The Hindu – Separatist Alam Bhat faces 36th Public Safety Act (PSA)

Special Correspondent

Jammu-Jammu&Kashmir-India, 17 November 2017. Separatist leader and Muslim League head Masrat Alam Bhat was held under the Public Safety Act (PSA) on Wednesday for the 36th time and shifted to Jammu’s Kotbalwal Jail.

The J&K High Court had quashed the detention of Bhat under the PSA. However, a fresh PSA order was issued on Wednesday evening by the Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara, in an old case as “the government perceives him as a threat to peace of State”.

Mr Alam, behind bars since 2015, had been shifted to a Kupwara jail recently. He has over 29 FIRs against him, including cases of “waging war against the state”.

“The government has been sending us a clear message that court orders don’t matter to them and they do whatever they like to do. We are not surprised as it is the practice of the government to choke the voice and crush the sentiments of people,” a Muslim League spokesperson said.


The Statesman – J-K interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma briefs Rajnath about dialogue

New Delhi, 15 November 2017. The Centre’s special representative for a sustainable dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir Dineshwar Sharma, who undertook a five-day visit to the state, briefed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday on the first round of talks he had with various sections of the society there last week.

Sharma made his presentation at a core group meeting, chaired by Rajnath Singh for a security review of Jammu and Kashmir.

It was attended by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra and top brass of Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, National Investigation Agency and para-military forces.

In the meeting, Sharma informed the Home Minister about the response that he got during his meetings with different sections of society, including political parties, student organisations, and social and religious groups in Jammu and Kashmir as well as those from the Jammu Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Jammu Bar Association, representatives of West Pakistan refugees and others.

The former spy chief also shared the major concerns voiced by those he had met during the visit.

Sources said Sharma also highlighted the role of the media and its impact on the narrative in Kashmir.

Sharma was tight-lipped when the media asked him about his first visit to Jammu and Kashmir and on the review meeting. He said he would go to Jammu and Kashmir soon to continue his mission of holding a sustained dialogue process.

An old Kashmir hand, Sharma, who had served in the state with the Intelligence Bureau from 1992-94 when militancy was at its peak, kickstarted his exercise in Srinagar by talking to representatives of about half-a-dozen apolitical organisations and others and later for two days in Jammu.

Sharma, who has the rank of Cabinet Secretary, called on former Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and held discussions with him.

The News – Pakistan Rangers, India’s BSF meeting concludes

Rawalpindi-Panjab-Pakistan, 11 November 2017. The three-day 44th meeting between Pakistan Rangers and India’s Border Security Force (BSF) ended in New Delhi with a resolve to protect the lives of innocent civilians across LOC on Friday, ISPR statement said.

Security forces of both countries have made “serious endeavours” to resolve issues related to border management at post, company and battalion levels by encouraging local commanders to work in cooperation, Pakistan Army’s media wing said in a press release.

According to ISPR, the leadership of Pakistan Rangers and India’s Border Security Forces (BSF) have come to a conclusion that the spirit of a 2003 ceasefire agreement must be revived to protect the lives of innocent civilians, as unprovoked firing across LOC often claims lives of women and children.

The meeting was held in a highly congenial and conducive atmosphere, which also discussed the measures to effectively check smuggling and border crossings from both sides,” statement said.

The leadership of both the forces also talked about speeding up the repatriation process of fishermen detained in Indian prisons due to inadvertent border crossings, in order to reunite the affected.

Dawn – Empty words?

Wasim Khalid

Op/Ed, 10 November 2017. Former spymaster Dineshwar Sharma is currently on a five-day visit to India-held Jammu and Kashmir after being appointed by the Indian government as interlocutor for talks with all the ‘stakeholders’ there. According to Sharma, all “legitimate aspirations” of the stakeholders will be addressed.

It took the pro-Hindutva BJP government more than three years to realise the futility of using force to suppress the freedom movement in India-held Kashmir. Until now, the government has mostly relied on a muscular policy to tackle the groundswell for azadi among the Kashmiris.

The right-wing regime has given unbridled authority to security forces against rebels, pro-freedom ‘protesters’ and people’s resistance on the ground.

It has also taken extreme steps against resistance leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik. Many of their aides and workers have been arrested on terrorism charges, such as receiving secret funds from Pakistan to foment unrest in Kashmir.

The dialogue offer in Kashmir is a ruse

Military operations in Kashmir gained pace after the killing last year of popular militant commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Burhan Wani. Since last July, more than 250 people, including 150 rebels, have been killed by the forces. More than 15,000 have been injured.

Lead-coated metal pellets have left over 400 young boys and girls in Kashmir partially or completely blind. However, these draconian measures have failed either to deter the protests or stem the flow of youngsters into the rebel ranks. It is against this backdrop that New Delhi has appointed Sharma as an interlocutor.

The appointment of a point man is not only a tacit acceptance of the failure of its policy in Kashmir, it is also an indication that New Delhi is feeling cornered on the Kashmir dispute.

However, the Joint Resistance Leadership of Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik has ruled out talks with the interlocutor, terming the initiative a joke. Sharma’s assertion, J R L said, that he is coming to the valley to “restore peace” rather than address the dispute or talk about its resolution in keeping with the overwhelming majority sentiment of the Kashmiris, limits the scope of any engagement with him and makes it an exercise in futility.

The biggest supporters of a peace initiative on Kashmir are the forces itself. In an interview, Director General of Police S P Vaid warned that another trigger could spark another large-scale uprising and the forces “can’t do much in such cases”. Policymakers in New Delhi are also aware that Kashmir is a powder keg.

For any initiative to be meaningful, New Delhi will have to swallow its ego and talk to the Kashmiri leadership that represents the sentiments of a majority of the people, as well as to Pakistan. Interlocutors have always been used as crisis managers to ward off international criticism.

Since 1953, New Delhi has deputed interlocutors 11 times for talks in Kashmir to douse the fires of revolt.

Pro-freedom leaders will never engage in talks without Pakistan being on board. New Delhi must realise that any meaningful initiative on Kashmir without Pakistan is unlikely to succeed.

For the man on the street, the dialogue offer is nothing but a ruse, no more likely to have an outcome than the last time. On that occasion, the report prepared by the three-member team of interlocutors who met people in all three regions after the 2010 uprising never saw the light of the day.

Even talks for the sake of talks need some atmospherics. New Delhi needs to first take some confidence-building measures in Kashmir. It needs to set political prisoners free and end military repression and the hounding of pro-freedom protesters and leaders. It needs to first listen to the people without conditions.

Nothing of that sort is forthcoming. Sharma’s authority has been already been belittled by senior BJP leaders such as Minister of State Jitendra Singh Rana, who stated that there is no issue in Kashmir and Sharma will talk about development.

Sharma himself reduced the importance of his mission by stating radicalisation is a bigger challenge in Kashmir. Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat has made it clear the military operations will continue with full vigour.

Kashmir observers here believe that the interlocutor has been appointed to supplement the ongoing security operations by calming down the volatile situation rather than address the larger political question.

Their premise holds substance since the talks offer is a home ministry initiative, unlike previously when prime ministers would directly back such initiatives.

For the moment, it seems that the appointment of an interlocutor with a narrow mandate is to only address the ‘law and order issue’. If that is the case, it will further discredit Indian-sponsored dialogue processes and even further delegitimise pro-India Kashmiri politicians seeking a solution within the Indian constitution.

The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist

Wasim Khalid

The Asian Age – Article 35A: Kashmiris keep fingers crossed

Article 35A empowers the J&K legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state

Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar-Jammu&Kashmir-India, 4 November 2017. Unless the Central government submits an affidavit before the SC strongly defending Article 35A, the fears among the people in J&K will not go away, says an NCP leader.

During his last visit to Srinagar, union home minister Rajnath Singh assured that the Centre will not go against the sentiments of the people when it comes to safeguarding the unique status Jammu & Kashmir enjoys under different provisions of the Constitution.

He was responding to a question whether the government backs the moves being made by certain quarters, including an RSS-affiliated think-tank, to dilute J&K’s unique status or favours joining the battle for protection of Article 35A of the Constitution.

Article 35A empowers the J&K legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. The provision also imposes restrictions on people from other states owning immovable property in J&K and getting government jobs.

Many people in the state see a connection between the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma, a 1979 batch IPS officer and former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief, as the government representative to talk to stakeholders in Jammu & Kashmir and the petition on Article 35A pending in the SC since 2014.

They suspect Mr Sharma was appointed to pre-empt a possible uncomfortable situation it could have landed in on the restive State as the apex court was hearing the petition challenging the validity of Article 35A.

A large section of Kashmiris also doubts the sincerity of the BJP-led Central government on the issue and fear that it favours weakening the laws that protect the interests of the people of the state and pave the way for settlement of outsiders in the state. They allege the BJP-led Centre wants to alter the demographics of the Muslim-dominated state.

During his visit in September, the home Minister’s assurance on safeguarding the unique status Jammu & Kashmir had come as a breather to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was being openly accused by the Opposition of not making a serious effort towards defending the 63-year-old law in the Supreme Court which has put off by three months the hearing on a petition challenging Article 35A.

Working president of the National Conference (NC) Omar Abdullah said that the home minister’s assurance will go a long way towards silencing the noises against Section 35A.

Mr Abdullah’s party colleague Ali Muhammad Sagar, who was part of the NC delegation that met Mr Singh, was not quite confident about the Centre’s commitment on protecting the Kashmiri’s interests.

“When we met him, he told us that a non-issue is being made into an issue unnecessarily. But he didn’t tell us categorically that Article 35A will not be diluted,” said Mr Sagar.

“Unless and until the Central government submits an affidavit before the SC strongly defending Article 35A, the fears and apprehensions among the people in J&K will not go away,” he said.

The angst was only strengthened when, a few hours after the home minister’s interaction with media in the Valley, a senior BJP leader said Article 35A will not pass judicial scrutiny as it was illegal.

The Centre has not only avoided filing an affidavit in defence of Article 35A in the apex court, but also failed to take a clear-cut position on the matter, leaving the outcome of the case wide open. Hence, the fingers remain crossed.

The Union government’s decision to seek adjournment in the Supreme Court over the hearing on petitions related to Article 35A is seen by some as its admission of it being a political than legal issue.

Besides defining the rights of J&K residents, Article allows the President to make certain “exceptions and modifications” to the Constitution for the benefit of “state subjects”.

The order on the unique rights of Kashmiris was issued by the President and Article 35A incorporated into the Constitution after the adoption of the provisions of the Delhi Agreement by the Constituent Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir.

The Delhi Agreement was reached between the first Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his Jammu & Kashmir counterpart Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (The head of the government in the state was called Prime Minister instead of chief minister till late 1960s).

The Agreement contained 10 points. One of these was that the state legislature will have powers to regulate the rights and privileges of “permanent residents” or “state subjects”.

Article 35A was devised specifically to give protection to the state subject laws, already defined and notified in 1927 and 1932 by the government of Maharaja Hari Singh, the last autocratic Dogra ruler who signed the Instrument of Accession with the Indian Union on October 26, 1947.

Many people in J&K fear that if Article 35A goes it would pave the way for change in the demography of predominantly-Muslim state. The main Opposition party NC and likeminded groups and also the separatists believe that that is the sole aim behind the attempts being made to abrogate Article 35A.

Analyst Saadut Hussain said that any tinkering with Article 35A “will thus not only have far-reaching political consequences in Kashmir but also raise many legal and constitutional questions”.

Lawyer Zaffar Shah said that if Article 35A is abolished or declared invalid, the state laws related to permanent residency as a consequence will also go. “This will have a devastating impact on the present status of Jammu & Kashmir,” he said.

The ruling PDP and the Opposition NC, the Congress, the CPI(M) and other likeminded political parties and groups are all against attempts aimed at tampering with J&K special status.

These parties insist on Article 370 and Article 35A serving as a bridge between the state and the rest of India. “No one wants this bridge to collapse,” said former chief minister and NC president Farooq Abdullah.

The Hindu – Supreme Court adjourns hearings on J&K’s special status for 12 weeks

Attorney General K K Venugopal said the court should adjourn the hearing on the petitions against Article 35A by six months

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi, 30 October 2017. The Centre on Monday bought time from the Supreme Court hearing petitions challenging special status to Jammu and Kashmir, saying it has appointed an interlocutor to commence dialogue with stakeholders in the restive State.

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Attorney General K K Venugopal said the court should adjourn the hearing on the petitions against Article 35A of the Constitution by six months.

The court settled for 12 weeks in its order. It initially said eight weeks, but added one more month on the request of Mr Venugopal.

“The interlocutor has already commenced talks with stakeholders. If the court continues to hear this case, it will affect the dialogue process,” Mr Venugopal submitted.

Article 35A is a provision incorporated in the Indian Constitution giving the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislature a carte blanche to decide who all are the ‘permanent residents’ of the State and grant them special right and privileges in State public sector jobs, acquisition of property within the State, scholarships and other public aid and welfare programmes.

The provision mandates that no act of the State legislature coming under the ambit of Article 35A can be challenged for violating the Indian Constitution or any other law of the land.

Article 35A was incorporated into the Indian Constitution in 1954 by an order of President Rajendra Prasad on the advice of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet.

The controversial Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order of 1954 followed the 1952 Delhi Agreement entered into between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah extending Indian citizenship to the ‘State subjects’ of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Presidential Order was issued under Article 370 (1) (d) of the Indian Constitution. This provision allows the President to make certain “exceptions and modifications” to the Indian Constitution for the benefit of ‘State subjects’ of Jammu and Kashmir.

So Article 35A was added to the Constitution as a testimony of the special consideration the Indian government accorded the ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Parliament was not consulted when the President incorporated Article 35A into the Indian Constitution through a Presidential Order issued under Article 370. Article 368 (i) of the Constitution mandates that only the Parliament can amend the Constitution by introducing a new Article.

A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in its March 1961 judgment in Puranlal Lakhanpal vs. The President of India discusses the President’s powers under Article 370 to ‘modify’ the Constitution.

Though the court concludes that the President has the power to modify the Constitution under Article 370, the judgment is silent as to whether the President is empowered to bring about a radical change in the Constitution by introducing a new Article. This question remains open till date.

The question has come up for a decision in a writ petition filed by NGO, We the Citizens, which challenges the validity of both Article 35A and Article 370.

The petition argues that four representatives from Kashmir were part of the Constituent Assembly involved in the drafting of the Indian Constitution and the State of Jammu and Kashmir was never accorded any special status in the Constitution.

Article 370 was only a ‘temporary provision’ to help bring normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir and strengthen democracy in that State. The Constitution makers did not intend Article 370 to be a tool to bring permanent amendments, like Article 35A, in the Constitution.

The petition said Article 35 A is against the “very spirit of oneness of India” as it creates a “class within a class of Indian citizens.”

Restricting citizens from other States from getting employment or buying property within Jammu and Kashmir is a violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

A second petition filed by Jammu and Kashmir native, Charu Wali Khanna, has challenged Article 35A for protecting certain provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution which restricts the basic right to property if a native woman marries a man not holding the Permanent Resident Certificate.

Mr Venugopal has also called for a debate in the Supreme Court on the sensitive subject.

The court has indicated that the issue of the validity of Article 35A and 370 may ultimately be placed before a Constitution Bench of the apex court for an authoritative decision.

ANI News – Catholic Church bell rings after half a century long gap

Srinagar-Jammu & Kashmir-India, 29 October 2017. After 50 long years, the people of Jammu and Kashmir’s Srinagar heard the holy bell of 121-year-old Catholic Church on Sunday.

The Holy Family Church was built in 1896, and holds so far the largest bell the state weighed at 105 kilograms. The British-era Church and its belfry had suffered severe damage in an arson incident in 1967 and since then it had no bells.

In a gesture of communal harmony, members from Muslim, Hindu, Sikh community joined hands with Christians for the re-installation of bell.

Continuing with Kashmir’s pluralistic ethos, an inter-religious ceremony was organised for the historic occasion attended by representatives of all major faiths and joined hands with Christian community to ring the bell for the first time.

There are about 30 Christian families, both Catholics and Protestants, living in Srinagar There are five churches in Kashmir, of which regular prayers services are being held in three Churches. Traditionally, a church bell is used to call worshipers to the church for a prayer service and announcing the time of daily prayers.

The Hindu – Restrictions in Srinagar to thwart black day protests

Separatists leders have asked people to observe October 27 as a “black day” in Kashmir

Srinagar, 27 October 2017. Authorities imposed restrictions in various areas here on Friday to prevent separatist-called protests to mark the Accession Day of Jammu and Kashmir to India.

Joint resistance leadership (JRL) of separatist leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik, have asked people to observe October 27 as a “black day” in Kashmir.

It was on this day in 1947 that the Indian Army landed in Srinagar Airport following the accession of the state.

“Restrictions under section 144 of CrPC will remain in force in Nowhatta, M R Gunj, Safa Kadal, Rainawari, Khanyar, Kralkhud and Maisuma,” a police officer said.

Heavy contingents of the state police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in full riot gear were seen disallowing pedestrian and vehicular movement in these areas.

Railway services in the valley have also been suspended on Friday as a precautionary measure.

The Hindu – Senior Cabinet Minister denies talks with Pakistan on Kashmir

Says dialogue with a third party was out of the question

Vijaita Singh

New Delhi, 24 October 2017. The mandate of the Centre’s newly appointed Special Representative on Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, will be to hold dialogue with all stakeholders in the country, but will not involve Pakistan, a senior Cabinet Minister told The Hindu.

The senior Minister said that talking to a “third party” to resolve the Kashmir issue was “out of question.”

On Monday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced that the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) Director Dineshwar Sharma would be the Centre’s representative to carry forward a dialogue with all sections of people in Jammu and Kashmir and ensure that “normalcy returns to the State as soon as possible”.

The Minister said the announcement would have no bearing on the security operations in the Kashmir Valley and there would be no let-up in such operations. “Kashmir is an integral part of India. Why should we talk to a third party [Pakistan] on Kashmir? Such suggestion is out of question,” he said.

Mr Sharma told The Hindu on Tuesday that he would visit the Kashmir Valley in the next 10 days. “It will be an exploratory visit. I will go there and see who all to talk,” Mr. Sharma said.

On Tuesday, Mr Rajnath Singh, while responding to a question on whether Mr Sharma will engage with separatists, reiterated that it was his decision who he wanted to engage with. The Minister dodged questions by reporters on what signals the Indian government sought to send to Pakistan with the appointment of the interlocutor.

Not ‘interlocutor’

In a departure from the past, the government refrained from using the term “interlocutor” while announcing the initiative on Monday. A senior official said it was because Mr. Sharma might hold “Track-II” and “informal dialogue”.

The Cabinet Secretary rank would ensure that officials take him seriously.

The Times of India – Government denies any U-turn on Kashmir approach

Bharti Jain

New Delhi, 24 October 2017. Union home minister Rajnath Singh said the Centre’s representative, former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma, will “engage with all walks of life in J&K and understand their legitimate aspirations”.

The decision, though a departure from a security-led strategy, is seen to flow from PM Narendra Modi’s August 15 speech where he hinted at dialogue by saying that the solution to the problems in J&K lay in embracing its people rather than bullets or abuse.

The opposition was quick to claim that the government had backtracked with Congress leader P Chidambaram saying he hoped the Centre has realised that its muscular approach has failed. The government denied any U-turn, saying it has followed a calibrated approach to J&K.

Interestingly, the talks move also comes before the visits of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Sources said Sharma had the adequate experience for the job as he had served in the state in 1992, when militancy was at its peak, and handled J&K from the IB headquarters here, including as its director during 2014-16. He will be based in Delhi but will frequently visit the state and his first trip could be some time next week.

According to top sources in the government, the Centre never ruled out talks but was keen to hold them at a time of its choosing. Even national security adviser Ajit Doval, considered a hawk, favoured talks, but insisted that terrorists and their backers in Pakistan should not be allowed to set the timetable and seek to impose terms.

Opening a dialogue under pressure where stone-pelters were challenging security forces on the streets of Kashmir in the aftermath of the encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani in July 2016 would have been read as a victory of the mob with Pakistan-backed groups mobilising thousands for funerals of killed terrorists. The situation of intense confrontation persisted till early 2017s, but has since abated.

Sources said while violence in J&K has still not been quelled nor terror eliminated, security forces have steadily gained the upper hand by eliminating several top terrorists.

There is a major dip in stone-pelting and turnouts at such funerals have grown smaller. Also, an official clarified that the dialogue process will neither affect security operations nor ongoing investigations by the NIA.

While sources said there would be no let-up in cases against Hurriyat leaders, some of whom have been arrested, it is believed that the action could have been intended to make them more amenable to talks.

The NIA action was also intended to signal that separatists enjoy no particular immunity, an important indicator for public opinion in the Valley.

“It is hoped and believed that Hurriyat, leaving aside their role of only being Pakistani stooges, they will make use of this opportunity to provide much-needed peace,” a senior intelligence source said.

Apart from the security situation, the political calculus seems favourable as the BJP has won major post-demonetisation elections in UP and Uttarakhand where it argued that notebandi had hurt terror funding and pitched its anti-terrorist strategies as evidence of its resolve to counter Pakistan.

“There will be no let-up in anti-terrorist operations, which have seen around 170 terrorists neutralised so far this year. The thrust on development projects and implementation of the PM’s package will remain. However, we are adding the third prong of ‘sustained and structured dialogue’ to the J&K strategy” an officer said.

Informal talks were being undertaken at the political level by Singh over the past two years during his five visits to J&K last year and one this year, the last barely a month after the PM’s Independence Day declaration.

“Some political parties in Kashmir, particularly those in opposition, Kashmiri groups, including Hurriyat and individuals, may not be willing to engage with a leader having political affiliations.

Besides, the youth in Kashmir, who are part of most violent protests, do not have an identified leader. These youth will find it easier to approach a permanent representative of the Centre with their grievances, who will then convey the same to the political leadership at the Centre for proper redressal,” a home ministry functionary told TOI.

This is not the first time that an interlocutor has been appointed. The NDA government under A B Vajpayee had on April 5, 2001 appointed then deputy chairman of Planning Commission K C Pant as interlocutor who continued till 2002.

Thereafter, it appointed former home secretary and current J&K governor N N Vohra till 2008. The UPA appointed a three-member interlocutor team comprising former information commissioner M M Ansari, senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar and academician Radha Kumar.