Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Dangerous drift in Kashmir: Why New Delhi cannot avoid its responsibility anymore

The report that a crowd of Kashmiri civilians cheered on the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants holed out in Pampore on the weekend – even as the Indian Army was carrying out an operation to deal with them – should set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. But perhaps the Union home ministry is too busy bashing the sloganeers in Jawaharlal Nehru University to bother about it.
It is incidents like this and the crowds that participate in the funerals of militants that tell you the true state of Jammu and Kashmir, rather than election turnouts and the tourist arrivals.
By now, it should have been clear to all but the most obtuse intelligence, that the Kashmir problem consists of three parts.
First, the need to defeat armed militants, Pakistanis who come from across the border, as well as the Kashmiris who get arms and training in Pakistan.
The second is to win over the Valley Kashmiri Muslims, significant chunks of whom remain estranged from India. It is they who provide the environment in which these militants are embedded for long periods of time.
And the third is to neutralise Pakistan’s malign role which takes advantage of our inability to give adequate redress to the political aspects of the Kashmir issue.
Three prime ministers
A three-tier strategy dealing with these issues has been followed by all the prime ministers who have dealt with the issue.
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao famously noted that the “sky was the limit” when it came to discussing the subject of autonomy.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made repeated attempts to engage the Kashmiris, including the Hurriyat leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Maulana Abbas Ansari. Vajpayee had in April 2003, during a public rally in Srinagar, said that India would wish to resolve all issues confronting Kashmir on three principles of “Insaaniyat” (humanism), “Jamhooriyat” (democracy) and “Kashmiriyat” (Kashmir’s multiculturalism). Vajpayee also famously arrived at a modus vivendi with Pakistan and initiated a process that nearly resulted in a Kashmir settlement by 2007. And all this was being done even while the security forces steadily wore down the militant challenge.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came up with the creative idea of convening a roundtable in 2006 which would bring together leaders of all parties to discuss the Kashmir issue. Three roundtables were held, and several working groups sought to offer recommendations on dealing with specific issues, including one on Centre-State relations which took up the issue of autonomy.
Missing political gesture
What is the reality today? Militancy has been largely defeated. From a high of 638, 590, 469, security force personnel killed in 2000, 2001, and 2002 the deaths are down to 51, 61 and 41, in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
What is missing today is that political gesture that characterised the past efforts to resolve the problem. In his July 2014 visit to the Valley, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the importance of development and said that he would take the Vajpayee initiatives forward. Subsequently, in the election campaign, he emphasised development as the key issue.
In his November 2015 visit, Modi did invoke Vajpayee’s “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat” mantra, but he chose to focus on an economic agenda, promising the state a Rs 80,000 crore development package, adding egregiously that he needed no advice from anyone in the world, when it came to Kashmir.
But, the problem in Kashmir is not development, but politics.
Realpolitik and Idealpolitik
From the outset, New Delhi has sought to deal with this through a mix of realpolitik and idealpolitik. On one hand, it has maintained an iron hand in ensuring its control over the state. On the other, it has offered Kashmiris a range of policies within which they can feel that there are no constraints to their freedom. These policies have sought to address both the real issues relating to autonomy, as well as the sentimental ones relating to the sense of Kashmiriyat. Having ensured that J&K is an integral part of the Indian Union, Pandit Nehru, wisely conceded the state a constitution of its own (the only state of the Union to have one), a flag of its own, as well as the nomenclature of “Prime Minister” for its chief minister and “Sadr-e-Riyasat” for its governor. (The contestation over nomenclature, which was changed in 1965, continues to this day.)
Events, not in the least Sheikh Abdullah’s flirtation with the idea of an independent Kashmir in cahoots with the United States of America, changed things. And Pakistan only compounded them. Today, both New Delhi and the separatists need to work out the 21st century version of autonomy. Kashmiris must ask themselves whether they would be better off with a supreme judiciary and election commission based in New Delhi, or in Srinagar. Or, whether they could really trust Pakistan, which has repeatedly taken recourse to arms to capture the state and is not committed to maintaining its ethnic and religious profile.
No movement
The Modi government has done little or nothing by way of revealing a Kashmir policy. They seem to believe that their work was done the moment they agreed to go into a coalition with the People’s Democratic Party. Now, that coalition remains unstuck, and signals from the ground suggest that the situation is drifting dangerously.
But, as indicated above, development is just one part of the Kashmir problem. The other part is the sentiment among the people of the Valley that they lack something in political terms. It is often expressed by the term “azadi”, and in other circumstances by the support given to militants fighting against India. There is little hope that we can have lasting peace in J&K, unless we understand this.
As for Pakistan, government policy is careening in all kinds of directions and we are yet to see some coherence there. But today, more than ever before, the tone and tenor of Pakistani voices on Kashmir have changed and there is no reason why we cannot move forward from the achievements of the 2004-2007 period.
Kashmir is a dance involving three parties – the Kashmiris, the Pakistanis and Indians. To restore peace and tranquility there requires careful choreography which needs the synchronised movement of all the three parties. Because of its size, and the legitimacy of its claim, New Delhi needs to be the lead dancer, it’s a responsibility it cannot avoid. February 25, 2016

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