As the assembly elections in the state are speculated to be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections in April/May, a new political formation is likely to take place in Kashmir. Several political individuals from different parties are trying to get together to form the new political front as an alternative to the National Conference and Peoples’ Democratic Party—two premier parties in the valley. Though it is yet to take a formal shape but reports suggest that efforts in this regard are nearing the final stage.
Sajjad Lone, Gh Hasan Mir, Altaf Bukhari, Hakeem Yaseen, Yousuf Tarigami, Rasheed Engineer and several other politicians and former MLAs who yield some sort of influence in their respective constituencies are reported to be the part of this front. It would be quite premature to comment on the success or failure of the newly imagined front but given the present political scenario, Indian political order in Kashmir is facing serious crisis of leadership. It goes without saying that Omar Abdullah and Mahbooba Mufti were projected as future hope for India when they took plunge in politics in 90s but they have bitterly failed.
Omar Abdullah was tested as chief minister of the state between 2009 and 14. This was the most restive period in Kashmir. In 2010, 122 persons were killed and thousands others wounded in three-month long summer revolt. Omar Abdullah failed to arrest the discontent to the level that it was home secretary of India who would issue the curfew and relaxation orders from New Delhi. Despite being the chief minister, Omar Abdullah’s position was not more than an onlooker. Since Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was still around, it was not a complete case of hopelessness for Delhi. In 2014, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took the leadership role and formed government in a tie-up with the BJP. Though the BJP tried to create problems for Sayeed for its petty party politics but Mufti stature and standing in New Delhi win him through all odds.
After Muftis in on January 7, 2016, pro India political spectrum was exposed to leadership crisis. Delhi’s last hope Mahbooba Mufti was dressed in the role but within a few months Mahbooba proved a liability. If Omar Abdullah was a failure, Mahbooba proved a disaster. In-between, some efforts were made to project and promote Sajjad Lone as the next hope. However, for his limited image and influence restricted mainly to Kupwara district, he could not click the way he was required. Former IAS officer Shah Faesal, who resigned from government service to pursue a political career, proved another political abortion. He failed even before taking formal plunge in politics.
In absence of a face equally acceptable in all parts of the state, the efforts are on to build an alliance of individuals to fill the leadership vacuum. Most of these individual have been drawn from the PDP. If one goes by the reputation and influence of the people likely to be part of the new front, they are mere individuals having no influence beyond their respective constituencies. With PDP losing all its prominent faces, Mahbooba Mufti is virtually in political isolation. Though political requirements do change with time, her isolation cannot be permanent. The National Conference, however, presents a united face. With Farooq Abdullah at its command, and the party’s state-wide influence, it has edge in the elections as and when held. However, the reorganization of the pro Indian political order in the shape of forming an alliance that would be known as third front gives clear indications that National Conference is not a favourite with people who manage Kashmir. There are reports that efforts are on to fracture the peoples’ mandate in Kashmir among groups and individuals of choice to give edge to Jammu in the post-election scenario. How far it would work remains to be seen.
US pull-out from Afghanistan
The US decision for decreasing its military presence in Afghanistan from more than 14,000 troops to about 7,000 is most likely the result of its backdoor negotiations with the Taliban’s representatives in Abu Dhabi, organized by Islamabad between the US envoy and the Taliban. The withdrawal of troops has caused serious concern for US high-level officials and called a “big mistake” and “calamitous” by James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral. “It would lead to the resurgence of the Taliban, who would welcome al-Qaeda back with open arms,” James is cited as saying. Moreover, a number of US lawmakers are of the view that since Donald Trump never set foot in a conflict zone, he lacked the credibility to make decision about the troop pull out in Syria and Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, Afghan officials, who had not been warned or consulted about the drawdown, believe it will not affect the security situation in Afghanistan. Unlike the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops in 2014, Afghan grassroots also seem less concerned as the news could not attract much attention on social media. The drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan was predictable since Trump, declaring his strategy about Afghanistan and South Asia last year, said, “Shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of DefenseMattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.”
But the time-sensitivity made this decision unpredictable and unbelievable as Trump added three major points in his strategy regarding Afghanistan: First, seeking “an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”. Second, he warned about the horrible consequences of rapid exit adding that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda”. He also disapproved of his predecessor for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Third, he stressed the serious security threat as he stated that “20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Now US officials espouse the very three facts Trump maintained in August 2017, in turn, Jim Mattis resigned as a result of Trump’s decision on military drawdown.
Whether or not the decision about troop withdrawal is the product of a backdoor deal with the Taliban, the insurgents will interpret it as their own triumph. But, unlike the Taliban, being generous on the negotiating table will lead to horrible consequences. I believe that since the conditions are not mutually accepted, the withdrawal of US forces will be one step forward, two steps back.
Contrary to emerging optimism, the Taliban still seek to play a foul game on the table through holding out against negotiating with Afghan government or accepting any conditions set by their US interlocutor. The Taliban are fighting against Afghan government and killing Afghan soldiers and civilians, however, claim that their insurgency has nothing to do with Kabul government but with foreign forces – this is ridiculous and reaching an agreement with such a groups seems unlikely.
Perhaps, troop pulldown may not affect the security situation in Afghanistan as last-year increase could not mitigate the insurgency, it still has its adverse effect.
For example, it will, on the one hand, prompt the Taliban to haggle over higher price on the table and, on the other hand, spread a stronger sense of fear and disappointment in the public air. Thus, Trump had better not follow his instincts in such significant issues and should be sure this is an honourable result, worthy of “the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure” made in the past 17 years. Being at a crossroads, Trump’s administration has to make the right decision.
The 17-year conflict has inflicted casualties on both sides without any light at the end of the tunnel. The continuation of war will lead to further casualties and destructions without any end. With this in mind, all insurgent groups, mainly the Taliban, need to stop their militancy and settle their issue through meaningful negotiations.
Swine flu also known as H1N1 has once again taken lives in Kashmir with over 22 deaths recorded so far at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura.Swine flu is now considered a seasonal flu which mostly survives in cold humid conditions. Since September last year, over 1400 samples had been tested and more than 270 samples were found positive. Besides that at least 117 patients had been admitted in the hospital since September. In Kashmir, the situation turned worst during last season when 30 swine flu deaths were reported at SKIMS between October 2017 and February 2018. Doctors in the hospital have warned that H1N1 is a contagious disease and can transmit from one person to another.
They have asked for taking precautionary measures to escape the disease. This is matter of serious concern. The even more alarming is the shortage of medicines. Report says that the valley hospitals are without proper medicine. Barring SKIMS and SMHS hospital, there is no flu vaccine available in any hospital in the valley. This leaves SKIMS and SMHS as the only testing and treatment centre. Experts say that the swine flu outbreak can be contained but only if medicines reach the affected on time. When the hospitals are not equipped with the testing and treatment drugs, how the disease could be contained. There is every reason for the people to feel panicky and authorities need to take the problem seriously and equip hospital with adequate medicine before the panic take over the valley. The panic has gripped even the medical fraternity as well as the lack of relevant vaccines has put the lives of doctors at risk.
Doctors at SKIMS, who are dealing with patients at the Emergency and the OPD of the hospital, too are vulnerable to the disease and could catch infection in the absence of immunization and protective gear. Doctors and other hospital staff are not provided with personal protection equipments while dealing with H1N1 patients thus putting them also at risk of contracting the virus. There are no H1N1 vaccines which are to be given to high-risk persons with diabetes, elderly, children below 5 years, pregnant women, chronic diseases, immuno compromised and healthcare workers as the virus can be fatal in them. The designated laboratory for testing at SKIMS does not have the desired Biosafety-3 level for handling and processing H1N1 samples which is dangerous to staff and community. No sensitization and awareness programmes are conducted in hospitals with the result majority of H1N1 patients are overlooked. What is even more criminal is the silence by the concerned authorities.
They have maintained complete silence over the deadly contours of the disease and the non-availability of the medicines.It is no less than criminal that despite these disturbing realities, some sections in the government would give false hope to people and come out with advisories of ‘no-panic’. The state administration should, in first place, take note of health hazards in the wake of fast spreading swine flu and activate the administration to take necessary measures, provide relevant vaccines and other medicine and expertise for the disease.
Sanity should prevail
Kashmiris in Jammu or elsewhere are under fire. The fallout of the Lethpora suicide bombing, in which 49 paramilitary troopers were killed, has made the people of the valley the main target of the right-wing violence. Incidents of arson and direct attacks on Kashmiris in the winter capital have turned the situation tense. The situation in other states, especially ones in northern India, where Kashmiris are studying or operating their businesses isn’t any better. Valleyites putting up in many states have been warned to vacate their rented accommodations by mobs, who have given ultimatums to the landlords asking them to throw out any Kashmiri tenant they have. Videos of the attacks, warnings and vandalisation are being shared online. Since Friday, Jammu is officially under curfew. However, even after that mobs on Saturday attacked a number of quarters belonging to Kashmiris, especially ones at Janipur area. A number of Kashmiris in Janipur said they were attacked by the frenzied mobs despite the presence of police. The mobs entered inside the premises and attacked quarters of Kashmiris while police, according to the callers, remained a mute spectator. Already on Friday, there was widespread violence in which mobs torched 30 vehicles and damaged over 50 of them during a strike called by the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries and Bar Association against the Thursday’s attack.
The anger that has exploded against Kashmiris has exposed the claims politicians have been time and again taking refuge in. One: The people of the valley need to be a part of ‘mainstream’ (whatever that means) and two: Kashmiris should chase their dreams in mainland India. How can they? The way the situation has unfolded after the deadly attack on Thursday reveals the vulnerability of the entire premise.
For now, the need of the hour is ensuring sanity and calmness prevails. The people in Jammu, at the majority of them, are not anti-Kashmir. They are simple, middle-class people who want to live and let live. However, at times they may be drawn out and flocked by miscreants looking to cash in on this opportunity of fomenting trouble for their own interests. Loss of lives, whosoevers’ and wherever they are lost is condemnable. Instead of falling into the trap of pitting one against another, the need to is avoid the situation getting out of control and avoiding fallouts that can snowball into major rioting or something even worse.
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