Curbs on separatists

Mufti’s assertions on peace building may sound promising but not convincing enough for people

Chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s assertion that his government would bring in an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation may sound promising but fails to be convincing. The reason may not simply be his government’s action against Masarat Alam accused of publically raising pro-Pakistan slogans, within weeks of his defence of his release, and the latest curbs on senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani who has been put under house arrest. The pro-Pakistan stand of Geelani is all too well known and so is the open admiration of many other separatists with either pro-Pakistan or pro-independence leanings.

Justification of their prolonged incarceration in jails or inside their own homes on such grounds would not make this government any different from the previous one, which started with curbs on separatists and used the same logic to curtail the civil liberties of the common citizens. The chief minister has sought to justify these actions by drawing a distinction between the acceptable and unacceptable things that the separatists say or do. This is ambiguous and vague and there is no knowledge of where the line between the acceptability and non-acceptability would be drawn. Soon after his swearing-in ceremony, Mufti Sayeed had struck some reconciliatory notes while talking about dialogue with Pakistan and about release of political prisoners.

However, while he is yet to play the role of a catalyst in convincing New Delhi to initiate the much needed steps for resumption of peace process or focus on cross-LoC related or other confidence building measures, within weeks of his promising remarks his government has failed to release even a single political prisoner. Instead it has done a virtual turn around by insisting that there are not more than a dozen political prisoners in jails inside Jammu and Kashmir or across the country. Such assertions do not meet the Peoples Democratic Party’s earlier pitched sloganeering on political prisoners before the party came to power in alliance with the BJP; the latter obviously opposed to making concessions like releasing prisoners or allowing separatist leaders to operate unhindered. Mufti Sayeed’s government has made an obvious departure from its earlier stint in power when it made an impact by helping to ease the atmosphere by reducing frisking, crackdowns, withdrawal of military and other security forces from hospitals, schools and orchards as well as giving the necessary impetus to peace process with Pakistan. 

Mufti’s present tenure is just two months old and hence it may be unfair to judge him and his government. However, the limitations within which he is operating have become all too evident. Mufti Sayeed is operating with the serious handicap of an alliance partner that can be an impediment to his vision of creating an atmosphere for peace process and reconciliation. Besides, unlike in 2002 when there was a government in place in New Delhi that wanted to inch forward towards peace in South Asian region, he is faced with an RSS controlled regime that would not want to make any conciliatory notes in the neighbourhood, especially in the case of Pakistan, peace with which is imperative for peace in Kashmir. He certainly is dealing with a difficult partner and a difficult boss that has begun to reveal its obstructing policies vis a vis conciliation in Kashmir or conciliation with Pakistan.

The tinge of dichotomy in Mufti and his PDP’s jargon with respect to dialogue and conciliatory efforts is an offshoot of such impediments. Viewing his past record as chief minister, which was fairly one of the best in recent decades, one may not doubt his goodwill and well meaning intentions but his ambiguity and flip flops on the issue of curbs on separatists certainly retard a process for confidence building. Rather they generate suspicions about his ability to function within the given limited optional framework of ideologically different alliance partner and a right wing Centre. He may, therefore, need to change his strategy rather than suitably change his ideology in keeping with the whims of his alliance partner.