National Conference patriarch and former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah’s caution to Hurriyat Conference not to fall in New Deli’s dialogue trap ‘unless New Delhi has a proposal for the resolution of the issue’ cannot be dismissed as a fit of maverick. The institution of dialogue is the most discredited institution in India. India has never used dialogue as a means to resolve issues. It rather used it as a means to corrupt people, buy time and loyalties and make those who refuse to fall in line irrelevant. It perhaps this fact Farooq Abdullah wanted to bring home when he said “Don’t talk for the sake of talks. I don’t think they (BJP) are ready to give you (separatist) anything. Inki (the center) neyattheeknahihai. Yeah inko nao mein utaarkar zaleel karna chahtayhai. (They are not sincere in their intentions. They want to drag them to table only to discredit them),”. But where Farooq Abdullah seems to have stumbled and stammered is his call for autonomy. “They didn’t give us autonomy, which was passed by the state assembly and is within the ambit of constitution, what will they offer to you (separatists)?” he said. Whether autonomy is a solution to the issue of Kashmir, and would the people, who suffered enormously, both, in men and material, in their fight for ‘freedom’, accept it or not, is a separate debate. But the very question is whether National Conference (NC) was serious ever in its demand for autonomy. Restoration of autonomy to the state is as old a slogan as the post-53 NC. In an academic and intellectual debate NC’s point might have some takers. But politically, the NC has lost all its moral right to make such demand in 1975 when the party’s godfather Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah compromised on the state’s political character and accepted power as it existed on the day. The only concession Abdullah got from Indira Gandhi was that a constitutional committee would be formed to review case by case application of central laws and parliamentary resolutions to the State. Shaikh Abdullah constituted a committee of three members headed by the then Law Minister Devidas Thakur to examine the constitutionality and legality of all central rules applied to the State ever since 1953. The Committee however found only two out of 192 items had some constitutional flaw while the rest 190 items were constitutionally perfect. The two items that stood excluded pertained to very minor and insignificant matters related to sale tax on some items. Even as Shaikh Abdullah did not accept the report and constituted another committee but the matter was never touched on and never raised by his government later. Nor did his progenies Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah or Ghulam Mohammad Shah ever raised the issue. Had the NC leadership been sincere in their demand for pre-53 status to the state, the eruption of militancy had provided them a great chance to barter it with New Delhi. Government of India was desperate to ink a deal with any political party in Kashmir to get the state back on peace rails. Then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao in 1996 promised ‘anything short of Azadi’. “Sky is the limit”, he was reported to have said. But the NC leadership again faulted here and they accepted power against the wishes of common people without making any political or constitutional bargaining with government of India. The most humiliating moment for the party came in 2000 when its resolution on autonomy was summarily dismissed by then BJP-led government. The resolution was passed by the state legislature in a specially convened session in June that year. Dr Farooq Abdullah, as L K Advani has written in his autobiography, was asked to choice between autonomy and his son’s seat in the union ministry. Omar Abdullah was minister of state in the union government then. Farooq Abdullah opted for the continuation of his son as minister instead of insisting on autonomy as noted by Advani in his autobiography. Given the NC’s history of compromises on its political agenda it sounds quite bizarre when its leaders talk of autonomy. Farooq Abdullah has only but made mockery of himself when he advances advisory to Hurriyat leaders on talks with New Delhi. Abdullah knows it well that his party was never serious in demanding autonomy. They raise the slogan of autonomy only to bargain power with the centre. The NC never talks of autonomy when in power. That is sufficiently known to the people of the state and the men and managers in New Delhi as well. It is sheer political hypocrisy to demand a thing one does not believe in.
Easter Sunday shock
On Sunday Sri Lanka was rocked by a series of deadly blasts that killed more than 200 people and injured around 500 more. At least eight bombs ripped through three Churches and two high-end hotels in the capital Colombo causing widespread casualties. Seen as one of the worst terror acts in the island nation, the bombing were struck at a time when large number of Christian devotees had gathered in Churches to celebrate Easter. The day is celebrated by Christian across the world as a mark of reincarnation of Jesus Christ three days after his crucification. In a country of 22 million people, Christians form around 10 percent of the population. The scale and savagery of the attacks that clearly targeted Christians have left Sri Lankans devastated and confused. The country has a long history of disenfranchisement among minority Tamil groups, who are largely Hindu, at the hands of the Sinhalese Buddhists led to a civil war in the 1980s. The Tamil Tigers, an armed insurgent group that identified itself as secular, launched deadly attacks, including some of the earliest use of suicide bombings as a tactic of insurgency. The group was active in northeastern Sri Lanka, in areas such as Jaffna. The LTTE was a highly motivated insurgent group which is the first separatist militant group in south Asia to introduce suicide bombings as a means of its campaign. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was also killed by this group by human bombing. In response, the Sri Lankan Army carried out brutal campaigns, largely focused on the Tamil stronghold in the northeast. The civil war ended in 2009 after a large-scale operation by the army that defeated the Tamil Tigers and killed its leader—Velupillai Prabhakaran. There is no exact casualty toll, but the United Nations has suggested that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed in the last stage of the war alone.
No group has claimed responsibility for the latest devastating attack. The police said they believed the bombings were the work of one group but declined to identify it. At least 35 of the victims were foreigners, including several Americans. For years, as Sri Lanka has climbed away from war, it has been building a robust tourism industry. The bombings were the deadliest attack on Christians in South Asia in recent memory and punctuated a rising trend of religious-based violence in the region. In recent years, there have been clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, and in March last year the government imposed a 12-day state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots. Christian groups have also complained of increased harassment from hard-line Buddhist groups. Buddhists form around 70 percent of the country’s overall population. Sri Lanka is known for its tremendous natural beauty, which attracts millions of tourists every year. The country gained independence from British rule in 1948 as the dominion of Ceylon, and became the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. Its people have long borne a burden of violence. It is yet to be seen who are behind the Sunday bombings and how it does fit in the country’s turbulent history. Much to the credit of the Sri Lankan government, the island nation did not react in panic. Though the authorities had to impose curfew as precautionary measure but the overall situation is reported peaceful. But few would dispute with the fact the rise of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has resulted in sectarian divides that is growing menacingly, and the country has experienced new waves of violence. A rise in intolerance has been attributed in part to the postwar triumphalism of some Sinhalese majority politicians. The Sri Lankan government needs to look into the Sunday bombing from all angles.
Bad news from Islamabad
Pakistan is in its history’s worst economic crisis. With no end in sight, Prime Minister Imran Khan has removed his finance minister Assad Umar from his position, and appointed a new chief Abdul Hafeez Sheikh for the finance ministry. Sheikh has served as economic advisor in General Musharraf’s government. But keen observers believe that removal of Assad would hardly bring any positive change in the current crisis without a huge bailout package from International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the exact amount of this package has not been determined, Pakistan already owes the IMF billions from previous programs. Since Pakistan is already on Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list, any bailout package from friendly countries too is the most unlikely. It is a serious challenge that is starring at Imran Khan’s face so freighting. Imran Khan’s eight-month-old government has faced sustained criticism from political opponents, independent commentators and the business community over the government’s handling of the economic crisis facing the country. Much of that criticism was leveled against his finance minister Assad Umar. In his bid to pacify his critics and wriggle the country out of these crises, Imran Khan, last week, removed Assad from finance ministry for the lack of effective financial strategy. He was given other ministry but Assad took it as insult and he resigned from the government. Assad’s removal came immediately after he worked out a bailout package with the officials of IMF in New York. An IMF mission is expected to visit Islamabad next month to work out more details though, according to Assad, all major issues had been settled and documented. Assad was made the butt of criticism for taking months to finalize the IMF deal which resulted in serious economic crisis. The critics said that the delay in working out deal with the IMF shattered the confidence of the investors in Pakistan economy.
Pakistan is reeling under huge international debt. It can well be understood from the fact that currently around 31 percent of Pakistan government’s expenditure is earmarked for debt servicing. What ails Pak economy further is the decreasing revenues. Dwindling foreign exchange reserves, low exports and high inflation is adding menacingly to growing fiscal deficit, and current account deficit of Pakistan. The country has no other option but to knock on the IMF doors. It would 22nd bailout loan from the international body to Pakistan since 1980. Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dean of the Faculty of Management Science at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, in Karachi, last week, warned that Pakistan’s economy has reached the “point of collapse”. “For the first time in four decades of research, I am deeply worried. The alarm bells are ringing. We have no choice but to beg. I fear starvation, poverty and unemployment,” he warned. Pakistan government is likely to present the budget on May 24. Pakistan needs to ensure investment friendly environment to attract the international investors. Pakistan is facing a serious image problem that is scaring global investors. It is in the interest of Pakistan to improve its image as a responsible and credible nation-state by getting better the security scenario of the country to attract foreign direct investment. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, Pakistan ranks 136th out of 190 economies. To improve this ranking and draw more investment, Pakistan should ease customs laws and regulations and rebrand and boost its international image as a desirable destination for tourism and industry alike. It should also encourage domestic investment through more flexible tax policies, particularly targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Such measures would reposition Pakistan on the international stage as stable, competitive ground for foreign investment.
The highway in Kashmir is not just a road these days. It is a statement, a very strong statement that tells the people that they are dominated 24×7. A statement that rings in your ears, reminding you that you may live here but the place isn’t yours. The highway is also a proof of the Kashmir imbroglio at its worst these days. You reside along the highway, you need a permission to cross it. You need to drive to a hospital and use the highway, you need to ask a magistrate first. You dare question the men in uniform, you end up beaten and humiliated, not matter who you are. On Tuesday, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Dooru in Anantnag, who’s supposed to permit civilians to use the road, was himself beaten black and blue by army personnel manning the highway. Ironically, the Magistrate was facilitating India’s ‘democracy’ in Kashmir. He was on election duty and also heading towards Qazigund to resolve the matter of traffic congestion on the highway in the morning. The Magistrate and his subordinates, who, as per his written statement, were travelling in a government vehicle, were stopped at Dalwach crossing by the army men ordering them to halt till the convoy passed. The magistrate complied. But for no reason, his driver was dragged out and beaten by the armed personnel. When the magistrate tried to intervene, telling the men in camouflage that he was an SDM and was called in by the District Magistrate Anantnag, who, as per the statement was waiting for him at Vessu, he was picked up by collar, abused and dragged, and then thrashed on gunpoint. The officials, as per the SDM’s statement, were held on gunpoint, their vehicle and other belongings, including their phones and election-related material, were searched and damaged. As if that wasn’t enough humiliation, the officials were then held hostage for about half an hour, during which the army personnel removed the safety locks of their weapons, aimed guns at them and threatened to kill them. It was only after the Deputy Commissioner Anantnag reached the spot that the SDM and other officials were set free. Imagine what a commoner would be facing if a magistrate goes through such disgrace and ordeal! The government forces in Kashmir are not concerned about who, or in what state, you are. You can be a busy government official, who needs to reach some place of importance, you can be a patient in an ambulance, who needs immediate medical care, you can be anyone but for the gun-wielding troopers, you are the same. They treat you as cannon fodder, lesser human beings, who can be jack-booted on the might of laws like AFSPA. The claim is not rhetorical. Only last Wednesday, an ambulance ferrying a cancer patient, was stopped on the highway to let the convoys pass through. The man eventually died. A video of the incident when the ambulance was stopped had gone viral on social media. A person can be seen telling the paramilitary trooper that they were carrying a patient, but the trooper does not allow him to pass through until the long, serpentine convoy clears. Another video that had gone viral on social media shows a young lad being choked down by an armed trooper. Apparently, the incident happened on the Sanat Nagar highway intersection in Srinagar. The youth literally has a fight with the armed forces, who pounced upon him, thrashing him with their long, wooden batons. All these incidents carry a clear message for the people of Kashmir: that the oppressors will treat you as second-class citizens in your own homeland, and they will do so with impunity. Still for the sake of argument and the fact that we believe in the near-hollow image of whatever little freedom is left in this place, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik is expected to use his office and establish some sanity on the ground. How do you expect to conduct elections, an exercise of democracy, in a place where the electorate is suppressed with muscle power? Mr Governor, it is time to do something even if that means just a face-saving act for you.