Once again democratic elections have proved to be the life- blood of Jammu & Kashmir. For a while, last year, it appeared that nothing could stop the state’s selfdestructive plunge into chaos.
The Sangh Parivar’s irresponsible counter- agitation on the Amarnath land issue tipped public opinion in the Valley in favour of the separatists led by the most- hardline of them all — Syed Ali Shah Geelani. But, the voters have spoken. The 62- odd per cent that have voted have clearly laid out an agenda which we can live with.
Clearly, that agenda is centrist and secular. The elections have also provided us with a leader whose family roots take him to the very origin of what is called the Kashmir “ problem” and whose personality is well- suited to respond to the twin demands of roti, kapda aur makan , as well as a political settlement based on a restoration of genuine autonomy to the state. There is only way to go: forward. By now we have gathered an enormous of data on what can be done in the state. And what does the data say ?
First , though 60 years have passed and a huge volume of water has flowed down the Jhelum, the state has not yet had a closure on its political demand of some kind of a distinct political status vis- à- vis the rest of India.
Second , status quo ante is not possible. There are many, especially in the security establishment, who believe that with the decline of armed militancy and Pakistan’s difficulties, India has the opportunity to return things to what they believe was the “ pristine state” of pre- rebellion Kashmir.
Unfortunately, things have not been pristine in J& K, ever. There have been periods of relative peace — 1953- 1964, 1975- 1983 — but mostly there has been an undercurrent of turbulence which goes back to the 1930s. In the two decades since 1989, the cultural and social fabric of the state has been ripped so thoroughly that there can be no return to the past. As it is it will take a herculean effort to repair the trauma caused by the death and violence that has visited the people of the state.
Third , notwithstanding this, the political fabric of the state has shown remarkable resilience. The recent election and its outcome reveals that the centrist and secular forces retain an edge over those who would seek to split the state, or run it on theological lines.
Fourth , notwithstanding pundits who say that the result represents a decoupling of the demand for aazadi with the roti, kapda, makan issues, the election signals a desire of the people of the Valley to seek a political settlement of their grievances.
Fifth , that India’s physical control of the Valley cannot be shaken by any armed movement. In the heady days of 1990, when thousands of young men went across the Line of Control for training, everything seemed possible.
Jehadis had driven the mighty Soviet armies from Afghanistan, indeed, the Soviet Union itself had collapsed. With insurgency raging in Punjab, perhaps a push could lead to the dissolution of the Union of India as well. That did not happen.
Sixth , India can absorb anything Pakistan can throw at it in J& K. Pakistan first used the pro- independence JKLF’s enthusiastic cadres to launch the rebellion and then sought to subsume it under the banner of the pro- Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen.
These forces were leavened by hardened Afghan cadre sent by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Afghanistantrained groups of Pakistanis in the Harkat- ul- mujahideen and Harkatul- Ansar. When even these flagged, Pakistan sent in the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba. But the ISI could not replicate its Afghan success because there was no way it could push stand- off weapons into the Valley, as it was able to do in Afghanistan.
Seventh , we know that J& K is not a religious or ethnic monolith. Its varied ethno- religious composition requires special political attention and that the numerical majority of the Kashmiri- speaking Muslims should not be translated into political overlordship over other regions.
Eighth , we know that though the entire world community considers Jammu & Kashmir to be disputed territory, there is a broad consensus that the state’s international boundaries should be drawn along the Line of Control. Disturbing this could cause uncontrollable political eddies not only in the state but throughout the Indian subcontinent.
With these verities which would now appear to be immutable in the near term, there is no reason why those — including self- professedly the Pakistanis — who see themselves as wellwishers of Jammu and Kashmir cannot press ahead this year and bring the long- running political dispute in the state to a closure.
The election outcome offers a last chance of sorts for an internal settlement.
Militancy may have been defeated by a blood and iron policy, but the Amarnath agitation has shown us the abyss that remains.
That the separatists could transform a trivial issue like the transfer of a small piece of land for housing Amarnath pilgrims into a huge agitation, betokens the distance that needs to be covered to address the political demands of the people of J & K. Since 2004, we have witnessed a process between India and Pakistan that acknowledges that the dispute needs settlement. Whether or not the Indian and Pakistani governments are strong enough to effect a compromise remains to seen, and at least in the Indian case, it’s clear that the government is not so weak that a compromise is unavoidable. Though a formula that can be hailed, or at least be acceptable in New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar still remains to be worked out, a commonly accepted diplomatic process is underway.
The problem today is the state of Pakistan. The dragons teeth it had sowed have grown into monstrous jehadi warriors. These now menace not just India and Afghanistan, but Pakistan itself. The loss of Indian authority in the Valley of Kashmir will not lead to the aazadi of Kashmir, but its immediate Talibanisation.
Till 2005, the ISI had the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba firmly under its control. But after the earthquake in the region, the Lashkar has taken a life of its own as a major social and political force in the Azad Kashmir area. Lashkar militants have major camps there, supported by a growing web of educational and medical institutions that provide the people of the region the only services they get any way.
The decline of militant violence, the serious efforts underway by India and Pakistan to resolve their differences, the political temper of the state, as reflected by the elections, indicates that we are at the cusp of a historical moment.
While the negotiations with Pakistan continue apace — and their parameters have been well established— there is need for New Delhi to press ahead with a plan for achieving closure of the domestic debate on Kashmir’s status.
Fortuitously, the state is set to get a chief minister who may be able to provide not just the good governance needed by the ordinary Kashmiris, but the background to press the political settlement that was aborted in 2000, when the BJP- led NDA government rejected the autonomy report prepared by the National Conference government and adopted by the J& K state assembly.
In the years since, all that we have learnt is that the BJP has no new answers for Kashmir and that its single- minded focus remains on the grievances of the Jammu region.
All the cards are now open on the table. What we need is the political will to move forward. The price of procastination will be steep because Kashmir remains the poison pill stuck in the throat of “ Emerging India.”
This article appeared in Mail Today January 2, 2009