NEW DELHI: A telephone call on Friday by Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti would have been routine but for the contrition expressed by the latter about the killing of Burhan Wani and the minister’s coming visit to Pakistan.
Compounding their difficulties is also a pre-election pact between Mr Singh’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Ms Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that rule the disputed state in a shaky alliance. The joint document underscored reconciliation with Pakistan, and referred to a dialogue process with “all stakeholders, including Hurriyat”.
It also proposed a nuanced way forward on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by denotifying the Disturbed Areas Act in phases.
Mr Singh is due to attend the Saarc interior ministers’ meeting in Islamabad on Aug 3, where he reportedly wants to denounce Pakistan’s glorification of the 22-year old Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, as a martyr.
Indian forces killed him on July 8 as a “marked terrorist”. But that description is now a political liability for the alliance in held Jammu and Kashmir.
Examine: Of Qandeel Baloch & Burhan Wani
The Hindu, which reported Mr Singh’s Friday call to Ms Mufti, did not give details of the conversation, but quoted sources as saying that “the turbulent situation prevailing in the state” was discussed.
The telephonic talk came a day after Ms Mufti publicly claimed that neither she nor the Indian forces were aware of Wani’s presence during the raid at his hideout on July 8 in which he was killed. The killing led to violent protests that resulted in the death of 47 people in the Valley.
The deaths and the uprising has divided Indian public opinion down the middle and even the mainstream media has become heavily polarised, with one side demanding that the other be arrested for anti-national activities, and for apparently describing Wani as a victim of excessive force the army is accused of using in Kashmir.
Facing continued public unrest for the 20th day on Thursday, Ms Mufti said she would have given Wani “a chance had I known he was trapped in the encounter”.
Ms Mufti asked New Delhi “to restart the peace process with Pakistan”, initiated by former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
“Security agencies say they suspected three militants were hiding without knowing who they were. Had I known about him [Wani], I would have given him a second chance in the wake of ongoing economic activity, improving situation and booming tourism,” said Ms Mufti on the sidelines of Peoples Democratic Party’s 17th foundation day.
“(Former chief minister) Omar Abdullah knew in advance when (parliament attack convict) Afzal Guru was hanged and made elaborate security arrangements.
“We were taken unawares this time. We imposed curfew and that was violated,” said Ms Mufti, according to The Hindu, while calling for an end to the use of pellet guns.
Describing Ms Mufti’s remarks on Wani as a “theatrical lie”, National Conference provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani alleged she was trying “to deflect responsibility and spread canards”.
“It was ironic and ridiculous that Ms Mufti termed Wani’s killing a ‘coincidence’, while releasing lakhs of rupees as reward money from the CM’s secret fund.”
Last week, Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Srinagar and met a cross-section of people and said the Indian government wanted an emotional relationship with the people of Kashmir and not just need-based.
Mr Singh also said the centre would talk to whosoever needed once peace and normality were restored in the region.
However, National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah rubbished Ms Mehbooba’s claim that she was not aware of the encounter between Indian forces and Burhan Wani.
Mr Singh is regarded as an old school politician from the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh stock. He is known to easily slip on a Muslim skullcap on a given occasion, much like his mentor Vajpayee.
Although, he is not considered the closest of confidantes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who reportedly leans more on National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and to some extent also on Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar for the current Pakistan policy, Mr Singh could be useful in the use of tact in Kashmir.
Reports said Mr Singh would not meet one-on-one with his Pakistani counterpart, but they haven’t ruled out a meeting with, say the prime minister, as a messenger of Mr Modi.
The BJP-PDP pact and Ms Mufti’s distancing herself from the Wani fiasco will weigh in with whatever decision is eventually taken in this regard.
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2016