In search of peace

The Centre will be engaging in a series of meetings at various levels and involving diverse parties and actors to discuss and resolve the Kashmir problem. A meeting between prime minister Manmohan Singh and chief minister Omar Abdullah appears to have gone off well. This is to be followed by a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security and an all-party meeting that will decide on a parliamentary delegation to Kashmir. In a bid to reach out to Kashmir’s angry populace, the Centre is also said to be considering dialogue with various Kashmiri parties and groups. The proposed all-party meeting at the national level is aimed at hammering out a consensus before negotiations are initiated with the Kashmiris. How the UPA government conducts itself during the all-party meet will have ramifications for the future of the peace process. It must ensure that this is a genuinely consultative process, not just a forum to inform the opposition of its next steps.

Previous attempts at resolution of the Kashmir problem have seen the government extend generous economic packages. While unemployment is an important grievance of the Kashmiris and needs addressing, simply extending the state money will not resolve the conflict. There are political issues that successive governments at the Centre have chosen to ignore. To not pay attention to these yet again would be unwise. The Centre has said it is willing to discuss everything with the Kashmiris so long as the demands are within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Autonomy to Kashmir is provided for under Article 370 of the Constitution. It is time India implemented it in letter and spirit and tried to win over the Kashmiri people.

Reports indicate that the government is considering withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from around six districts in J&K. The political leadership should consult the army before doing so as it could have serious security ramifications. Government-appointed committees have described it as oppressive and recommended its repeal. Yet the government has been loathe to do away with it hitherto. Its withdrawal in stages will go a long way in meeting an important demand of the Kashmiris. The Centre needs to move away from its crisis management approach to one that addresses the underlying problems.

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