Today I wish to share with you my sense of hope for the people of Jammu and Kashmir that I have long nurtured.
The State is only now emerging from the shadow of more than two decades of a deadly insurgency, which brought only death and devastation to the beautiful State. These were two lost decades in the history of Jammu & Kashmir’s development.
Let us make a new beginning. I appeal to the youth to go back to their schools and colleges and allow classes to resume. I ask their parents: what future is there for Kashmir if your children are not educated?
I am convinced that the only way forward in Jammu and Kashmir is along the path of dialogue and reconciliation.
Our Government, more than any other government in the past, has invested heavily in the peace process in Kashmir. The brave rejection of militancy by the people opened the door for us to pursue an unprecedented and intensive internal and external dialogue on the issues that have bedeviled Jammu and Kashmir for six decades.
With Pakistan we took a number of bold and indeed historic decisions. A bus service was started. We facilitated trade across the LOC. We facilitated arrangements for divided families to meet. We changed the policy on allowing people representing different shades of opinion to visit Pakistan because we wanted to involve all sections of the people in the peace process.
We set up a number of round-tables and then working groups in which many of you participated actively. Recognising the diversity of the State, we tried to address the problems of the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh in a comprehensive manner. We committed unprecedented financial resources for the State’s economic reconstruction.
I repeat all this to remind you of the many positive things that have happened as a result of the peace process and the sincere efforts we have made to bring about a durable peace in Jammu & Kashmir.
Nothing will give me greater satisfaction than to see a permanent and just settlement of all outstanding issues that protects the honour and self-respect of all sections of the people of the State.
But even with the best of these intentions, I cannot say that a complex problem that has defied resolution for 63 years can be solved easily or quickly. We need patience, wisdom and a spirit of conciliation to guide us through ups and downs in the process.
I urge the people of Jammu and Kashmir to give peace a chance. There is a lot of hard work that needs to be done to rebuild the State and its institutions. We must promote economic activity and create opportunities for employment. We must build physical and human resource infrastructure.
But I recognize that the key to the problem is a political solution that addresses the alienation and emotional needs of the people. This can only be achieved through a sustained internal and external dialogue. We are ready for this. We are willing to discuss all issues within the bounds of our democratic processes and framework.
But this process can gather momentum and yield results only if there is a prolonged peace.
I believe that the vast majority of the people want a peaceful resolution of all issues. Let us recognize that repeated agitations whether violent or otherwise only obstruct this process.
The cycle of violence must now come to an end. We must collectively ensure that no innocent life is lost again. It is, of course, the bounden duty of the Government to maintain law and order. We cannot allow the turmoil to continue.
We understand the prevailing public sentiment on the issue of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Eventually the J&K Police has to take on the burden of normal law and order duties. They do not require special powers to discharge their functions. We will help to accelerate the process of strengthening and expanding the J&K Police so that they can function independently and effectively within the shortest possible time.
The J&K Police and other security forces are performing an extremely challenging task in difficult circumstances. Many of them have been seriously injured during the past few weeks.
There are elements that are trying to weaken the resolve of the J&K Police and trying to undermine their lawful efforts. I urge the State Government to take effective action to protect its policemen and their families. We should not do anything to demoralize the security forces.
The State Government and the Chief Minister are making efforts to renew contact with the people. The Central Government is fully supportive of these efforts, which should be intensified. I believe that all of you have the solemn duty of reaching out to the people and reinvigorating peaceful political activity on the ground, which is lacking today. The youth wings of your parties should be activated. In a democracy leaders have to listen to the voice of the people and gain their trust and confidence.
I believe that local body elections should be held early to increase peoples’ participation in democratic governance and to ensure political empowerment at the grassroots level.
I would urge you to build a consensus on a practical and realizable vision of Jammu and Kashmir’s future. And the people have to be convinced that this future has to be grounded in political and economic realities of our time.
Recently, young MPs from all political parties made an appeal to their brothers and sisters in J&K to exercise restraint and have trust in the power of dialogue. I fully endorse their call.
Every possible effort should be made to reach out to the youth in Jammu and Kashmir. We must respond in a sincere and substantive manner to their genuine aspirations for freedom from fear and for freedom to build for themselves a life of dignity, security and well- being.
I assure the youth of Jammu and Kashmir that their genuine empowerment will be accorded the highest priority in our Jammu and Kashmir policy.
I recognize that the benefits of the large economic reconstruction package for J&K have not been fully felt on the ground. We will quicken the pace of its implementation in cooperation with the State Government.
Based on the experience gained, I am proposing to set up an Expert Group headed by Dr. C. Rangarajan with Shri N.R. Narayana Murthy, Shri Tarun Das, Shri P. Nanda Kumar, Shri Shaqueel Qalander and an official representative of the J&K Government as members to formulate a Jobs Plan for the State, involving both the public and the private sectors. To increase employability in the State the Group will interact with the National Skill Development Mission and submit its report within three months.
But to show results of such efforts on the ground, you will have to engage actively with the youth and give them the sense of purpose, hope and direction they need to make use of the many opportunities that our economy provides.
I am optimistic about the future of Jammu and Kashmir. India’s democracy has shown that it has the resilience to accommodate a diversity of aspirations and unique circumstances and the capacity to solve complex problems.
If all sides show wisdom and restraint, I believe that we can put the bitterness and pain of the recent past behind us and breathe new life in to the peace process. I urge you to carry back with you a message of peace and reconciliation, a message of our serious will and intent to solve all problems through dialogue and a message of deep empathy for the youth of Jammu and Kashmir.”