If chief minister Omar Abdullah regrets having committed himself to getting the AFSPA revoked in Kashmir, he hides it well. Blessed with a facility with words, he can wriggle out of tight situations with talk of earnest intent carrying seriousness and conviction, and easily persuade questioners that he is for real. Surprisingly, his powers of persuasion have cut little ice with New Delhi’s politico-military syndicate. There is little reason to censure detractors who point out that Mr. Abdullah had made the dramatic announcement of revoking the law last year when assailed by an unparalleled crisis over the death of a party worker when the top NC leadership, or rather Kashmir’s Dynasty, was under attack for purportedly having silenced an inconvenient voice. The chief minister’s out-of-the-blue statement had succeeded to dislodge the highly damaging and embarrassing issue from the headlines, and shifted public discourse to an entirely new course. Now that the severe flak over the opportune demise of Haji Yousuf has died down, Mr Abdullah and party are breathing a lot easier, and more confident of tackling awkward situations. His performance literally at the first anniversary of the fateful AFSPA declaration serves as ample testimony. With audacity born out of a firm belief in short and fickle public memory, the chief minister glibly skipped over the echoes of his promise last year, not mentioning the issue even in passing in his formal speech. But trust Kashmir’s journalistic fraternity not to let sleeping dogs lie. Hence, the bravura act which, by all indications, must have been thoroughly mentally rehearsed, and to boot, huge, favourable headlines the next morning. Dare anyone doubt the sincerity of this young man? The some-time novice could give a lesson or two to his illustrious predecessors in making success out of failure.

As a recurring theme in present-day Kashmir, the AFSPA makes for an avid talking point, and a convenient topic for politicians to divert attention from other matters of urgency. If Mr Abdullah is truly concerned about brining relief to Kashmir, he should make a big issue out of the lack of justice to the victims of the forces’ HR violations, and press for prosecuting the involved personnel. As these columns have pointed out, revoking the law today would make little difference insofar as the real-time forces-public interface is concerned, for the potential for attrition has dropped markedly with the easing situation. Except for the unlikely event of bringing aberrant forces personnel to book, the issue has relevance only as a factor in political psychology and as an agency to project a sense of great achievement if and when the law is withdrawn. But even Mr Abdullah could not be so naive as to believe that such satisfaction could come his way with ease, or any time soon. One wonders what happened to the candour and honesty on display this August 15 when the chief minister laid the cards frankly on the table. He should have carried it further on the anniversary of his impossible declaration, if only to spare the suffering public the needless agony of harbouring vain hopes. Mr Abdullah needs to make a realistic assessment of his chances of having his way with New Delhi –there is wisdom in knowing when to cut one’s losses. As poet Ibn-e-Insha said: ya chodein ya takmeel karein, yeh ishq hai ya afsana hai. The chief minister’s predicament is that can neither fulfil it, nor let it go.

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