The US State Department has red-flagged the continuing detention of political leaders in J&K, undermining the diplomatic positives the Indian government had gained by organising a visit of envoys from 15 countries, including US Ambassador Kenneth Juster, to the troubled region. For the past over five months, three former J&K CMs — Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar and Mehbooba Mufti — have been under preventive detention, ever since Article 370 was abrogated. Farooq (82), the National Conference’s sitting MP from Srinagar, has also served as a Union minister, besides having distinguished himself as India’s representative who countered Pakistani propaganda at the 1994 UN convention in Geneva. Any outreach by the Centre to the people of the Valley would be fruitless if the likes of Farooq are not taken along.
The government seems no longer dismissive of international opinion on what is India’s ‘internal matter’, but the denial of freedom — in more ways than one — to democratically elected leaders sticks out like a sore thumb. The repressive strategy of suspending Internet services indefinitely, in an effort to minimise dissent, has already been disapproved of by the Supreme Court. The government’s focus should be on ensuring normalcy in the new UT at the earliest. The release of Kashmiri leaders would be an important step not only towards achieving this aim but also to reaffirm the country’s democratic credentials in the international arena.
The armed forces, too, need to concentrate on confidence-building measures in the Valley. The new Army Chief, Gen MM Naravane, deserves praise for underlining the supremacy of the Constitution, but he could have refrained from commenting on the Army’s preparedness to reclaim PoK. First and foremost, the defence personnel should be ready to deal with any eventuality that could arise in J&K, as and when the politicians are freed. What’s needed is an action plan to handle the anticipated protests — peaceful or otherwise. Keeping the Kashmiri leadership in a state of suspended animation any longer would only betray the government’s reluctance to confront the inevitable.
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