A day after Northern Army Commander Lt Gen D S Hooda said “all”, including separatists and student protesters, should “sit down and see if we can find an end” to the unrest in the Valley, separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said on Saturday that the appeal showed the “urgency and inevitability” of finding a political resolution.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Friday, Hooda said: “We all have to sit down, put our heads together and see if we can find an end to this. I know it is not easy. The situation is difficult. Everybody who is in any way involved in J&K needs to introspect”.
No “one person or one organisation”, said Hooda, could solve the ongoing crisis in the Valley. “This is not a political statement. It is a statement of facts because everybody is involved, whether it is security forces, separatists, governments, student leaders, so my appeal is to everyone. I think we need to find some way forward in this,” he said.
This is the first time that an Army official has publicly acknowledged a role for the separatist leadership in restoration of peace in the Valley, different from the NDA government’s stance that there can be no talks with the Hurriyat.
“It reflects an urgency and inevitability of finding a political resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir,” said Farooq, chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M), in response to a question texted to him by The Sunday Express.
Asked if the separatist leadership would respond positively to Hooda’s message, Farooq said it was a message from the Army commander to the country’s political leadership. “It’s an acknowledgement by a military commander that Kashmir is not a law and order problem but a political problem, and he has primarily given a message to his own political leadership that they need to work for a political solution,” he said.
In an indication that an outreach would have to come from the government, he said: “If the institution of the Indian Army is in a position to resolve the Kashmir issue as per the wishes of the Kashmiri people, people will be most willing to cooperate”.
Hooda’s remarks came amid concerns at the top levels of government at the continuing standoff in the Valley, with the PDP-BJP unable to resolve the situation.
Naeem Akhtar, Education Minister and a government spokesman, welcomed the Army commander’s remarks. “It is good that they are on the same page on this. From the first cabinet meeting, in the very first appeal, we sought the cooperation of separatists. We have appealed to everybody, mainstream as well as separatists, that Kashmir belongs to everybody,” he said.
Saturday marked the 42nd day of curfew after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The Hurriyat has given no sign that it will step back from the protests. On Saturday, it indicated that after its “naming and shaming” of police officers, it will go after the mainstream political parties. In a statement, it described mainstream politicians as a “civilian mask to a brutal military occupation”, and asked the PDP to resign from the government. As part of a pressure tactic, it asked people to paste posters outside the homes of ministers, asking them to “join the freedom march”.
The pasting of posters outside the residences of mainstream political leaders is part of the schedule of protests that the separatists have issued for the week.
“The Indian state has once again unleashed its war machine to kill, maim and disfigure us… to terrorise and suppress the entire population into complete submission,” reads a poster. “And once again its forces in J&K have a fig leaf in the shape of a quisling government manned by people like you, with the only brief to provide a civilian mask to brutal military occupation”.
The poster accuses mainstream political leaders of covering up the “crimes of occupation” and calls for resignation of mainstream leaders, especially the legislators. “Throughout your election campaigns, you tried to justify your participation in the name of addressing issues of water, power, roads (bijli, sadak, paani), with no bearing on the popular freedom movement. Thus you motivated many a gullible person among us to vote for you,” it reads.
Warning the mainstream political leaders of a social boycott, the separatists have given them “a last chance” and asked them to resign from their posts in the government as well as party as the “only conscientious option available” to them.
(With inputs from Nirupama Subramanian)