Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Kashmir: azadi or call to talks

The September issue of FORCE is out. The cover story is on Kashmir. As the current crisis started, liberals in New Delhi started saying that it is time to think about giving Kashmiris the azadi that they seem so intent upon. But the realities of Kashmir are far different from what they appear on television channels. FORCE team spend about a week in August and witnessed the historic rally at Idgah in downtown Srinagar. True, there were chants of freedom and anti-India sloganeering, but for most Kashmiris, azadi today implies freedom from fear: fear of oppression, fear of torture, fear of midnight disappearances. Very few people, including the Separatist/Hurriyat leadership, today thinks of an independent Kashmir, especially in view of the crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They understand that independent Kashmir is no longer a viable option. As president National Conference, Omar Abdullah told FORCE in Srinagar, "I keep telling the people that Kashmir can gain independence should Pakistan and India agree; but Kashmir can never gain freedom. There is a huge difference between independence and freedom. People are realising this and the economic blockade would have further reinforced this that you cannot live in isolation. If you are independent and India and Pakistan decide to close off your roads what would you do?" By screaming azadi, the people of Kashmir are urging the government of India to start a dialogue with them. As Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front's Chairman Yasin Malik said, "The government of India should not discredit the institution of dialogue." The government has to realise the fact that there is a need for a final resolution of Kashmir, and that resolution does not imply independence. Time for ad hoc policies is over.

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