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Will Eid package bring peace? Kashmir has fingers crossed

Tuesday, September 07, 2010 06:30:31 PM, F. Ahmed, IANS

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Srinagar: The central and state governments are said to be working on an Eid package to defuse unprecedented tensions in the Kashmir Valley but separatist leaders do not seem to be enthused. With the cycle of street protests and firing by security forces taking lives and challenging the authority of the Indian state, there is pressure on officialdom to restore normalcy in the dominantly Muslim valley.

Everyone agrees that this is easier said than done, considering the huge gap between what any government can offer and what separatists will accept to call off anti-India demonstrations that began in June.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has disclosed that the harsh Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives sweeping powers to security forces, could go in as many as six districts.

Informed sources here said the idea was to repeal AFSPA from Srinagar, Ganderbal and Badgam districts of the valley as well as Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts in the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

The intended package also includes providing 50,000 jobs to youths in the state besides a rehabilitation policy for surrendered militants.

And while his father and central minister Farooq Abdullah is dismissive of hardline separatist Syed Ali Geelani, Omar Abdullah admitted that Geelani "is a factor" in Kashmir and cannot be wished away.

But the proposed package is not making Geelani change colours. The pro-Pakistani politician has said that only the acceptance of five conditions can lead to a meaningful dialogue with New Delhi.

These include accepting Kashmir as an international dispute, repealing 'draconian laws’ like AFSPA and Public Safety Act, allowing a UN agency to supervise demilitarisation, releasing political prisoners, and withdrawing cases against those arrested for stoning security forces.

The sources told IANS that New Delhi and the state government were seriously working to meet at least four of Geelani’s conditions to enable the veteran leader to scale down his protest programmes.

The protests have literally held the valley hostage for three months, with 69 people dead in clashes with the security forces.

In the process, even the Pakistan-backed armed separatist campaign that has left thousands dead since 1989 has taken a backseat.

"The release of political prisoners and youths arrested for stone pelting is a decision only the government can take," said an intelligence officer.

But given the volatile atmosphere in the valley, the security forces believe that their withdrawal from some areas could prove to be a gamble and should be decided in a hurry.

"Security forces are not deployed for fun. They are deployed after an informed and careful appraisal. If they are withdrawn, the dice might fall either way," warned a paramilitary officer.

For his part, Geelani has made it clear that New Delhi has to accept that Kashmir is an international dispute.

"Unless India accepts Kashmir as an international dispute, meeting other four demands totally or partially will not change our stand on the ongoing Quit Kashmir movement," Geelani told some reporters here Monday.

The other Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, recently announced a two-member committee to forge unity with Geelani and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik.

"At this crucial moment in our struggle for freedom we must close our ranks and forge unity to strengthen the people’s movement," Mirwaiz Umer said in a statement.

Geelani has asked the Mirwaiz to adopt a resolution endorsing the former’s five demands before unity moves can be seriously discussed.

While mainstream politicians, including Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party and Mehboob Beg of the National Conference, have welcomed the proposed Eid package, its impact on reversing the present cycle of violence cannot be safely predicted.

"Negotiations and reconciliation are always welcome especially in the tension-driven valley. But if anybody expects it would work like magic and bring peace, he or she would be inept and naďve," said an editor here.

"If the package fails to deliver, what will Delhi do next?" he wondered.







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