Missing trust

The Omar Abdullah government must address, not merely express, popular resentments in Kashmir

Afzal Guru's hanging has, as expected, touched off anger in Kashmir. Crowds confronted security forces, despite the preemptive curfew and the blanking out of cable TV and internet services. Parallels have even been drawn with the Maqbool Bhat killing of 1984 that was said to have sent the Valley down a terrible spiral of violence. Nearly every strand of political opinion in Kashmir has converged to condemn the "secret" execution. By all accounts, a popular impression appears to have gained ground that the case against Guru was flimsy, and many Kashmiris see in his fate a reflection of their own sense of vulnerability and victimisation. This is the perception that New Delhi and the state government have not been able to dispel, and that is a statement on their larger and longer political failures.

In his comments after Afzal Guru's execution, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah described it as "selective", and predicted that it would alienate Kashmiris, leave a psychological imprint on a new generation. As chief minister, however, Abdullah's job is not to merely express popular feeling, but more importantly, to address it. When he came to power, he inherited a changed set of circumstances, with the state appearing to be more willing to invest in the political process. Militancy has been waning since 2004, despite the incidents in 2008 and 2010. After the stone-pelting in the autumn of 2010, there has been virtually no open violence in Kashmir. What's more, Abdullah's National Conference is part of the UPA, and he has a visibly good relationship with its most powerful leaders. There was every reason to hope, then, that this time, the state and Centre could make a concerted effort to address estrangement in the Valley.

Instead, the promised peace process remains sporadic, if not elusive. Over the years, there have been gestures at engagement that lend themselves to photo-ops, starting with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 and most recently, a home ministry-appointed team of independent interlocutors. And yet, Kashmir's real grievances remain unaddressed. The demand to lift the AFSPA, for instance, recommended by a working group led by the vice-president, is still unanswered. Long festering cases, like the Pathribal encounters, have not been resolved by the courts, despite the CBI's strongly expressed stand. Decentralisation of power and the right to information are watered down in Kashmir, because of the state government's insecurities. If the peace process in Kashmir had been robust and running, and the last two-and-a-half years had been used to foster a sense of ownership and belonging, Afzal Guru's execution might not have come to mean what it has. Both the Centre and the state have abdicated their responsibility.

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