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Opposition on same page — on the end, not the means

All parties barring the Shiv Sena said the use of pellet guns should be stopped.

Written by Liz Mathew, Manoj C G | New Delhi |
August 13, 2016 3:00:19 am
kashmir, kashmir unrest, kashmir violence, kashmir protestsm kashmir clashes, parliament, parliament on kashmir, parliament kashmir debate, kashmir news, india news CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and other opposition leaders after at an all party meeting on Kashmir situation, at Parliament in New Delhi on Friday. (PTI Photo)

Having forced the government to convene an all-party meeting on the Kashmir situation, the Opposition Friday differed with it on the approach to end the unrest in the Valley. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened a new front, making a mention of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Balochistan, opposition parties told him that the immediate need was to open a dialogue with “all stakeholders” and extend a “healing touch” to the wounded Valley.

While the Opposition backed the government on tackling terrorism and exposing Pakistan’s role in Kashmir, the immediate priority, they said, should be to roll out confidence building measures and abandon the use of harsh crowd-control measures to “win the hearts and minds” of the Kashmiri population, particularly the youth.

All parties barring the Shiv Sena said the use of pellet guns should be stopped, and some, including the Left parties, suggested that AFSPA must be reviewed or partially withdrawn.

Once the meeting ended, opposition leaders suggested they were unsatisfied with the outcome. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said the government neither accepted nor rejected their demands, while CPI’s D Raja said the government did not commit to banning the use of pellet guns. Opposition parties said that despite a near unanimous demand for opening dialogue with all stakeholders, the government had, till Friday night, not given any indication of initiating talks.

“The meeting was mostly about Pakistan bashing and jingoism by the PM, it did not produce results. We all just repeated what we had said in Rajya Sabha. The only difference was that the Prime Minister was not present there and he was present here,” a senior leader said.

Several leaders told the government that the nature and character of the unrest now was drastically different from the uprisings witnessed in the Valley earlier. The message, they said, was that the government should keep in mind global developments, such as the rise of the Islamic State and its impact on youth in the Valley, while trying to deal with the situation.

Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad reminded the government that Kashmiri Muslims were the only ones who had rejected Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory in toto and stood with India even as Muslims from several other states left the country.

Setting the tone of the nearly four-and-a-half hour meeting, the first convened by the government since the Valley erupted after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a candid admission. He said that despite all efforts, his government could not succeed fully to solve the Kashmir problem. He added that the focus right now should be on defusing the “present extremely tense and tragic situation”.

“It is certainly true that there have been occasions in the past when tension got built up when we were in government. In the last 10 years when we were in office, we made serious efforts to find political and pragmatic solutions to these problems. We recognise that we did not fully succeed. It is now the Government of India’s duty to look into this matter and come up with a roadmap for defusing the present situation that alone will convince the people of J&K that we have a caring Government at Delhi,” he said.

Singh, as well as leaders who spoke after him, assured the government of their support. “Any positive step you will take in this endeavour, you will have our full cooperation,” Singh said.

Congress’s Azad demanded the implementation of reports of five working groups set up by the Manmohan Singh government as well as the suggestions made by a team of interlocutors headed by Dilip Padgaonkar in 2012. Left leaders Yechury and Raja focused on bringing down presence of the men in uniform in civilian areas, while Trinamool Congress’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay asked the government not to talk to the older generation of leaders, like the Hurriyat.

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“All those reports were submitted to the central government. Work had begun on those reports but stopped in between… The team of interlocutors had also spent nearly one-and-a-half years meeting everyone. We said there is no need for sending another committee now because two committees had gone there to look into all issues twice in the last decade… the people of Kashmir will only lose confidence that in every five years, a team comes but nothing is implemented. It is time to implement those reports,” Azad said.

He also asked the government to begin talks with “mainstream parties, non-mainstream parties and other stakeholders”. He said “the immediate need is to win the hearts and minds of the people of J&K in general and the youth in particular. The need of the hour is to heal the wounds”.

Azad further said the time is not ripe for opening dialogue with Pakistan as the neighbour has engaged in a war of words.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj intervened and sought suggestions from leaders to prepare a response to the UN Human Rights Commission, which has forwarded a petition sent to it by Pakistan citing human rights violations in Kashmir. Yechury told the meeting that the CPM position has always been that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and there is no question of any international or third party involvement.

“But it is important to establish our credibility and credence internationally. We have our National Human Rights Commission. The government should refer the matter to them. Let them examine,” he said.

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