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Farooq Abdulah is contesting a by-election from Srinagar
Farooq Abdulah is contesting a by-election from Srinagar

Stone-pelting youth were not giving up their lives+ for tourism but for resolution of the Kashmir issue as per the wishes of its people, National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah said on Wednesday.

“If he (stone pelting youth) is giving up his life, he is not doing it for tourism. He is giving his life so that the destiny of this nation is decided which should be acceptable to the people of this place. This needs to be understood,” Abdullah said at an election meeting in Sonawar constituency here.

The former chief minister was reacting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement+ on April 2 at the inauguration of Chenani-Nashri tunnel that the youth of Kashmir need to choose between tourism and terrorism.

“Recently the tunnel was opened. He (the Prime Minister) said the youth here should think whether they want tourism or terrorism. I want to tell Modi sahib tourism is our lifeline, there is no doubt about it.

“But he is a stone-pelter+ . He has nothing to do with tourism. He will starve to death but he is pelting stones for his nation and there is a need to understand this,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah is contesting the by-election to Srinagar Lok Sabha seat as the joint candidate of opposition National Conference and Congress.

The polling in the constituency will be held on April 9.

But the remarks by the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister came in for sharp condemnation from the state’s ruling coalition partners PDP and the BJP. The PDP dubbed the remarks as “political opportunism” while the BJP said it was “worrisome”.

Abdullah also said that if India and Pakistan cannot resolve their problems, then the US should come forward and facilitate as third party to resolve their bilateral issues.

Union Minister and senior BJP leader Jitendra Singh dubbed as “worrisome” Abdullah’s defence of stone-pelters in Kashmir and accused him of getting tempted to speak “language of separatists” for electoral gains.

“It is quite worrisome…a politician of stature of Abdullah has also come under the pressure of upcoming polls and therefore, has felt tempted to speak the language of separatists,” Singh told reporters in Delhi.

“It seems that just in a bid to woo certain constituency, some of the Kashmir-centric campaigners have felt tempted to use the jargon of separatists,” Singh added.

He further said that Abdullah’s remarks raise “larger question” if one should succumb to expediency of electioneering “at the cost of consistency when it comes to nationalist views and beliefs”.

Senior PDP leader and Works Minister Naeem Akhtar said the NC was indulging in political opportunism. “This is nothing but political opportunism,” he said.

Reacting to the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s statement that the Trump administration would try and “find its place” in efforts to de-escalate Indo-Pak tension, Abdullah said New Delhi and Islamabad’s failure to engage with each other bilaterally over the years had added weight to the argument for “international mediation”.

“New Delhi cannot remain invested in the status-quo on the Kashmir issue and all possible methods of engagement and facilitation could be explored in the quest for a lasting resolution.”

“National Conference has always advocated and encouraged bilateral engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad on the Kashmir Issue but unfortunately whatever rare efforts were made to engage bilaterally failed to yield any concrete results,” he added.

The NC leader said to think that New Delhi can somehow afford to remain invested in the status quo on the Kashmir Issue is wrong.

“New Delhi is obligated to be proactive in seeking a just, fair and acceptable solution to the Kashmir Issue and had they been forth-coming and keen in talking bilaterally, the question of international mediation would not have been raised today,” Abdullah said.

He asked New Delhi and Islamabad to realize their responsibility in “rescuing the tormented and suffering” people of Kashmir from the throes of “uncertainty and pain”.

“You owe us your sincerity and commitment in initiating an open-ended, serious dialogue on Kashmir. It is a Kashmiri who suffers because of an obstinacy that has prevented comprehensive and sustained talks till now and sadly you expect us to suffer in perpetuity. The people of Kashmir have not been striving for a tunnel or for economic packages but for a just, fair and acceptable solution to the vexed political issue as per their aspirations,” he added.

Seeking unity among all stakeholders in Kashmir, Abdullah said they should unite in the quest for resolving the political issue.

Meanwhile, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley appeared to be signalling a shift in American position when she said the Donald Trump administration would like to “find its place” in efforts to de-escalate India-Pakistan tensions but the suggestion was rejected by New Delhi, which insisted on the bilateral resolution of issues.

In remarks at a news conference on Monday, Haley, who has taken over as the UN Security Council chair, said the US was concerned about the India-Pakistan dispute and would like to “find its place” in moves to reduce tensions.

“It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward,” the Indian American envoy said in response to a question.

“So I would expect that the administration is in going to be in talks and try and find its place to be a part of that and we don’t think we should wait till something happens. We very much think that we should be proactive in the way that we are seeing tensions rise and conflicts start to bubble up and so we want to see if we can be a part of that.”

But the day after, no one in the Trump administration was in a hurry to back her up publicly or privately. The White House referred questions about her remarks to the state department, which had not responded to multiple requests for response till the writing of this report.

In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay responded to Haley’s remarks by saying India’s position on bilaterally resolving all issues with Pakistan hasn’t changed.

“Government’s position for bilateral redressal of all India-Pakistan issues in an environment free of terror and violence hasn’t changed,” Baglay said.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to UN
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to UN

The external affairs ministry was cold to Haley’s remarks indicating that President Donald Trump could play a role in efforts to reduce tensions. Instead, Baglay said, the focus should be on terror originating from Pakistan.

“We of course expect the international community and organisations to enforce international mechanisms and mandates concerning terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which continues to be the single biggest threat to peace and stability in our region and beyond,” he said.

Pakistan has often favoured a mediatory role for the US on the Kashmir issue but New Delhi has consistently ruled out third party mediation to solve its problems with Islamabad.

India, normally super-sensitive to any talk of third party intervention, seemed not too worried, opting to continue believing in an earlier assurance from the Trump administration that the president “was not interested”.

The Trump administration has let India know, according to officials in New Delhi who spoke on condition of anonymity, that the president has no intention of insinuating himself or the US into the conflict as a mediator or a peacemaker.

India first raised this issue with the administration in January after Trump, then president-elect, was seen to be signalling a desire to play a role in resolving India-Pakistan issues during a phone call with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

New Delhi, which had been engaging the new administration in a series of meetings, was alarmed and checked. “We were told by those close to the administration the president was not interested,” said an official on background.