Profile: Omar Abdullah

The youngest chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is the grandson of Kashmir’s first prime minister.

Omar Abdullah - Kashmir
Omar Abdullah became the youngest chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 2009 [EPA]

As the son of former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, and the grandson of the first prime minister of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, Omar comes from an iconic family.

Born in 1970 in the UK, Abdullah became the youngest chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 2009, after he had served as a union minister of state for external affairs in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government.

At 38, Abdullah’s achievement was notable, particularly in a culture of slow political turnover.

Abdullah looked to alter the dysfunctional civil service, tainted by two decades of volatility, and sought to usher Kashmir into the new global economy by encouraging trade and investment and addressing Kashmir’s neglected power needs.

His meeting, with Pervez Musharraf, the then Pakistani president, in 2006 – the first such meeting between a mainstream Kashmiri politician and a Pakistani head of state – is said to have emphasised his ambition to resolve the dispute.

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But Abdullah has been accused of lacking charisma and having an understated, hands-off approach and, since taking office, his reputation has been damaged as a result of a perceived rise in human rights violations under his watch.

Activists allege excessive use of the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows suspects as young as 16 to be arrested and detained without charge.

Criticism has also been levelled at the chief minister and state government for using excessive force during the protests of 2010.

Around 117 people, mostly young men, died when demonstrations turned violent with police firing birdshot pellets, as well as live ammunition, into crowds of stone-pelting protesters.

A crackdown on young protesters culminated in the arrest of hundreds of others.

There has also been much criticism of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which some say gives impunity to armed forces operating in the valley. Although Abdullah has set up two committees to review the AFSPA, he told Tehelka magazineon July 31, 2011, that it is unlikely that act would be revoked.

“If you are going to tell me militancy is the lowest it has been in 21 years, then people expect some sort of a peace dividend. And we should be willing to give it to them,” he said.

While Abdullah has battled to shed his image as a pawn of New Delhi, his detractors argue that since taking office he has toned down his rhetoric and been unable to prioritise the needs of Kashmiris.

At the same time, Abdullah has emphasised infrastructural development as the key driver of his vision for Kashmir’s future, signalling his intention for the state to ‘catch-up’ with changing times.

As a young, tech savvy politician, Abdullah can be found tweeting on politics, sport and the like on twitter, much to the ire of some of his colleagues.

Source: Al Jazeera