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Two ceasefires and the way forward

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On May 16, the Home Minister had announced unilateral NICO, Non Initiation of Combat Operations, during the month of Ramzan. This was followed by the DGMOs of India and Pakistan declaring on May 29, that the 2003 ceasefire would be observed in letter and spirit. Both the initiatives came with stated and inherent caveats that the security forces will respond to provocative actions by adversaries and initiate action when a threat to lives and property was imminent. The progress has been turbulent. There have been a series of grenade attacks and a few violent protests in the valley. There was a major flare up on the LOC in the Akhnur sector on June 3, in which two BSF personnel died and some civilians were injured. After that however, the LOC/IB has been quiet.
As far as NICO is concerned, it is unilateral and the aim is to give respite, even though marginal, to the civilian population and the terrorists are not a party to the agreement. Their belligerence was predictable.
To state the obvious, both these initiatives will come to a naught if they are not part of a comprehensive peace plan or at least commencement of meaningful negotiations. In isolation, they are meaningless and we would be back to square one after the brownie points have been scored. There are many positive signs in respect of both.
The government has expressed its willingness to talk to the Hurriyat. On May 29, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, three key leaders of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) met and released a joint statement. “Let government of India give clarity on what it wants to talk about and speak in one language, we are ready to join the process.” These three leaders who were erstwhile rivals of each other, decided to come together under a loose coalition – JRL – in 2016.
The JRL, consisting of both the hawks and the doves, has become the most dominant force standing tall among the fractured separatist camp, including the Hurriyat and are the frontrunners for any dialogue process. However, they are fast losing ground to the youth.
Interestingly Pakistan-based Syed Salahuddin, head of the United Jehad Council, a conglomerate of militant outfits, has also come out in support of the dialogue. He said the United Jehad Council is willing to give its complete support, if it finds that India is serious in the dialogue process. This also indicates tacit approval of Pakistan.
No party, including the government, has talked about any pre-conditions. In my view, the time is ripe for a meaningful dialogue process to find a solution on the lines of Mizoram Peace Accord and the still to be finalized Naga Peace Accord. If all sides maintain course, an autonomy package can be worked out, social and political reconciliatory concessions made and separatists and militant outfits given clemency to join the electoral process as they did in the 1987 elections, albeit now under guaranteed fair elections.
This would also spur mainstream parties to become more active to win the population over. The ageing separatist leadership and the beleaguered people of J&K are willing. The nation must not lose this opportunity.
Track 2 dialogue and secret talks, including between the NSAs, have been in progress with Pakistan. Accommodating statements emanating from the deep state have been made. Pakistan’s future is intrinsically linked to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Gilgit- Baltistan. China considers peace a prerequisite for investing 50 billion dollars. Again, the situation is ripe for a meaningful dialogue to convert the LoC into an IB or to find a solution on the lines of the Four Point Formula. Both sides must not allow nationalist emotions and autonomous military factors to disturb the ceasefire.
Notwithstanding the operational strategy adopted by the Indian Army to punish Pakistan along the LoC by applying the logic that while we may suffer the enemy suffers more, “fire fights” along the LoC serve no useful purpose and have run their course. Both sides, by design or default, have been targeting the civilian population with artillery and mortar fire. On our side, 1 lakh people from 100 villages between Chenab and Ravi were displaced in the third week of May. The situation on the Pakistan side would be no different. States armed with nuclear weapons cannot fight wars. Neither side has the techno-military capability to make any difference below the threshold of war. Peace along the LoC will allow us to focus better on the counter infiltration grid and the dialogue process.
Last but not the least, the government needs to take the opposition, the media and the public into confidence with respect to the peace process. The Prime Minister or the ministers or their secretaries concerned must give out the formal intent of the government. Editors must be quietly spoken and the “neo nationalists” fed on political rhetoric must be reined in.
In my view this is the best opportunity in the last 10 years to bring about lasting peace in J&K and a “manageable peace” with Pakistan. Everyone concerned must remain steadfast despite the omnipresent hurdles. We must not allow political ideology and emotions to run away with realpolitik.
(Times of India)

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Opinion

Shujaat Bukhari: In many worlds at the same time, yet rooted to the ground

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Shujaat Bukhari, perhaps embarrassed about his tall and distinct demeanour, hunched just a wee bit to make his friends comfortable. His two children, before they were five, would walk with their head distinctly bent to the right, as that was a good imitation of Abba, always on the cellphone, trying to be hands-free. Always wired, he was quick to read up NYT and The Guardian first thing in the morning, before the smartphone arrived, as he tapped his fingers, itching to read the newspapers that reached only in the afternoon. With a trademark mischievous smile, he had mastered just the right manner to disarm you as he proceeded to slowly rip your arguments apart —whether in the biting Kashmir cold or the sweltering Delhi heat. He had just turned 50 this February.
A journalist with spunk, courage and a keen sense of his calling, of telling the story, Bukhari fundamentally believed it was his bounden duty to jump fences between holders of different truths and come to his own conclusions. It is no surprise that his ‘pinned tweet’ is from an Editors Conference in Lisbon in May. He liked being in many worlds at the same time.
Bukhari, widely travelled inside and outside Jammu and Kashmir, was able to blend a truly rooted view of the ground in the state with an easy cosmopolitan perspective. His stints in universities abroad, his long journey with The Hindu brought out the best in him, even though in his final years he gave his newspaper, Rising Kashmir, his everything.
Laughingly, he would speak of The Hindu as being the best teacher, because he had to ultimately ensure that “Anna Salai” (the road with The Hindu’s head office in Chennai) understood the importance of what was happening “downtown or in Baramulla”. That, he said, forced him to be able to tease out stories and be most matter of fact. A long and sustained stint there through very troubled years in the state made his a reliable and valued byline. Says Harish Khare, his editor for many years who got him into The Hindu group, “He was my first contact in Kashmir and I was always struck by his commitment to fairness in reporting. I met him in 1994, got him into the group then.”
Bukhari, in his own office at Press Colony, hosted hundreds of parachuting journalists in and out of the state — in dark times, when stepping out was impossible after sunset, to rosier times, when apple orchards would be covered and there was optimism over the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.
Says Sachidadand Murthy, resident editor of The Week, “His deepest quality was his curiosity. He was always hungry for all kinds of information from all sides and had an ability to piece together all the nuggets. He was an excellent reporter, always ahead of things. After a recent health scare, we all flocked to him after he came to Delhi, but he scoffed our concern away with the reminder that he needed to bring out a paper everyday and had to have his hands back at the wheel.”


On quitting The Hindu, Bukhari took to editing his own newspaper. Even in his avatar as an Editor-in-Chief, with more responsibilities now and a sibling who went on to become (and still is) a minister in the PDP-BJP government, always punched hard and stayed above the fray. In a world dominated by social media, Bukhari adapted remarkably to being able to translate his thoughtful and shrewd assessments to the demands of expressing himself 24X7.
With a declared and courageous view that he stood by the peace process, Bukhari was part of a small group of voices with a well-rounded view of the Kashmir situation and an ability to convey what changed there and what didn’t, convincingly to the rest of the country and world. He was happy to not always be seen to be in sync with the dominant view of his peers in the field. For example, he felt that Kashmir should host a literature festival in 2011, contrary to what influential colleagues and writers felt, and he wrote about it and held his ground. In the past few months, while he welcomed the Ramzan ceasefire, his world had grown darker and he did not like what he saw.
Among the last things he did was to still write about his defence of objective and solid reporting from Kashmir as he wrote about allegations that Kashmiri journalists were biased, “we have done Journalism with pride and will continue to highlight what happens on the ground”.

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Opinion

Journalists In Kashmir Risk Everyday

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In one of his last tweets before he was brutally shot dead, Shujaat Bukhari wrote,” In Kashmir, we have done journalism with pride, and will continue to highlight what happens on the ground.” This was Shujaat, exasperated with the increasingly polarised discourse in the country which seeks to label all of us, and more so, journalists from Kashmir. Shujaat was hard to label. Because he was a moderate voice from the Valley. In today’s reductionist terms, that means he was a “jihadi” for the extreme right wing, which is now a ‘compliment’ for anyone who advocates peace and dialogue. And that is exactly the reason why the other side thought he had “sold out” to India.
The fact is, Shujaat always stood for dialogue and peace. He was very active on the “Track 2” circuit between India and Pakistan. And within India, he regularly organised and attended seminars and conferences on Kashmir, which included sessions on bridging the divide between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. Over the last few years, he appeared regularly on our TV shows. We didn’t always agree, but he was polite and put across his point of view firmly but respectfully.
He would make it a point to always tell me how some other TV channels had poisoned the discourse in Kashmir with their hate-driven agenda night after night. Those sections of the media have done so much harm, essentially in labelling all Kashmiris as stone-pelters and terrorists, calling anyone who wants peace a “lobbyist” and “Pakistan apologist”. They haven’t even spared Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti from these labels, she who is a democratically-elected Chief Minister no less.
Which is why I tweeted last night that armchair patriots really don’t understand what journalists in Kashmir go through, the kind of pressure they face in their reporting day after day. My colleague Zaffar Iqbal was shot by terrorists and miraculously survived. I know it takes immense courage for him to report from the Valley; for years, he didn’t have the strength to go back to live there. Both he and NDTV’s Nazir Masoodi have always been fair, objective and courageous in their reporting, along with many other journalists in the Valley. Today, I want to thank them for what they do.
Shujaat had welcomed the recent ceasefire announced by the centre in the Valley, a ceasefire that terrorist groups and their supporters have been seeking to destroy from the very moment it was put into place. His killing reminds me of the assassination of separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002, who was murdered for talking about peace. I have no doubt that Shujaat has been killed by the same forces. The onus is on us to make sure those forces are eventually defeated. RIP Shujaat.

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