THE last two weeks have seen Kashmir in turmoil. The death of a teenage student, Tufail Ahmed Mattoo, who allegedly died due to injuries suffered by a teargas shell fired at a demonstration in Srinagar led to protests in the streets. Subsequently, two more young men have died in police firing during successive rounds of protests, Rafiq Bangroo and Javed Ahmed Malla. The latest incident having occurred on June 20 when a paramilitary police picket fired when they came under attack by a crowd. There was a complete strike in the valley on June 21 in protest against the killing.
Though there has been a sharp drop in the extremist violence, the alienation of the people is expressing itself through mass protests and strikes whenever there are atrocities committed by the security forces. In early May, there was the shocking revelation that three young men from villages in North Kashmir were lured by the promise of jobs and taken to the Line of Control and shot dead by an army unit, who later claimed that they had killed extremists when they were trying to cross the LoC. Such incidents have further angered the people and provided a handle for the separatist forces to step up their propaganda. Despite the prime minister’s assurance of zero tolerance towards human rights violations, little was done to punish those in the armed forces who have indulged in such atrocities.
In order to restore normalcy, it is imperative that the state government and the central authorities take firm action against those responsible for the death of the three youth. Given the tactics of the hard-line separatist forces of inciting the youth to confront the police forces, maximum restraint should be observed and the stone throwing youth must be tackled without resorting to firing.
The army is working under difficult conditions in Jammu & Kashmir having to protect the borders and tackle terrorist violence. But the stance taken by the Army Commander Lt Gen B S Jaiswal declaring that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is sacrosanct and should not be amended, is unwarranted. The experience of the AFSPA, both in the North East and in Jammu & Kashmir, shows that some of the draconian provisions of the Act tend to be misused. It is necessary to amend the Act, so that such arbitrary and unaccountable provisions are removed.
What stands out in the Jammu & Kashmir situation currently is the complete lack of any political initiative by the central government. The prime minister’s visit to Srinagar in the first week of June was remarkable for the lack of any worthwhile political initiative to tackle the basic problems. The round table talks have gone nowhere. The UPA government seems oblivious of the need to revive the political process whereby issues such as provision of maximum autonomy for the state and regional autonomy for the three regions can be discussed and concretised alongwith the dialogue with Pakistan which is just beginning to resume. In the absence of such a political initiative and the ineffectiveness of the National Conference-Congress coalition government, the separatist forces represented by persons like Syed Ali Geelani are having a free run. It is time that the Manmohan Singh government gets down to the serious business of providing the political framework for the process of dialogue and the crystallisation of a political settlement within the state of Jammu & Kashmir.