Kashmir on brink as India scrambles for solution
* Security analyst says political process has failed to defuse situation
* Hindustan Times columnist suggests referendum to resolve Kashmir dispute
NEW DELHI: A lack of political leadership threatens to allow seething Hindu-Muslim tensions and separatist anger in revolt-hit Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) to spiral out of control, analysts say. Kashmir, which is witnessing its biggest anti-India demonstrations in years, is “poised at a very delicate stage”, said security analyst Uday Bhaskar.
On Friday, hundreds of thousands of people massed in Srinagar to demand azadi (freedom) and protest against New Delhi’s rule. It was the second major demonstration of the week. The trouble began in June when the Kashmir administration announced a plan to donate land to a Hindu shrine in the Kashmir valley. Muslims in the valley saw the move as a ploy by India to occupy their land and staged huge protests, forcing a reversal of the plan.
But the decision to scrap the move angered Hindus further south in Jammu, who viewed it as an act of appeasement, prompting hardliners to block the region’s main highway – a protest that shut the Kashmir valley.
Political process: “The political process has not been able to defuse the situation and now we’re at a very critical point where we have a very disturbing communal divide,” said Bhaskar.
Since June, at least 31 Muslims and three Hindus have died in police firing on protesters in the Kashmir and Jammu areas. “A matter of almost trifling significance has been allowed to swell,” said former police chief Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, who is credited with stamping out a deadly Sikh insurgency in the 1990s. The snowballing crisis has breathed new life into Kashmir’s separatist movement, with hundreds of thousands of Muslims taking to the streets. The developments have also soured relations between India and Pakistan. Analyst Neerja Chowdhury said New Delhi and Kashmir administrations were caught napping.
“The government was simply out of sync with the mood in Kashmir – the implications of the land transfer on the psyche of the people in Kashmir and the impact of the revocation on Hindus,” she said.The controversy “has wiped out the huge gains made politically in the region in the last seven to eight years,” she noted, referring to Indian claims that militancy was on the wane and peace was being restored.
Former Indian intelligence officer B Raman criticised the “government’s inept handling and the BJP’s cynical exploitation of the crisis”. “What militants failed to do in Kashmir since 1989 the government and the BJP have achieved for them,” he said. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government “illustrated its ineptitude in the casual manner in which it watched without intervening,” he added.
Referendum: Hindustan Times columnist Vir Sanghvi suggested a radical solution to the problem. “I reckon we should hold a referendum in the valley,” he said, referring to a longstanding demand by Pakistan and rejected outright by India since 1947. “Let the Kashmiris determine their own destiny. If they want to stay in India, they are welcome. But if they don’t, then we have no moral right to force them to remain,” Sanghvi said.“It’s time to think the unthinkable.” afp