Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Triangulating Omar's Future

Riyaz provides an interesting perspective

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 37, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Omar! Enjoy the grace period

Two days ahead of assuming office as the youngest chief minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah called on the former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and sought his guidance as well as support for a challenging task he was about to take upon.

The otherwise reticent Mufti, whose distaste for Abdullahs is all too well known, wished him "good future" and hoped that the new government delivered on every front under the new leadership. Syed Ali Geelani, the uncompromising face of Kashmir separatism, had already sounded soft toward Omar when he wanted him to "deliver on promises" and obliquely complimented him for being the youngest ever CM. Mirwaiz Umar, whose party Awami Action Committee over past decades, especially during the Lion-Goat tussle of seventies, has almost embodied the politics of NC-bashing, also hurled an unexpectedly sober response. Mirwaiz, the youngest of all separatist stalwarts, urged his counterpart on other side to "deliver on promises" he had made during the poll campaign. Later, when Omar was being administered oath of office in Jammu on January 5, Mirwaiz, speaking at a seminar about self-determination in Srinagar, asked the young Abdullah to "represent Kashmir in Delhi rather than Delhi in Kashmir". BJP's J&K chapter is yet to sound out on Omar Abdullah's ascendance however its leading lights, Ashok Khujoria and Chaman Lal Gupta attended the swearing in ceremony and exchanged pleasantries with Mahbooba Mufti and Choudhary Aslam. BJP is yet to convene legislative party meeting and appears in a dilemma if it should pin down Omar at the very outset. And above all, despite a loud debate around why people voted close on the heels of a blazing street campaign against India, United Jihad Council remained content with its response to the Israeli aggression in Gaza, it did not have a word on the political changeover in Kashmir, its main forte.

Such a positive beginning should augur well for Omar but all this good talk has brought with it the challenge of meeting the expectations, which are running rife on either side of the political divide. From New Delhi (read Congress) to Mufti Sayeed (PDP is now single) and from separatist to militant camp, all key actors of Kashmir's labyrinthine politics appear in virtual agreement over the need to give Omar at least the margin of being the first-timer. Does it mean that our politics is finally maturing or it is like the levers are being moved from somewhere else? Any attempt to answer this would lapse into hypothesis. What is even more important to ponder on is, if Omar can really deliver change in Kashmir by appropriating this 'grace period', which his friends and foes have given him with invariable magnanimity. But this level playing field is actually lying within a sort of triangle. We need to place Omar Abdullah within this triangle of compulsion, ideology and expectation.

His compulsion comes from his need to forge political alliance with Congress, the party that has ironically twisted arms of both his father Farooq Abdullah and his grandfather Sheikh Abdullah despite the fact that Sheikh held sway on Kashmir population and Farooq had a tighter grip over mainstream politics. Omar no doubt enjoys a non-aggressive political audience in Kashmir yet his numbers in assembly make his compulsion even more troublesome. If the Congress has been in the habit of deposing Sheikh and Farooq despite their political and electoral strength, will it think twice if tomorrow it chose to switch over? And, it is quite easy to discern what would be Congress' brief for Omar. May be not in categorical terms but in a subtle way, he must have been conveyed: "Talk governance, be silent on politics?" Nonetheless we don't expect Congress to leash Omar so quickly even if he chose to blend his talk on governance with a dash of politics but his assertions are bound to raise eyebrows in Delhi. For any friction, if at all Omar allows it to appear, we may have to wait till the elections for Indian Parliament are over. After all, Congress considers Omar as its star campaigner in J&K, or may be elsewhere too.

As for ideology Omar, by saying that he would accept any solution better than autonomy, has creatively reached out to separatist circles. And, by re-branding the proposal as 'autonomy-plus' he has actually walked into the realm of Kashmir's neo-separatist politics, more loudly championed by Muftis. Both these postures are well within the discourse Mufti has floated amidst Pakistan's soft policy on Kashmir but Omar seems intent on something big. He wants to be remembered as the one who included the discourse of justice in the mainstream politics by pleading for a Truth and Reconciliatory Commission (TRC) in Kashmir, thus widening his constituency far beyond Muftis and separatists.

TRC is basically a South African concept. After the fall of apartheid in South Africa Nelson Mandela pleaded for setting up of TRC that would probe the crimes committed by the minority whites against the beleaguered and victimized majority of blacks. Let's wait to see how Omar moves about this agenda, which may include reviewing PSA cases, advocating compensation for losses to thousands of house owners who lost their property in disproportionate use of force during encounters, curbing armed forces and their allied agencies. Mufti did not make a big difference toward that end but he postured against Army and New Delhi and that worked. Will Omar Abdullah find it easy to go beyond Mufti's posturing and press for setting up of TRC? How will he tackle pressures from New Delhi? If he falters on this issue, how will the forces who gave him the 'grace period' respond? And, if he moves forward, how will Congress respond? America has reinvented its interest in Kashmir via Afghanistan; it has almost finalized Clinton's appointment as special envoy for the disputed region. Will Omar's nationalist or neo-separatist tendencies lead National Conference to yet another rebirth as Kashmir's best bet? Will Omar allow himself to be used as a preemptive tool by Indians or respect the national consensus around his abilities to deliver? These would be the questions hovering over 2009. Dear Omar! Enjoy the grace period.

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