THERE are indications that the long, hot summer that Kashmir has witnessed is going to yield results, but not of the kinds you may have hoped for. Omar Abdullah is likely to retain his job, but several other sacrificial goats are being readied— the director general of police, the chief secretary, possibly the director general, Central Reserve Police Force. Some sops could be offered— modifications of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and newer faces in the Abdullah Cabinet. Unfortunately, there is every indication that the impact of these steps will be strictly temporary, and they are unlikely to change what the Union Home Minister described as the new situation on the ground in the Valley.
It has been a time tested technique of parties and prime ministers to change chief ministers so as to alter the momentum of a particular political trend in a state. That is because the CM is like a CEO and his or her impact on local politics and governance is all- encompassing.
Changes of officials, on the other hand, have rarely proved to be efficacious and are unlikely to prove so this time as well.
The new set of officials will face the old set of circumstances, and soon they, too, will look jaded.
We have earlier had occasion to point out that the entirely new political dynamics of the state require two sets of policies— a short term ( 1- 2 year time frame) and a longer term one ( 3- 5 year time frame).
The key short- term policy that needs to be put in place is the creation of a special police force for the Valley which is trained and mentally conditioned to deal with crowds, rather than militants. A word of caution here; it took the Union government several decades of communal riots to establish a special force to deal with it— the Rapid Action Force.
But the crowd control force that Kashmir needs requires an entirely different laundry list of equipment, training and personnel. It is not a matter of equipment alone. After all Tufail Mattoo whose June 11 death reportedly triggered off the current unrest died after being hit by a spent tear- gas shell, a non- lethal munition as such. People can die of pepper gun shots, if hit at close range, and it is a fact that many young boys may have drowned while trying to escape a police charge.
What is critical for the new force is numbers and conditioning. The numbers in every instance of confrontation must be sufficiently large so as to provide the police force with a sense of security as well.
Minus the equaliser of the gun, police personnel need to confront rioters on a oneon- one basis. Many instances of firing that take place are the result of panic by policemen who fear that their post is about to be over- run. Traditionally the CRPF and the paramilitary tend to be used in platoons and companies headed by Deputy and Assistant Commandants. What is needed is a larger unit where the command and control rests at all times with a more senior officer of the commandant rank.
The second is mental conditioning. This has two elements. First, an understanding that prolonged exposure to hostile crowds does generate enormous stress and that the personnel need to be trained to react in a disciplined and purposeful way each and every time. To do this, their commanders need to ensure that their forces are well- led and get sufficient rest and recreation so as to unwind from their arduous duties. This, again, underscores the need for numbers.
Since such a force does not exist, the Union Home Ministry and the Kashmir state government would be advised to begin establishing one right away. This is a short- term measure that may pay dividends next summer if acted upon now.
But you dither now, you face more of the same next year as well, and soon it will become a competition as to who breaks down first— the young stone pelters, or the police personnel.
It is axiomatic that only if the law and order situation improves can the other measures relating to jobs and gainful employment be implemented. In the present situation of prolonged disruption of normal life, even existing employment opportunities are endangered. There must be thousands of people— shop assistants, people working in the tourist and service sectors who are out of gainful employment.
The only people who get a salary in all circumstances are government servants.
It is simply not feasible or desirable to make all Kashmiris into babus.
The longer term measures, too, are contingent on first managing the runaway law and order problem of the state. With Indian authority visibly wilting, why should any Kashmiri party want to get involved in a dialogue with India? As for the fire- eaters in the Valley, the only discussion that is possible is one relating to the modalities of the Indian exit from Kashmir.
It is important, therefore, for the Indian state to show much more resolve than it has been able to muster till now. The reason for their irresolution is that they are essentially good men and they are rightly unnerved at the prospect of fighting the young Kashmiris armed with stones with gun- toting paramilitary personnel.
Lacking the appropriate instrumentalities in the form of a special riot police force, they are wandering around like headless sheep asking each other what to do.
Even so, whatever the separatists may say or feel, India has a historical and legal responsibility for Jammu & Kashmir that came through the Instrument of Accession in 1947. You may sneer at the reference to a document signed on by a Maharaja, but then the legal status of both India and Pakistan rests on an act of an imperial Parliament. You cannot cherry- pick history, it comes as a whole.
In this day and age, it must be clear that India cannot hold Kashmir indefinitely against the will of its people. The problem has been in determining that will.
There are many who will point to the various elections held in the Valley, the long periods of peace, or to the efforts to subvert the will through violence, electoral fraud and intimidation. Impartial polls show that not many in the state favour Pakistan. In fact, probably more favour remaining with India. But a significant number prefer to be independent.
At this point in time of heightened emotions and in the continuing presence of several hundred armed militants, it would not be possible to impartially determine what the people want, or to even give them what they want. Indeed, it is not possible to see Kashmir’s future today without reference to what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The war in Kashmir is not just about independence or separation from India. There is also an insidious culture war that is seeking to transform the state into another outpost of the global Islamic Emirate. If Indians walk away now, Kashmir will not become paradise. Indeed, there is every prospect that the Masrat Alams and Asiya Andrabis would make it hell on earth.
Just because they have chosen to stay in the background for the moment, don’t forget that the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba and the other domestic jihadis like the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Jamiat ul Mujahideen are very much there. And across the border there are tens of thousands more, ready to liberate Kashmir from whatever it means to be Kashmiri.
This appeared in Mail Today August 26, 2010