PDP leader and senior J&K minister Nayeem Akhtar has said that the PDP-BJP coalition government’s credibility has seriously suffered when “someone holding an important position” calls Kashmir a “war-like zone”. Calling the alliance “the last possible credible democratic experiment”, he says its failure may “consume” the PDP but it will be “a huge setback to the country”. In an interview to The Indian Express, Akhtar, a trusted aide of the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who currently holds the public works portfolio in the coalition government and is the state government’s official spokesperson, said “talks with Hurriyat” and New Delhi’s “measures to improve Indo-Pak relations” are essential component of the agenda of alliance between the two parties and “if it isn’t implemented, many generations will mourn” the chance missed.
Without naming Defence Minister Arun Jaitley who last month said “when you are in a war-like zone, we should allow our Army officers to take a decision”, Akhtar said: “There is no war-like situation in Kashmir. When someone holding an important position in the government says it is a war zone, what message are we sending? After two years in the government, we are saying it is a war zone, what is our legitimacy.’ “….Credibility of our government has suffered seriously because of such statements but it isn’t our loss only, it is not the loss of our party only, it isn’t the loss of J&K state only, it is the loss of the country as well.”
He said the PDP’s alliance with BJP “is the last possible credible democratic experiment for many many years”. “If it fails, nothing else is likely to succeed in the present scenario. And if it collapses, it would not be a problem only for PDP or Kashmir, its failure is going to be a huge setback for the country in finding a solution to its most intractable challenge. We may well get consumed in this but that might be a marginal cost only. We tried to create a middle space — the space is gone but the argument hasn’t gone,’’ he said.
“I am an Indian but people in Kashmir don’t feel that way. And we aren’t responsible for this sentiment. We inherited it. It began when Nehru jailed Sheikh Abdullah (in 1953). That has been a legacy for all Prime Ministers.” Akhtar said the Kashmir “problem” could be resolved “only by acknowledging the idea of azadi and engaging in best democratic traditions with its proponents and convince them of a better idea that in our belief is the idea of India”. “Our agenda for alliance says everything — we haven’t shied away from anything. It doesn’t merely talk about talks with separatists, it is specific and names Hurriyat. It isn’t vague. It clearly asks for measures to improve relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. It has dealt with every contentious issue and projected a pragmatic view endorsed by both PDP and BJP. This is all out in open and it is an agreement between the coalition partners,’’ he said.
Akhtar said that despite “harsh resistance”, the PDP had brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the same venue in Srinagar in 2015 where Atal Bihari Vajpayee had addressed people in 2003 and “created ripples across the sub-continent”. “The encore was the same but we didn’t see the results,’’ he said. Without naming the Army chief, Akhtar said: “The Army on the ground (in Kashmir) today is much more disciplined than the way its top brass is making it look like through its observations. It is sad.” He said “there is no viable alternative to talks and reconciliation… India can become great not by using coercive measures in Kashmir to suppress people but by understanding from history that it hasn’t ever worked.’’ Responding to a query on issues that can break the PDP’s coalition with the BJP, Akhtar said: “Our red line is known. For us, Article 370 and the special status (of J&K) that includes the State subject law is inviolable.”