When a Kashmiri mainstream leader speaks

In his speech at the University of Berkeley in United States, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has called for renewed efforts to push the resolution of Kashmir. Abdullah, as usual, was very articulate in his description of the prevailing situation in the state.   He highlighted the “unusual situation” in Kashmir whereby “more youth are willing to pick up guns than there are weapons”. So, he made a strong pitch for an internal and external dialogue to resolve Kashmir. Omar also talked of the many complexities involved in the resolution of the Kashmir issue, for example, the difficulty to get everybody on board a certain settlement formula.

The effort, therefore, has to be to bring in the majority of the population into whatever is agreed as a settlement. However, as an indication of how Kashmir can always be a contentious  and emotionally charged issue, Omar was heckled by some US-based Kashmiris in the audience, who were upset over the recent killings in the state.  They blamed Omar, his family and his party for the prevailing situation in Kashmir. And Omar accused them of “running away” from the conflict by shifting to the US.  This, in turn, spotlighted the raw nerve endings that any Kashmir discussion can expose.  The seemingly hopeless situation in the state has created a deep sense of desperation among the people.  And the mainstream leaders, irrespective of whether they are in power or out of it, are seen party to it.

But as highlighted by Omar, the issue and challenge in Kashmir is far bigger than what mainstream leaders can and cannot do – albeit there is a need for them to be more responsive to the sentiment and aspirations of their people. And of course, not be perceived as doing the bidding of New Delhi once elected to office. This is important for them to retrieve their deeply eroded credibility with the people.

As for the solution to Kashmir, there certainly are more opportunities for it but for these to be translated into reality, the need is for New Delhi to act. But if the current policy and also the mood on Kashmir in New Delhi is anything to go by, there is little hope that such action will follow. In fact the chances have become further bleak now: The BJP-led Government in New Delhi, already loath to the idea of an acceptable Kashmir solution, will now be further constrained by the national election scheduled for 2019. Besides, Kashmir needs a sustained, long term process, punctuated across the government changes. So, even if a dialogue were to start between New Delhi and Islamabad and the one with the stakeholders in the Valley, there is little that can be accomplished.  More so, when Pakistan is also holding general elections this year.  But yes a process for the resolution of Kashmir is an urgent need of the time. And for that to succeed it is important that such a solution is seen by New Delhi essential to the peace and prosperity in the region.

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