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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2551

Withdrawal of troops from Kashmir feasible …

By J N Raina - Syndicate Features

The demand of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party for demilitarization of Jammu and Kashmir is not only superfluous but also intriguing. It is in direct consonance with the ‘self-rule’ theory, propounded by the Mufti himself a few months ago. But it is, indeed, surprising that PDP, which is running a coalition government with the Congress, should have threatened to snap ties with it on demilitarization and other related issues.

Ties between the two parties reached the lowest ebb when PDP ministers boycotted Cabinet meetings, called by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, in a row. The PDP even took to streets and launched a campaign on the demilitarization issue. Whatever the PDP may say for the record, the fretting and fuming is with an eye on the assembly elections due next year.

Frankly, there is nothing new in the demand raised by the Mufti and his maverick daughter, PDP Chief, Mehbooba. The Mufti had earlier elaborated on his ‘self-rule’ thesis and called for withdrawal of the army to be replaced by the State police. He wants induction of what he calls “Panun (our own) Kashmir Administrative Service and Panun Kashmir Police Service) in the state .He is also for withdrawal of Article 356 of the Indian Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution) under which the Union Government has the authority to dismiss an elected Government in a state. He wants the Governor to be elected by the two Houses of the State Legislature.

Last year, at a public meeting, the Mufti had explained at length his party’s “political goal”, which is “restoration of Kashmir’s status to the 16th century sovereignty”, when last monarch Yusuf Shah Chak ruled over the Valley. Expectedly, the call received much flak from mainstream parties and politicians. Omar Farooq, who was a Minister in the Vajpayee government, was among the critics. He heads the mass-based National Conference started by his grand father, Sheikh Abdullah, whom people worship to this day as the lion of Kashmir.

Mufti Sayed, under the influence of Ms Mehbooba --- who is ideologically close to Islamic radicals like Syed Ali Geelani--- is speaking in support of ‘self-rule’ and demilitarization- the two ideas first propounded by Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf as a part of what he called his out of box thinking. General Musharraf had broadly discussed these issues in his address to the UN General Assembly last year. India is reluctant to entertain such ideas so far terrorism emanating from Pakistan is not tackled.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister, A. K Antony, and the Army General J. J. Singh, besides Chief Minister Azad, have all opined that there can be no demilitarization or reduction of troops unless the ground situation demanded it. Antony virtually rebuffed Mufti by ruling out troop reduction at this juncture when there is no end to cross-border terrorism. There might be a slight fall in the number of militancy-related incidents, as the passes generally remain snow-bound during winter, but the infiltrators are finding new routes, mostly through Nepal and Bangladesh, where ISI has established a huge network of terrorist dens. In addition, they are also taking the sea route to enter the country.

As the Centre was busy in setting up a high-powered mechanism to “examine some of the problematic aspects” of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, militants gunned down five Hindu labourers in Rajouri district of Jammu province. Another incident followed when militants killed a senior Congress leader Jan Mohammad near a mosque, giving a lie to the PDP propaganda that the situation had improved quite enough to withdraw forces.

The Prime Minister had earlier politely rejected Mufti’s demand and told him that a decision could be only taken after assessing the ground situation in summer, when infiltration level is the maximum. But PDP did not budge from its stand and launched a tirade for reduction of troops engaged in counter-insurgency operations. The PDP also demanded repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers (AFSP) Act and vacation of civilian property by the Army. The Mufti told Manmohan Singh that his demands are part of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP), adopted in 2002, when the Congress-PDP coalition Government, with Mufti as Chief Minister, was formed.

In a letter to the Mufti, the Prime Minister conveyed that Ghulam Nabi Azad has since taken action to see security forces vacate civilian property on which they had set up their camps. As many as 135 government buildings had been vacated from November 2005 to February this year. Eighteen hotels had also been vacated. But can the Mufti claim that he is not aware of the circumstances under which the Army occupied these hotels and other structures. After all he was the Union Minister for Home in the VP Singh government. To brush up his memory and for the sake of uninformed, it must be said the security forces moved into hotels during the peak militancy period when hardly any tourist was in sight.

To placate the Mufti, the Centre has now set up a high-powered three-tier mechanism, headed by defence minister Anthony, to look into the demands, including phased withdrawal of troops. An expert panel and a review committee are to be set up to study the feasibility of troop relocation and the AFSP Act. But as Mufti Sayed announced after the formation of these committees that ‘crisis for the Jammu and Kashmir Government was over’ and directed his ministers to return to work, the militants told him to rethink.

Azad is more pragmatic. He is fully conversant with the Mufti’s brand of politics. He hardened his attitude and told New Delhi not to succumb to PDP’s pressure tactics. Any complacency at this juncture would jeopardize peace in the region, he cautioned.

In a democratic set up, a political party has a right to raise human rights issues or any excesses committed by the Army, but to suggest demilitarization or reduction of troops is disagreeable. It is improper. It is found in tune with Musharraf’s suggestion to India to demilitarize Kashmir, while his proxy war is still on. PDP’s demands amount to political activism.

Army’s presence is sought only when there is bad governance and when the civil administration fails. In the first place, why was the Army called in to assist civil administration in Kashmir? Well, the situation deteriorated following the kidnapping of Ms Rubaiya Mufti, daughter of Mufti Sayed (he was Union Home Minister then) in December 1989, leading to the release of five hardcore militants in exchange; as there was total chaos in the Valley and militancy got strengthened, the Army was called in to restore order. No one has a right to denigrating the Army which has played a crucial role in protecting the people from the onslaught of militants.

The PDP is raising demands as if the Army is just a shopkeeper, and it can open and close just for asking. To say “How long will we (Kashmiris) remain dependent on the Army” is revolting. The Mufti needs to pose this question to himself rather than indulge in rhetoric. The PDP is playing the role of a trickster. It wanted to withdraw its support to Azad Government to get its demands fulfilled, and to create the impression that Congress is just a regional party from Jammu (Congress draws its MLAs mostly from Jammu region) which will be ruling the state. Prime Minister avoided the trap.

The PDP, despite its grand stand politics and Valley centric politics, has just 18 MLAs and is a junior partner in the ruling coalition as the Congress has more MLAs. In fact, the National Conference is the largest single party with 25 MLAs. So, the Mufti speak is a political stunt. Just vote bank politics.

PDP has ‘tied up’ with a section of militants. Some top party activists and even senior leaders were arrested on the allegation of being ‘agent provocateurs’. Their links with militants have been established. Instead of raising the bogey of demilitarization, the Mufti should have launched a campaign for rehabilitation of five lakh Kashmiri Hindus, who live like refugees in their own country. It is sheer propaganda that the security forces have occupied orchards and buildings without any permission. Why did he not raise these questions when he was the Chief Minister? This is sheer communal and regional politics.

The Muftis should have the courage to tell Pakistan to close down terrorist camps on its soil. Former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah would bombast Pakistan for engineering trouble in Kashmir. Even his son, NC Chief Omar Abdullah blasted that country when he was on the Pakistan soil last year for “creating trouble for Kashmiris and sponsoring militancy”. Perhaps the Muftis do not want to take up cudgels with Pakistan.

- Syndicate Features -

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