What’s to be done about Jammu & Kashmir? No one — especially not the government — seems to know what to do. As for political parties, so complicit are they in creating the disaster that it will be expecting too much to expect them to have a solution. Civil society seems to be in despair, some suggesting that India cede Kashmir to Pakistan or whoever. Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Constituents of a nation-state are not added and subtracted on the basis of the emotion of the moment. To do so would risk a huge price in terms of blood and destruction, as happened in the case of Bangladesh.
Looked at one way, things in the Valley of Kashmir are back to square one. Some observers compare the situation to the winter of 1989-90 when, through a 24-hour period on January 20-21, 1990, the Indian Union lost control of Srinagar to a huge separatist upsurge. But the similarities are only superficial. In some ways the situation in the Valley today is far more serious and the challenge to Indian authority much more fundamental. The rebellion of 1989-90 was led by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, a largely secular grouping seeking independence.
The upsurge today is under the leadership of Syed Ali Shah Geelani who was known to have fancied himself as the Amir-e-Jihad (leader of the jihad) in the early 1990s, and who has never made any bones about seeking the merger of the state with Pakistan. In 1990, the crowds were laced with armed gunmen who made it morally easier for the security forces to fire on them. Today, the crowd is unarmed and the militants know that any action on their part will only give the authorities an excuse to undertake a bloody crackdown.
Geelani has managed to effectively combine his Islamist agenda with the Kashmiri Muslim insecurity vis-à-vis Hindu-majority India. In this task he has been helped by Sangh Parivar activists who have succeeded in mixing minority Hindu resentment of Kashmiri domination of the state, with their pan-Indian Hindutva agenda. Now, both movements are feeding off each other.
There is, however, some saving grace. Pakistan which took control of the movement in the early nineties through the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Hizbul Mujahideen, is itself down and out. The United States and the western countries which sought to fish in the troubled waters of the Valley in the early 1990s, are now aware that any support to separatism, especially of the Geelani variety, will be to jump from the frying pan into the fire. Yet the display of Pakistani flags and the slogans calling for merger indicate that the movement of today is in the hands of Islamists. Pro-independence activists like Yasin Malik and Javed Mir of the JKLF know that the Pakistani embrace can be uncomfortably tight. If the Indian security forces destroyed the JKLF militancy on its side of the Line of Control, so did the ISI on the Pakistan side of the border. The JKLF was systematically dismantled, its cadres Islamised, and its prominent leaders like Amanullah Khan kept under virtual house arrest.
However, Pakistan distracted is not quite the same thing as saying that the ISI has lost focus. It has not. The Pakistani-end of the militancy is run from Azad Kashmir where the ISI has sub-contracted the effort to the Wahabist Lashkar-e-Taiba which has proved to be the most durable and effective of the groups that have operated in the Valley.
Indian liberals say that India should let go of a reluctant Valley. Conventional wisdom suggests that most Kashmiris would prefer independence to merger with Pakistan.
How long do you think independent Kashmir will survive? My estimate is about half a day. That will be the time it will take for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants within the Valley to take charge of Kashmir, execute all the moderates and establish the Kashmiri Emirate where the Nizam-e-Mustafa (the rule as per the laws of the Prophet as interpreted by Mullah Omar) will be enforced. This is the logic the movement run by Geelani and the hard-line elements of the Jamaat-e-Islami will follow in the Valley.
Walking off from Kashmir means leaving the state to a fate far worse than it has suffered till now. The state of Jammu & Kashmir acceded legally to the Indian Union. Thereafter it was the Indian authorities who promised a plebiscite to ratify that accession. For a variety of reasons, and not all of them were India’s fault, the referendum was not held. This is the reason why many countries do not recognise the state to be a part of India, or for that matter Pakistan. All of them want the two countries to work out a mutually acceptable settlement which they will respect.
In this interim, India remains in charge of the security of the state and it must fulfil this duty regardless of the cost. In the past 60 years, it has taken the might of the Indian Army to keep Pakistan at an arm’s length in the state, a task they have not quite been able to manage. The initial success of Operation Gibraltar in 1965 and the Kargil incursion of 1999 are proof of this, as is the impunity with which Pakistan has supported the militancy in the state by sending in armed men, weapons and explosives.
There is little alternative at present but to confront the agitations, but with the lessons of the past in mind. The first step the government needs to take is to detain extremist leaders in both Jammu and Kashmir.
Second, the security forces need to get the clear message that force must be discriminate and carefully exercised. There have been no dearth of instances in the Valley — the firing on January 21,1990, the so-called Gowkadal massacre, the firing on Mir Waiz Farooq’s funeral procession, the Bijbehara massacre of 1993 — when indiscriminate action has set back efforts at normalising the situation.
Third, the government needs to clearly signal that it intends to press on with its larger plan of settling the Kashmir issue through a dialogue with Pakistan. The process has achieved a great deal in the last four years and it would be rank folly to put it on hold at this juncture.
Things will be normal only when they are indeed normal. An appearance of normalcy or an approach to one is not enough. The government must understand that resolving the Kashmir problem involves not just getting things under control, but the acquiescence of all the stake-holders — the people of Kashmir, Jammu, India and Pakistan — on a settlement.
This may appear to be a distant goal today, but till the beginning of this year it was not so. It has been wantonly destroyed by a set of foolish politicians and administrators and a set of mendacious extremists in Jammu & Kashmir.
This article first appeared in Mail Today August 22nd, 2008