Sinha-led delegation calls for multi-dimensional dialogue

Sanjeev Pargal

JAMMU, Jan 7: A high level Civil Society delegation led by former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, which had visited the Kashmir valley for second time from December 9 to 12, has recommended multi-dimensional dialogue with all stake-holders including both factions of Hurriyat Conference. It called for more humane attitude by security forces with the public.
“The Agenda of Alliance of the PDP-BJP coalition Government commits to a dialogue with all stakeholders including the Hurriyats. We recommend that such a multi-dimensional dialogue is initiated at the earliest. As for an India-Pakistan dialogue, it is contingent upon several other issues,” the recommendations made by the delegation, said.
They have been signed by all five delegation members including Yashwant Sinha, Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner, Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak, Bharat Bhushan, Editor, Catchnews and Sushobha Barve, Executive Program Director of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. Former Union Minister Manish Tiwari, a Congress leader, was also scheduled to be part of the delegation but couldn’t join because of some legal work abroad.
It called for providing urgent psychological counseling to minors being released from detentions suggesting that a plan for counseling be put in place for this, based on the experience of similar efforts in 2010.
Batting for improving human rights situation in Kashmir and encouraging more humane attitude by the security forces with public, Yashwant Sinha led delegation pointed out that the State Government already has before it proposals regarding Police Reforms of Committee, set up by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. These may be considered soon, it said.
The Civil Society delegation, which had met both Hurriyat Conference leaders including Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other separatist leaders apart from National Conference veteran Dr Farooq Abdullah, Congress leader Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz, Independent MLA Engineer Rashid besides several journalists, intellectuals, Army Commander of 15 Corps among others, observed that there was need to resuscitate democratic linkages between Government and the citizenry. For example, it noted, all the Commissioners or the J&K State Information Commission have retired and not replaced as yet.
It called for allowing assemblies/meetings of the people for holding discussions on the subjects that are of concern to the common Kashmiris and for free expression of ideas and views. It also called for initiating interface between Civil Society groups and district civil and police officials for confidence building.
“The Government agencies designed to promote tourism, industry and agriculture production move to disinvestment and promotion of private investment through design of suitable projects and finance,” it recommended.
The delegation said the people claimed that the state level political parties are seen to have a purely utilitarian function. They have very little to do with the mainstream sentiment in Kashmiri society.
They are seen as instruments for getting civic and other facilities. Otherwise they enjoy little credibility as far as representing the political sentiments of the people is concerned, it said.
“Kashmiris do not believe that the local parties in the State can resolve the political issue of Kashmir. They point out that this complex issue has to be addressed by all the stakeholders – India, Pakistan, and Kashmiris of the entire erstwhile kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir. Unless the three stakeholders address the issue, they believe, it cannot be resolved,” the Civil Society delegation said.
There is also a belief that for the sake of peace, all three stakeholders will have to give up their rigid stands and show flexibility. And if no flexibility is shown, the Kashmiris will continue to suffer.
However, they also think that it is India which will have to show the political will to address the political issue of Kashmir – the initiative has to be from India as the largest country in the region and it must be able to show boldness in addressing the issue.
There are some, however, who say that it 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.
“Talking to Syed Ali Shah Geelani or the others here will not help. People are with the Hurriyat because it represents the militant sentiment. The day the Hurriyat leaders stop representing this sentiment, they will be changed. So talk to the people who are responsible for most of the violence here, even if that means engaging even Hafiz Saeed unofficially. After all, our kids are going to his door,” a Kashmiri politician known for his radical views suggested.
Kashmiris are unequivocal in their criticism of those in the government who claim that Pakistan would be divided into ten parts or those who distort the statement of Hurriyat leaders to suggest that instead of inviting tourists they wanted to invite terrorists. They feel that such statements and their being played up in Indian media do more harm than good – as this aggravates the situation on the ground.
In its ‘basic findings’ on Kashmir, the delegation said the Kashmiris believed that there is a “crisis of acknowledgement” of the Kashmir problem with the Indian Government. “They feel that India refuses to recognize 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”.
Quoting Kashmiris, the Civil Society delegation said, the people claimed 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 didn’t believe that the present dispensation in Delhi is interested in that approach.
The delegation observed that the anger in rural areas was palpably greater than in Srinagar and raw.
“A persistent sense of discrimination against the Kashmiris pervades the minds of the vocal sections of the population. They (the people) pointed out that neither the President nor the Prime Minister had attended the last rites and burial of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed last year, while both had rushed to Chennai when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha passed away. They contrasted the way two gold medal winning sportspersons – P V Sindhu and young Tajmul Islam – were felicitated on their return from abroad,” the delegation members pointed out.
They said: “there is a near complete lack of faith in anything that the Government of India says or promises because of a history of broken commitments. Even among those who say that they see a future with India, there is anger that India has not done enough to keep the Kashmiris with it.
Kashmiris see the visits of emissaries of Government of India and Civil Society groups as farcical exercises and part of a diversionary tactic to handle disturbances in Kashmir. Because of the record of the Indian State, there is skepticism about even non-Governmental initiatives”.
Asserting that the people even object to the language used to describe the situation in Kashmir as “unrest”, the delegation quoted people as telling them that Kashmir has never been at rest since 1947, “peace and normalcy” are the most abused words in the State as no one knows what they are meant to signify, and while the government talks of “anger and alienation” of the Kashmiris, those are not the issues that need to be addressed – the problem is political and cries out for a political solution.
“Most of the Kashmiris claimed that their protests are neither “sponsored” by anyone nor are their youngsters being paid to come out in the streets. The policies of India to deal with sporadic bursts of protests and anger in Kashmir were described as “time-buying techniques” which have only worsened the situation,” it said.
Yashwant Sinha led delegation said there was a strong sense of discrimination. “Many examples are cited. However, this discrimination is cited across the board with an allegation of discrimination against Kashmiris even in routine administration like the issue of passports”.
The Kashmiri people claimed that they have lost all faith in the various delegations and groups that visit Kashmir.
“Indian civil society remembers Kashmiris only after prolonged protests, one of them quipped. Others said that those from Indian civil society organizations who come to Kashmir quickly get discredited as quite often despite their best intentions nothing good comes of their efforts,” the delegation observed,
The delegation said there were some youngsters, who, say that since 68 per cent of Kashmir’s population comprised youth, India should talk to them. However, they suggest that before that, the pellet victims and youngsters in jail should be released, or their anger will continue to grow. They want platforms to be created for Kashmiri youth to express themselves and suggest that a beginning could be made by allowing the formation of Students’ Unions, which are currently banned.
“Some of them said that there is nobody who looks after the welfare of youth living in far-flung and rural areas – there are no skill development institutions to take care of their educational or vocational needs. There are some Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) but they say that “they only distribute degrees and don’t impart skills. They emphasized the need for setting up of many more skill development institutes in Kashmir and actively directing the setting up of BPO centres in the Valley,” the Sinha led delegation observed.
It noted that there were no cinema halls, no stadiums for sports or any other sports infrastructure for youth to use.
“There are no libraries that they can go to even in areas like Baramulla. School and college infrastructure belongs to the 1970s and has not been upgraded since. The youngsters say that they often feel like prisoners unable to lead a normal life. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that there is a high incidence of mental disorders amongst the youngsters in Kashmir. The incidence of hypertension is also high amongst teens,” it said.
The delegation said some youngsters made two suggestions which are easily implementable -one, of involving youngsters in dialogue with intellectuals from India; and two, starting a youth exchange programme for Kashmiri students (in the late teens and early 20s) to go and study in other parts of India for 2 to 5 years. These two measures, they suggest, have the potential of changing the perspective of the youngsters about India.
“If the youth sees no future for itself and no one deals with the psychological tensions and disorders many of them suffer from because of the prevailing situation in the Valley, further despair is bound to set in,” the delegation said.
It added that because of a society beset with violence, the youth are particularly afflicted with the ailment of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), its treatment is now a well-established psychiatric discipline widely used across the world in post conflict. The issue of psychological trauma was raised in separate conversations with youth groups in the districts and needs to be addressed.
However, the delegation said, there is a strange apprehension among the Kashmiris that something untoward is going to happen once spring sets in. What happens in the period after April 2017 is expected to be much higher in magnitude and intensity.
“What happened in 2008 and 2010 was of moderate intensity. The 2016 events were of a higher magnitude. What happens next will be of a much higher intensity if the Indian State does not take the right steps (to contain the situation). What happens in 2017 or 2018 will be of catastrophic proportions,” one civil society activist in Shopian predicted, according to the delegation report.
Referring to the problems of minorities living in the Kashmir Valley, the delegation said Sikhs are a “micro-minority” in the Kashmir Valley distributed over six districts.
“The Sikhs see themselves on the verge of extinction from the Kashmir Valley. Their youth, although educated, are unable to get jobs locally and has preferred to move out to the rest of India. Since their population is scattered, they suffer from a great sense of insecurity while admitting that there is no direct threat to them from the majority community. They feel discriminated against as a minority community – the 1992 National Minorities Act does not apply to the state of J&K. They demand its extension to the state. They claim that there used to be a sizeable number of Sikhs in the police and in the State bureaucracy but that is no longer the case,” the delegation said.
It said the Shias are a minority in the Valley and they feel that they are not treated well by the State Government.
“While subsidized Haj flights go to Saudi Arabia from Srinagar, there are no arrangements for Shias to go for Chehellum to Karbala in Iraq.  Muharram processions routes are banned in Budgam since 1990,” the delegation said.