price of peace
Hanifa, wife of Abdul Gani Lone, the senior Hurriyat leader
and People’s Conference chief had always feared that her husband would
be killed in Kashmir. “Lone is fighting Farooq Abdullah government and
Indian agencies on one side and is making utterances against Pakistan and
militants on the other side,” she had confided in a close friend of her
slain husband few months ago. After all, Lone had the guts to tell the
Pakistan-sponsored foreign mercenaries to leave valley and let the political
process take its course – a line which was neither acceptable to Pakistan
nor to the mercenaries who had “hijacked” the freedom movement from
Her worst fears came true when Lone was killed in Eidagah only two days
after he had returned from his controversial Dubai meeting followed by
his US visit. Perhaps this was the reason that Hanifa repeatedly tried
to calm down her son Sajjad who blamed rightaway ISI for his father’s murder
that ill-fated day. Hence his backtracking the next day when he said that
whatever he uttered about his father’s killers “ was sheer emotional outburst”’
and that he was not mindful of what he was saying. However, with Lone’s
assassination, a prominent moderate voice in Kashmir’s separatist politics
has been silenced. The assassination of Lone by unidentified gunmen in
Srinagar on the 12th death anniversary of Mirwaiz Omar Farooq’s father
late Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq, has not only sabotaged much needed
peace process besides plunging Kashmir politics in deep crisis, but has
also come as a great shock to all those who wanted the peaceful settlement
of the Kashmir dispute and were likely to participate in the impending
assembly elections in the trouble-torn state. Some of them including Mirwaiz
Omar Farooq and Shabir Shah had given enough feelers about their willingness
to contest the polls.
With Prime Minister Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s much hyped visit failing
to generate any hope of fair deal for the separatist willing to come forward
for ending the politico-militant instability in the state, which way wind
would blow in the next few months in Kashmir is difficult to imagine. However,
the much needed initiative that Centre needed has been lost due to Lone’s
death and Prime Minister dismal visit that apparently failed to enthuse
and people and the peaceniks. “Lone was working for peace and that is why
he was killed. It will have an impact on the peace process but the process
will have to go on,’’ Prime Minister said during his arrival at the Jammu
airport on the first day of the first leg of three day visit to the state.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Prime Minister still seems hopeful
about the continuity of the peace process, political observers in Kashmir
believe that the silencing of a moderate voice has almost scuttled the
peace process and Track II diplomacy, which was on in the Valley. Lone’s
killing, they say, will have a negative impact over the covert efforts
of the Centre government to rope in moderate separatists for contesting
the upcoming polls. In fact, after his death, a former militant leader
who was schedule to meet the Prime Minister the next day gave up the idea.
So was the case with Shabir Ahmed Shah, the separatist leader who heads
Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom party and was willing to contest the
elections. A day before Prime Minister’s visit, he was looking forward
to an invitation from the Centre for a meeting with the PM, however, the
enthusiasm was no longer evident after Lone’s killing.
Post-Lone’s assassination, Kashmiris do not have much hope from the
future now. Indifferent to the killings and violence over these years,
Lone’s killing has shocked them to the extent that they do not see any
immediate solution to the 54-year-old vexed issue. Lone’s killing has not
only plunged Kashmir politics into a deep crisis but it could prove
a turning point in the separatist politics in the state. Kashmir, undoubtedly,
is passing through one of the most crucial and volatile phases of its political
history. Keeping in view the realities on the ground, it seem that the
state will take more time to deal with situation and recuperate from the
Lone’s loss which in one stroke seemingly dealt a serious blow to moderate
politics which was fast gaining pace.
Two months back and it seemed prospects were brighter for the restoration
of peace and normalcy. This was due to the fact that some important separatist
leaders were willing to take part in the forthcoming assembly elections.
Despite the usual Indo-Pak rhetoric and the heavy build up on the borders,
Centre was on track in roping separatist to participate in the elections
as their participation is pivotal to counter Pakistani propaganda that
Kashmiris were not interested in election under Indian union. The participation
of the separatists would have gone a long way in lending the elections
a semblance of a free and fair exercise. In fact, last month
when the Prime Minister told the Parliament that he would be visiting Kashmir
valley, it had generated great hope and anticipation in the state. The
PM had said he wanted to see for himself the ground realities.
Not only his much awaited visit to the state was being seen with a great
deal of hope but many separatists who had expressed their willingness to
participate in the forthcoming assembly elections in the state, were also
keen to talk to him. Track II diplomacy was already on with Prime Minister’s
aide and Kashmir Affairs Incharge in PMO, Mr. Amarjit Singh Dullat, former
RAW chief, having met some of the separatist including some senior and
middle rung Hurriyat leaders. Dulat had some serious discussions with separatists
and had even offered them a deal, which entailed success for the separatist
in at least 14 constituencies. The elections as per the deal were to be
held under governor’s rule who he supposed be himself. However, his
visit created a bitter controversy within Hurriyat with Syed Ali Shah Geelani
suspending his political secretary Abdul Khaliq Hanif for supporting elections.
Hanif was finally expelled from the Jamaat a couple of days after Lone’s
death. His expulsion was contrary to Jamaat policy that had maintained
that they were not going to support any call for election boycott. However,
Lone’s death seems to have unnerved the Jamaat too that reflected in Hanif’s
“In such circumstances, the Prime Minister arrived in Jammu to
meet the families of the victims of Kaluchak fidayeen attack. The visit
was aimed at lending a healing touch and assurance to army personnel anguished
over the killing of their family members. But still there was some hope
of a political package,” said Mr. Bashir Manzer, Editor-in-chief, Kashmir
Images, one of the largest circulated English dailies of Kashmir.
However, elements inimical to a genuine political process killed Lone
that same evening when the Prime Minister landed in Jammu. Lone’s
killing overshadowed Prime Minister’s important visit, added Mr Manzar.
“At this stage, even if the Prime Minister would have offered some political
succor the Kashmiris, it could never have been accepted by the separatist
leaders there, ‘’he said. What unfolded was war cry close to the Line of
Control (LoC) followed by the review of security situation in Unified Command
The objective of Prime Minister’s visit was lost in the war clouds hovering
over the state and he could neither achieve his political nor military
objectives. However, the Prime Minister who had to stick to a smaller brief
(the sources said that it did not include any politic comment) during his
press conference at SKICC on the third day of his visit, took a significant
step by inviting the Hurriyat to come forward for a dialogue with the Centre.
Thus, the Prime Minister going beyond the brief was somehow a positive
development. But as the Hurriyat leaders instantly rejected it, the political
observers assert that it was a wise step on behalf of the Prime Minister
not to offer some thing on the political front to the people at such a
crucial juncture when Lone was killed.
Now with the Union minister of state for External Affairs Omar Abdullah
announcing Prime Minister’s another visit to Valley in ending June to meet
more people whom he could not visit this time, the observers say that it
is the high time now that the Centre should talk to the Kashmiri leaders
for the return of peace ands normalcy as Lone’s killing has broadened opposition
to gun culture.
“Temporally, though it has put a stop to the Track II diplomacy, but
it has happened earlier also, but the Centre should come out with adequate
response so that the Kashmiri separatist leaders also grab the offer and
work for the return of peace to the turbulent valley,” feels CPI (M) state
secretary Mr. M.Y.Tarigami.
Observers add that the Prime Minister, in his next visit to valley,
has to come prepared with his homework done. Thus accurate responses matching
the ground realities, peace can be given a second chance with various leaders
like Shabir Shah, Fazal Qureshi, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and many middle rung
Hurriyat leaders talking in terms of peace and denouncement of gun culture.
With many separatists still inclined to meet the Prime Minister, what
now needs it initiation of a dialogue with the Hurriyat and other leader,
which incidentally, everybody is advocating in Kashmir.
Even the Hurriyat is not averse to talking to the Prime Minister. As
the Hurriyat chief Prof AbdulGani Bhat says: "We don’t want a dialogue
for pleasure’s sake but we believe that Vajpayee’s rejection of involving
Pakistan in a dialogue, is an unrealistic attitude on the part of Government
of India”. Even the fire brand Jamaat-e-Islami leader and former chairman
of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani has said that that peace
could return to Kashmir only if the Indian government was sincere in solving
Kashmir issue in view of its historical perspective.
With Prime Minister visiting Kashmir in June, there would already be
some changes in state politics with Mr Omar Abdullah having already taken
over as the National Conference as its chief. Perhaps, the time would be
suitable if not ripe at that I time to restart the peace process.