Prime Minister’s Visit to J&K : June 7-8, 2010
C D Sahay, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s two day (June 7/8, 2010) visit to Srinagar is being generally described as rather uneventful. In UPA-II avatar, this was his second visit to the state, the earlier one being in October 2009. It may be mentioned that all such high profile visits from New Delhi to Srinagar have been traditionally, barring a few exceptions, accompanied by the hardliners’ call for Srinagar bandh. This visit of the PM was no exception.

In the recent years, visits by Prime Ministers to J&K have always generated a great deal of expectations, primarily on two main issues, namely:
a) Whether talks with the Hurriyat and other non-mainstream parties on resolution of the Kashmir issue would revive/re-commence?
b) What kind of development assistance package and new projects would the Prime Minister announce?

On both these counts, the visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh was fairly routine and lack-luster. On the issue of talks with the Hurriyat leaders, understandably, there was no forward movement, primarily because intensive back channel ground work had not been carried out. More importantly however, analysts have yet to discern any basic shift in the stand and attitude of the Hurriyat leaders towards resumption of political dialogue with New Delhi sans clearance from their controllers from across the border and also on account of our principled position against either tri-partite dialogue involving Pakistan or involvement of any third party in the process. Successive governments in New Delhi must be complimented on maintaining their stand on these two conditionalities insisted upon by the Hurriyat leaders including even the so called moderate leader Maulavi Umar Farooq, who was at one stage expected to adopt a more flexible approach on the issue after the split in the APHC leading to the marginalization of the hard liner pro-Pak Hurriyat leader SAS Geelani. As a result, even this time around, Umar Farooq refused to respond positively to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s call to join the dialogue process to be initiated with all those who abjure violence.

The reluctance of the types of Umar Farooq to give up the path of violence and seek political solution, is rather intriguing since none of the APHC constituents have any operationally active militant group under their command and control. The militant groups operating in J&K over the years, as is well known, have always been Pak-sponsored, trained and equipped and controlled organizations acting independently of the APHC. If anything, this entity only act as the political mouthpiece of the militant groups. By refusing to endorse termination of violence and restoration of peace in J&K, these leaders are not pursuing their own agenda conforming to the wishes of the people of J&K, but are only acting at the behest of their Pak controllers who, as is well known in intelligence circles, calibrate each response or statement issued by the APHC on any issue of significance. Not so long ago, Maulavi Umar Farooq was even required by his ISI controllers to ‘playback’ for their information, recordings of his Friday prayer speeches at the Jama Masjid! Insiders, privy to the APHC meetings in Srinagar maintain that no meeting of the conglomerate is ever complete without telephonic interventions from across the border including approval of the resolutions to be adopted. Does leave any doubt as to whose agenda the APHC has been pursuing all these years? Is it not time for the APHC to come clean on this issue and reorient its strategy in tune with the real aspirations of the people of the state? Has it still not dawned on these so called moderate leaders that, as one Kashmiri leader, years back, put it, “ Right to life precedes all other rights”? The people want restoration of peace and normalcy in the valley for which it is imperative that violence must end. This is what, in my view, should be the Hurriyats’ first priority rather than projecting any other condition.

In these circumstances, it is futile on the part of New Delhi to expect APHC’s participation in any political process till they realize the basic fact that they have to represent the wishes of the people. And Pakistan will not permit them to do so. Therefore, other than reiteration of New Delhi’s stand on dialogue, the Prime Minister’s visit was not expected to yield any positive results and we suspect, this trend will continue till Pakistan itself is not persuaded/compelled to change its tactics vis-à-vis J&K, and eventually change its strategy on its overall policy towards India. The chances of these happening in the near future, are rather remote since, as one senior diplomat once observed, and I quote from memory, “Pakistan’s options are only limited to tinkering with tactics without changing its overall strategy” of confrontation.

That leaves only the other expectation from the visit to be examined; that relating to aid/development package. The Prime Minister duly obliged the government of Omar Abdullah and partly satiated the unending appetite of the state and its people to live on massive doles and grants from New Delhi, by announcing sops worth over Rs. 1000 crore. The cumulative aid/grant to the state may well be over Rs 60,000 Crore in the last two decades! Some of the lesser privileged and lesser developed states in the union justifiably resent New Delhi’s rather step-motherly approach towards them. On the other hand, it is argued by the well-wishers of the people of J&K that through these aid-programmes, New Delhi should rather try to address the issue of reducing the level of alienation of a section of the J&K population by creating necessary infrastructure in the state for rapid growth of its economy and overall development, creation of jobs for the youth, establishing centers of educational excellence, improving transport and health sectors and such other initiatives that would go a long way in creating an atmosphere in which the people of J&K would feel bold enough to break the shackles of minority support-based and non-descript groups such as the APHC. Perhaps there is a great deal of merit in pursuing this approach, while maintaining pressure on the militant groups to deter them from violence. However, they also raise with justification the question of proper utilization of these funds for the purpose for which these are released. Are these being properly utilized; are these really reaching the people and are the objectives being achieved? Its about time the authorities in Srinagar and New Delhi realized this. Would it not be useful to carry out an independent audit of the efficacy of the aid programme; sooner the better?

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