Politics

At All-Party Meet, Mehbooba Backs Manmohan Formula for Addressing Kashmir’s Problems

‘A beginning can be made by implementing the recommendations of the five working groups constituted by the then prime minister’, the chief minister said.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti with deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh and leaders of various political parties at an all-party meeting in Srinagar on Thursday. Credit: PTI/S.Irfan

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti with deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh and leaders of various political parties at an all-party meeting in Srinagar on Thursday. Credit: PTI/S.Irfan

Srinagar: With Kashmir staring at another summer of unrest in the wake of civilian casualties at the hands of the security forces, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Thursday told an all-party meeting that implementing the mothballed reports of the various working groups that were constituted by former prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 would help resolve the state’s problems.

Mehbooba, whose government is facing severe criticism over its handling of the situation following the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, even pitched for the revival of the India-Pakistan dialogue at a time when the Modi government has trained its guns on Islamabad for “sponsoring” the ongoing protests in the Valley.

“The suffering voices of the people of J&K shall have to be heard and substantive confidence building measures taken to address the alienation and reduce trust deficit… A beginning can be made by implementing the recommendations of the five working groups constituted by the then prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh,” Mehbooba said while speaking at the meeting which was convened to discuss the prevailing situation in the Valley.

During his first tenure as the prime minister, Singh constituted five working groups after convening a round table conference, as a confidence building measure to look into different aspects of the state.  Though the groups – on strengthening relations across the Line of Control, confidence building measures across segments of society in the state including detainees, economic development, ensuring good governance and centre–state relations – submitted their reports to the centre many years ago, there has been no follow up action on them.

“…these (working group’s recommendations) have been reiterated in the PDP-BJP Agenda of Alliance,” Mehbooba said. “The recommendations deal with almost all aspects of the problems confronting J&K and their implementation could be a beginning to reach out to people.”

During her speech, Mehbooba stressed the need for taking “all stakeholders” on board for addressing the problems confronting the state and carrying forward the peace and reconciliation process. She asked the political leadership in New Delhi to pursue an agenda which is ‘politically inclusive’ and ‘developmentally intensive’ to address the challenges both at the external and internal fronts.

Briefing the media, soon after the meeting, government spokesman Naeem Akhtar said the participants deliberated upon the reasons behind the current situation, saying the focus of the discussion was on how to prevent its repetition in the future.

In the past 13 days after protests broke out in the Valley, 44 civilians have been shot dead by security forces while over 4000 persons have been injured in the forces’ action, over 200 of them critically, most of them from south Kashmir – which has been the epicentre of the protests following the killing of Wani.

The present situation is a grim reminder of the three consecutive summers of unrest in the Valley, beginning 2008 when at least 60 people were killed in forces’ action following the agitation over transfer of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board in south Kashmir. The next year Kashmir witnessed more killings following the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian, though the CBI subsequently cited “drowning” as the cause of their death. In 2010, the fake encounter of three civilians by army in border area of Machil in north Kashmir, for promotions and rewards, had led to a three month-long summer unrest in which at least 120 civilians were killed in action by the police and CRPF.

“A new course for J&K can be chalked out only by reaching out to all the stakeholders including the youth who have to pay a huge price because of the uncertainties plaguing the state for the past more than six decades,” Mehbooba said.

‘End to pellet guns’

As the use of pellet guns by the forces for crowd control has resulted in eye injuries to over 150 persons including minors and teenagers, most of them on the verge of losing vision, the chief minister called for stopping the use of the weapon which has been described as “lethal” by human rights activists.

As per the records at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital, of the total persons with eye injuries 70% of them could lose sight in one or both eyes injured by the pellets.

“I am pained by the grievous eye injuries caused to some youth because of the pellets guns,” Mehbooba told the meeting, saying “this cruel method of crowd control” would have to be done away with, “sooner the better” and alternatives shall have to be found to existing crowd control methods to ensure that youth don’t get killed or maimed in such situations.

Mehbooba’s remarks for stopping the use of pellet guns came on the day when union home minister Rajnath Singh told parliament that an expert panel would recommend an alternative option to the use of pellet guns in the next two months.

NC boycotts ‘futile exercise’

Though the meeting was attended by the Congress and other smaller parties, the main opposition National Conference boycotted it, saying that in absence of any “credible, effective and humane leadership” in the state, an all party meeting was a “futile and meaningless” exercise.

The boycott, which was taken note by the chief minister, triggered a war of words between the government and the opposition party.

While Mehbooba expressed dismay over the non-participation of National Conference, saying she had personally spoken to Omar Abdullah the previous evening and requested him to attend, the NC hit back, saying no such conversation had taken place. “The marathon meeting has produced nothing,” said the NC spokesman. “Our decision not to attend the meeting was absolutely right as the meeting was eyewash by the present indecisive government.”

The party hit out at the PDP-BJP coalition for failing to stop the use of the pellet guns – the weapon was for the first time used by forces in 2010 during Omar’s rule – saying the government has again knocked on the doors of New Delhi despite the fact that the chief minister, who heads the unified command, could presumably pass an order for stopping their use..

‘Situation grim, engage leaders of all political shades’

While asking the state government to convene a special session of the state assembly to discuss the present unrest in the Valley, state Congress chief G.A. Mir called for engaging leadership from “all shades” to solve the political problem of Kashmir.

Mir took on the government for mishandling the situation in the valley, saying as an opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti and her party were “more active and different”.

“But as chief minister she (Mehbooba) has become invisible, which is surprising,” Mir said.

On the other hand, CPI-M legislator Muhammad Yusuf Targami termed the situation in Kashmir as “very grim”, insisting it was “essentially a political unrest” that needed political response.

“We hope the government of India is ready to faces these realities this time,” he said, as he accused successive governments at the centre for focusing on Kashmir only when it burns.

“The same story is repeated again and again. If that happens this time as well, I am afraid there will be bigger troubles ahead,” the Left leader said.