Those seeking a debate on the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir are "playing with fire" as the issue is linked to the state's accession to India, former chief minister Omar Abdullah said today. His remarks came after Attorney General KK Venugopal recently told the Supreme Court that the NDA government wanted a "larger debate" on Article 35A which provides special rights and privileges to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
"How can you debate special status of Jammu and Kashmir without debating accession? You can't. They are two sides of the same coin. J-K acceded to India on the special status that was granted to it," Omar said.
He said the BJP needs to understand that the outfits which are bringing this up are "playing with fire". "It's these sort of steps that glamorise Azaadi," he said at the event 'Understanding Kashmir', hosted by social group 'BRIEF'.
"We have been consistent on the fact that the accession of J&K to India has been final. We have been consistent that whatever solutions we want to find, we want to find them within the four walls of the Constitution," he added.
Referring to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's statement that one can change friends but not neighbours, he said a "positive and constructive" engagement with Pakistan is a necessity to find a solution to the Kashmir problem.
Blaming the Centre for the "shrinking" of political space for mainstream parties in Jammu and Kashmir, Omar said it has become popular to blame Pakistan for everything that is happening in the state.
"It's not just mainstream players in Jammu and Kashmir who are responsible for what is happening. The Union of India is responsible, whether it was the UPA or the NDA government. It's popular to blame our neighbour for everything that is happening in the state but it is not true," he said.
The former chief minister said while the country knows that Pakistan fishes in troubled waters, "we also know that they are not the creators of the agitations we have seen in 2008, 2010 or 2016".
There is a fair amount of blame to be shared across the board, he said. "Who you want to blame and how much for, depends on which side you are sitting on."
Omar said the erosion of political space this time has been far more rapid than it has been in recent years and cited the state government's failure to conduct an election in south Kashmir. "This is the first election in J&K that the Hurriyat conference has won, because since 1996 they have been saying that elections should not take place. There should be a boycott. Elections should be disrupted. On the back of the protests, you cancelled that election and handed victory to them," he said.
Omar said it was not just the political space of the regional parties that has shrunk, "even the ability of the government of India and the Election Commission has shrunk to the point that you put your hands up and walked away".
He also said he was shocked at the logic being offered for the Armed Forces Tribunal's decision to grant bail to five army personnel convicted in the 2010 Macchil fake encounter case.
"I'm shocked at the logic that's being given. That they were wearing Pathan suits and that they cannot be treated as civilians, I'm sorry, I'm wearing one. Am I not a civilian?" he asked.
The Armed Forces Tribunal had suspended the life sentence awarded to the Army personnel, including two officers, for allegedly staging the killing of three Kashmiri men in Macchil and granted them bail.
Omar also spoke on the reports that Zakir Musa was heading Al-Qaeda in the Kashmir Valley, saying that there was nothing new about it. "The largest militant group operating in the Valley today is still the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and it's predominantly made of Kashmiri youngsters and their aim is political. Their aim is to remove J&K as a part of India. Their aim is not Musa's Al-Qaeda-driven aim," he said.
Musa is not a new phenomenon, Omar said. "You have given him the name of Al-Qaeda. But people coming and fighting in the name of religion have been doing it since the mid-90s when Pakistan found that their ability to galvanise support from local Kashmiris on a political slogan wasn't working. They tried to give the slogan of jihad to attract other nationalities. What were Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and others? They were religious-driven organisations. So today Zakir Musa is an extension of that," he said.