By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI/JAMMU: Of late, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears to be making extra-efforts to display his commitment towards solving the Kashmir-problem. Ironically, he has frankly accepted the hard fact that Kashmir-problem remains complex and still awaits resolution. While recently addressing the Lok Sabha, he said: â€œOur approach to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir is that we will give no quarter to secessionist elements. We will do everything in our power to strengthen the hands of the state government to provide a fairer deal to the youth of Jammu and Kashmir, to provide avenues for gainful employment.â€ Referring to turmoil in Kashmir, including stone-pelting, which led to more than 100 deaths last year, he said: â€œSince then the situation has improved. But we keep our fingers crossed. Come this summer, I hope we will be vigilant enough to ensure that the unfortunate events that took place in the last summer in parts of Jammu and Kashmir do not take place.â€
Singh reiterated this stand, during his visit to Jammu, earlier this month. While addressing the third convocation of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology here, he said: â€œWe recognize that there are genuine political, social and emotional grievances of the people. We are trying honestly to address these issues.â€ The Prime Minister drew attention to his government having appointed interlocutors to â€œfacilitate a continuous dialogue with all sections of the people of the state.â€ Emphasizing the importance of this approach, he said: â€œThere is no way forward but through sustained dialogue and the resolution of all problems under a constitutional framework that, I believe, has the flexibility to accommodate honorable and durable solutions for all.â€
Acknowledging that the Kashmir-issue was a diplomatic irritant between India and Pakistan, Singh said: â€œThe sub-continent would not realize its full potential for development unless the relations between India and Pakistan turned normal.â€ â€œDespite all the problems, we have decided to resume the dialogue process. We will enter these talks with an open mind. We wish to resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries through friendly dialogue and constructive and purposeful negotiations. And this includes the issue of Jammu and Kashmir,â€ he said. â€œWe will always keep the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in mind. We are willing to discuss all issues that have a bearing on the peace, dignity and well-being of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,â€ Singh said.
At the same time, the premier did not backtrack from Indiaâ€™s stand regarding the Mumbai-strikes. Singh pointed out: â€œWe cannot forget what happened in Mumbai. I urge the government of Pakistan to leave no stone unturned in bringing the culprits to book. The activities of extremist groups in Pakistan are a source of concern.â€ Urging Pakistan â€œto take strong and resolute action against these groupsâ€ in the â€œinterest of Pakistan, the region and the world at large,â€ he said: â€œPeace, development and prosperity in South Asia depend on peace, development and prosperity in each country of the region.â€ Suggesting that academic institutions can play a major role in this direction, Singh said: â€œIn a few months, we will inaugurate the South Asian University in New Delhi. The South Asian University is intended to tap the vast reservoir of intellectual talent in South Asia. It seeks to strengthen our South Asian identity by building fraternal bonds through academic exchanges and by learning about each other. Leading universities such as Sher-e-Kashmir University should think in terms of expanding their academic horizons by promoting regional studies and exchanges with other countries in the region.â€
Prime Minister Singhâ€™s comments suggest that his government is keen to solve the Kashmir-problem from all angles, including diplomatic. In addition to making efforts, the government has to â€œkeep fingers crossed,â€ as mentioned by him. This suggests that he is apparently a little tense about solution to Kashmir-issue remaining elusive.
A similar message has been conveyed by central government-appointed interlocutorsâ€™ analysis of the situation. This is indicated by the opinion voiced by them, during their visit to Kashmir Valley this February. While speaking to media persons, the interlocutors said: â€œThe political settlement has to be found only through a sustained and inclusive process of dialogue with all the stake holders, including the separatist outfits and the civil society organizations.â€ The three interlocutors are Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari. Emphasizing that any outbreak of violence could disturb the process, Padgaonkar said that it was essential â€œto move away from rigid positions and act in concert to focus tightly on four issues of critical importance for the future.â€ The four issues, Padgaonkar said, â€œinclude the need to preserve the unity and integrity of the state, assert the stateâ€™s special status in the Indian Union, seek the most practical and effective way to respond to the diverse political, economic, social and cultural urges of the people, the mainstream political parties in every region would be required to evolve a consensus on a political settlement and then seek a similar consensus with other regions of the state.â€
The interlocutorsâ€™ stand raises the question whether substantial measures have been taken to solve problems, the Kashmiris are struggling with. In fact, their opinion only confirms the apparently apprehensive stand displayed by Prime Minister about the Kashmir-problem having been solved. If the government at the centre was confident of being near the stage of resolving the Kashmir problem, the possibility of sending interlocutors to the Valley may not have risen. Similarly, had there prevailed prospects of the state government resolving the problem, the step of involving interlocutors may not have been considered by the centre. This is further proved by opinion shared by the interlocutors on their stand towards the Kashmir-issue. To a degree, the interaction between the interlocutors and various Kashmiri leaders has highlighted the grievances held by the latter. These include, as mentioned by the interlocutors: â€œThe delegations (of Kashmiris) demanded an end to the intimidation and harassment by police and the security forces including the indiscriminate use of the Public Safety Act (PSA).â€ Against this backdrop, it would not be wrong to assume that Kashmir-problem still remains unresolved in view of Prime Minister Singh, the interlocutors and the Kashmiris.
Now, where problems faced by Kashmiris are concerned, it is to watched, the degree to which measures to solve these are implemented by Prime Minister Singh as well as the state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah!