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COVER STORY
The Story of Kashmir
Ducking till the storm wanes seems to be New Delhi’s policy
By Ghazala Wahab
 
 
The lingering shadow of winter has snuffed the spring out in Kashmir this year. Freaky weather, says the weathermen, but for the Kashmiri people it could just be symptomatic of the days ahead: high on hope but low on faith. Despite years of violence and successive elected state governments which seem more like representatives of the Central government, than the Kashmiri people, political opportunism continues to define policy-making in the state. That it continues to be exploitative of the ordinary people is nobody’s business.

The current season stars the father-daughter duo of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, former chief minister supported by the Congress party, and Mehbooba Mufti, president of the People’s Democratic Party, who have been urging the Central government to reduce the number of the security forces in the state and revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as a ‘fitting response to the fast changing ground situation’. Never shy of histrionics, Mehbooba Mufti gave a slip to the Special Security Group which accompanies her, on February 9 to go to Aishmuqam in the Anantnag district to visit the family of a local Imam who had passed away four days ago. That was her way of making a point to the Congress chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad that the security situation had improved so much as to merit time-bound troop withdrawal. The chief minister was not impressed. Matching histrionics with histrionics, he said that if all legislators were to give to him in writing that they do not need personal security he would present their case to the Centre. As he refused to discuss the issue in the cabinet meeting, Mehbooba was forced to come to Delhi in the last week of February to drum support from both the Prime Minister and the Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Giving credit to her father’s reign for what she called the improved situation in Kashmir, she said that, “The reconciliatory process initiated by the coalition government (Congress-PDP) in the state with the active support of the Central government has to a large extent alleviated public alienation and enhanced people’s sense of freedom and their faith in democratic means. There is, however, a compelling need to reinforce the political initiatives with adequate administrative measures to completely transform the scenario.”

However, even as she met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 1, in response to a question in the upper house of Parliament, minister for external affairs Pranab Mukherjee said, “Any demilitarisation or re-deployment of security forces within the territory is a sovereign decision of the Indian government, based on our own assessment or the prevailing security situation.” What the security situation merited in Kashmir was clarified by the Prime Minister two days later when he ruled out troops’ reduction in Jammu and Kashmir saying that it could be contemplated only if terrorist activities ended in the state. Given that the Muftis are arguing that the level of violence would come down if the army was to withdraw and not the other way round, clearly it was the case of who will blink first.
 
 
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