The arrest of top separatist leaders and their subsequent release by the police before NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan, has once again proved just how fragile the peace process is between the two neighbouring nations.
On Thursday morning when armed contingents of J&K police were placed around the houses of all the top separatist leaders in Srinagar, they were informed by the officials that they would remain under house arrest for next five days — a clear indication from the government that their travel to New Delhi had been prevented.
The separatist leaders were caught off guard as in the past these leaders were never arrested before any scheduled meeting with Pakistani leaders. In fact, senior Hurriyat and other separatist leaders have visited the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi regularly and at times have even travelled to Islamabad.
Initially, the arrest of separatist leaders was seen as an attempt by the state and central governments to scuttle the meeting of Hurriyat leaders with Pakistan’s NSA Sartaj Aziz. This surprised everyone in the Valley, including former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah who criticized J&K chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed for following orders from his master. Many people including some separatist leaders believed that powerful forces were at work to derail the talks.
The timing of the house arrest could have put a question mark on the role of Mufti who is also the Home Minister of the state. Mufti is already facing pressure in Kashmir after he failed to secure the release of a flood package from the Centre. This time, the chief minister couldn’t have afforded another controversy so he had to intervene and the government decided to release all the separatist leaders after their brief detention.
In the Valley, Mufti and his party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, have always been seen as advocates for talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership.
In fact, at the behest of Mufti, a dialogue with Hurriyat was also included in the Common Minimum Programme chalked out between the PDP and BJP leadership before formation of the coalition government.
In Kashmir, political observers see this move as a strong message to separatists and Pakistan that if they wish they could scuttle their meetings with Pakistani leadership by simply not allowing them to travel to New Delhi.