Despite India-Pakistan ‘Engagement’, Kashmiri Separatist Leaders Still Under Lock And Key

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Srinagar: Kashmiri separatist leaders continue to be clamped down despite the engagement between India and Pakistan at multiple levels leading to a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.

The talks on Kashmir by the civil society groups and the think-tanks of India and Pakistan have assumed a new vigour after the February decision by the director-generals of military operations (DGs MO) of two countries to reimpose the ceasefire along the LoC.

Sources said that the talks at the different levels continued between India and Pakistan that led to the DGMO agreements. On 25 February, India and Pakistani DGs MO in a joint statement said that they will “observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors”.

Elsewhere, talks were held between members of civil society and those representing think-tanks of India and Pakistan despite the revocation of Article 370 on 5 August, 2019.

“The talks were held in Bangkok on a Track 1.5 level that involved the think-tanks of India and Pakistan, months after the revocation of Article 370,” said one member of the negotiations, on condition of anonymity.

Separatists still under lock and key

Despite the talks, in Kashmir the curbs persist on separatist leaders, with some of them who are lodged in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail even complaining of being denied medical attention. Sources in the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said that the curbs on him have become intense despite the talks.

The party said in a statement recently that keeping Mirwaiz under detention and not allowing him to deliver sermons at Jamai Masjid in Srinagar was “high-handedness”.

Assabah Khan, wife of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front-R, (JKLF-R), chairman, Farooq Ahmad Dar, said that she has written to the prison authorities that her husband was denied medical attention despite complaining of fever and other COVID-like symptoms.

“We are worried after the increase of COVID-19 cases in Delhi and after the detection of some cases in the prison. In fact, we have not even been allowed to meet Farooq,” she said.

Several people who were part of either the Track 1.5 or Track Two-level dialogues between India and Pakistan however said that “there was much ground that needs to be covered” before the situation will begin to improve in Kashmir.

The Hurriyat (M) in a recent statement sought the release of political detainees and lifting of curbs on Mirwaiz.

Sources in the Hurriyat said that Mirwaiz had even expressed a willingness to meet the members of Concerned Citizens Group (CCG) headed by former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who visited Kashmir between 30 March and 2 April.

Some members of the CCG were part of the Track II dialogue on Kashmir. The CCG said in a recent statement that they were not allowed to meet Mirwaiz at his residence in Srinagar.

Wajahat Habibullah, one of the members of the CCG, however said that they managed to meet former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone, but couldn’t meet former chief minister and CM and National Conference leader, Farooq Abdullah, as he had contracted COVID-19.

Wajahat, who was earlier part of India-Pakistan Track II dialogue, however, said that their meetings in Kashmir were an “independent” civil society initiative and were not linked with the government.

Alternative tracks for diplomacy

“Unlike my earlier engagement at the Track II level during which the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was kept intimated, our visit as part of CCG was only an independent initiative,” he said.

A participant of a recent Track 1.5 initiative between India and Pakistan said that “it happened because the government officials of both countries were in the loop” and added,

“There were a series of discussions. There was also a physical meeting and now there are engagements held in virtual mode due to COVID to help improve the strained ties between India and Pakistan,” he added.

Asked whether the talks between India and Pakistan could become productive, particularly after the revocation of Article 370, he noted that both countries actively sought fruitful dialogue.

“It is due to a fear of the breakdown of negotiations that back-channel diplomacy is being pursued vigorously, rather than any formal bilateral engagements between India and Pakistan,” he added.

Last week, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) envoy to Washington, Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, in a virtual discussion with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution said that the UAE played a role “in bringing Kashmir escalation down and created a ceasefire, hopefully ultimately leading to restoring diplomats and getting the relationship back to a healthy level”.

He added, “They might not sort of become best friends but at least we want to get it to a level where it’s functional, where it’s operational, where they are speaking to each other.”

Senior journalist, Zafar Chauhdary, while describing the engagements between India and Pakistan in the UAE as a back-channel dialogue between the two countries, hoped that this will result in formal talks between two nations.

“There certainly was a good deal of engagement between the two countries that led to the joint statement between the DGs MOsof India and Pakistan instructing troops to cease fire along the LoC,” he said (the Awam News)

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