a transition from violent to non-violent movement. Now the world community and conscientious people in India and Pakistan must respect this transition and press governments of India and Pakistan for resolving the Kashmir issue without any further delay”, said Malik while addressing a public gathering at Kangan. He urged Barack Obama, President of the United States to impress upon India to resolve Kashmir dispute during his visit to India.

Valley restaurants shut down
Almost all the restaurants in the Valley have closed down their businesses as aftermath of situation arising out of curfews, shutdown and restrictions over the last five months, or so. Staff retrenchment has added to the miseries of people associated with trade.

“Virtually, all restaurants are closed”, says Siraj Ahmad, president Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHARA), adding “there are more than 1000 restaurants across the Valley and everything is almost closed”.

President KHARA shared that both strikes and curfews add to sufferings of people associated with this trade. “There has to be lay-off. We can pay only when we earn, but there has been no business at all”.

Ahmad informed that about 60,000 people working with various hotels, restaurants and guest houses here have been rendered jobless. “Some have left the valley to look for a job, others have shifted to other professions and some have been asked to go on leave and they’ll be paid once they join back”.

He stated that they are looking forward for a meeting with both government and separatists to look into the matter. “We’ve lost this year completely, now we’ve to plan about the next year. We’ll seek assurances from both the sides, before moving ahead with our planning and investments for the forthcoming year”.

Pertinently, well-known restaurants like Tao Café in commercial hub of city have closed down. Situation at other places too is grim. There has not only been cut down in menu items, but there has been lay-off of employees as well.

Pak not satisfied with Valley protests
“Kashmir is on our foreign policy; highest ever. We’ll support them in whatever way they want and not the way we want. We want them (Kashmiris) to lead. This is our new policy on Kashmir”, said Marvi Memon, member of Pakistans’ National Assembly.

Memon, while speaking to MG over phone from Muzaffarabad, said “we want new approach to Kashmir and want to go beyond regular ones like dharnas, rallies and all that”.

Memon had organized a rally near Line of Control (LoC), on October 27 and the same concluded on October 28, to observe ‘Black Day’ against the alleged Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. Protest rallies are held in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) every year to protest against deployment of army in Kashmir on October 27, 1947.
She added that apart from forming a human chain near Chakoti in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, a candle light vigil was organized, on October 27 evening. “Youth and members of civil society from all over Pakistan including Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit and other areas marched to LoC that was later on joined in by other leaders”.

In one of her messages that she read out during a rally, Memon stated, “US President Barrack Obama shouldn’t get pressurized by India in his forthcoming visit to country and should discuss Kashmir. Even UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon should actively move forward on UN resolutions. We want him to actually address the issue forcibly”.
Meanwhile, following protest rallies in PoK, cross- LoC trade was debarred on October 27. The PoK authorities suspended trade on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road that is held every Tuesday and Wednesday.

Militant activities in the Valley
Ten militants were killed across valley in an encounter with police and army, since last week of October. Two Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants were killed in an encounter with army and police in south Kashmirs’ Shopian on November 2. An operation was launched by police and 44 RR in village Trenz in Shopian. The militants were identified as Gowhar Ganaie of Heff Shirmal in Shopian and Mudasir Bhat of Yamrash-Kulgam, said police.

Two more militants were killed and one arrested in south Kashmir, on November 1 during an encounter between police and army. Following a tip off, a joint team of Kulgam police and 1 RR launched an operation in Kaw Drang area in Qoimoh-Kulgam.

Police spokesman said that a joint party of police and security forces cordoned off village and launched searches. “Militants opened fire on search party that was retaliated triggering an encounter in which two militants were killed”.

Militants have been identified as Mohammad Salim Ganai alias Faisal resident of Haff Shirmaal in Shopian and Hassan Bhai, a foreigner. “Both of them were affiliated with LeT. The arrested militant has been identified as Azad Ahmad Bhat resident of Awat Shirmaal in Shopian”. Police added that a huge cache of arms and ammunition was also recovered from the slain militants. Two militants were killed in an encounter with security forces in frontier district of north Kashmirs’ Kupwara, on November 1. “The encounter broke out when security forces confronted a group of militants at Bhawan forests in Zachaldara-Handwara”, said the police.