The Modi government is going through a difficult transition, from viewing all Kashmiri Muslims as hostile to acknowledging that they are very much part of the nation. Although he is usually never at a loss for words, it took Prime Minister Narendra Modi an unusually long time to accept that “those who lost their lives during recent disturbances are part of us, our nation.” His offer “to find a permanent and lasting solution within the framework of the constitution” is the first and welcome step in dealing with the situation from a political viewpoint, rather than dismissing it as a ‘law and order’ issue.
Prime Minister Modi’s only problem is that he lacks a political aide
with sufficient heft to take the conversation forward. Home minister
Rajnath Singh is simply not up to the job. He went to the Kashmir Valley
to follow up on the prime minister’s commitment. But, though he tweeted
that all those who wished to come and talk to him were welcome, he did
not extend an invitation to anyone in particular, especially not the
separatists. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that Singh’s mission,
his second to the Valley in recent weeks, did not result in anything
substantial. No leader of consequence met him in Srinagar.
The Modi government is apparently taking recourse to reaching out to
Muslim leaders in other parts of the country. It is a well observed fact
that Indian Muslims, who have their own problems, have never sought to
synchronise their views or protests with those of the Kashmiris. Their
response to Kashmiri separatism is the same as that of other Indians.
I first got an idea of how Indian Muslims view the Kashmir conflict
when I visited an army unit involved in a major killing – that of the
top-most Hizbul Mujahideen militant, Maqbool Ilahi in April 1993.
Compared to Ilahi, the foremost Hizbul Mujahideen commander of the day,
Burhan Wani was a novice. The operation was carried out by an entire
army battalion, but the crucial role in tracking him down was played by a
Muslim subedar of a Grenadiers battalion who hailed from Bihar. When I
asked the subedar how he felt in fighting against people from his own
religion, he gave me a withering look, but quite politely insisted that
it was ‘us versus them’. And ‘us’ meant all Indians.
And this has been the reality ever since. Remember, the first
commander of the 15 Corps that played a dramatic role in preventing the
secession of the Valley in 1990 was Lieutenant General M. A. Zaki who
hails from Hyderabad. Subsequently, too, there have been Muslim Corps
commanders in Srinagar like Ata Hasnain.
Meanwhile in keeping with the situation, there is another sign of
regression in the Valley – this is the return of the Border Security
Forces (BSF). In the difficult days of 1990, the force was pitchforked
into the Valley and it was asked to establish control over the urban
areas. It did this with considerable grit and bravery, but also a great
deal of brutality for which it has not quite been held accountable.
Reports say that some 26 companies of the force have reached the Valley
and another 40 or so companies will be sent.
In many ways the root of the problem lies with the Central Reserve
Police Force (CRPF) and BSF. Neither force has been trained for riot or
crowd control. The BSF, as its name suggests is a border guarding force.
The CRPF is everything to everyone – a counter-insurgency force in
Chattisgarh, a last-resort armed police elsewhere and a
jack-of-all-trades in the Valley. Besides the lack of training, the
leadership of these forces is questionable and their organisation is
such that they are deployed in penny-packets without effective direct
supervision by their Indian Police Service (IPS) leaders.
If there is one force which seems to have retained its balance, it is
the Indian army. In the 1990s, it punished, though did not publicise,
several of its personnel for excesses. On the other hand, the BSF kicked
the can down the road and held no one accountable for several excesses
committed by the force, which had a lasting consequence in keeping
separatism alive in the Valley.
This time around, too, its senior officers like Northern Army
commander Lieutenant General D. S. Hooda have been categorical in
denouncing excesses carried out by their men, instead of brushing them
under the carpet or the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). In
his recent visit to the Valley, army chief Dalbir Singh commended his
forces for their counter-infiltration roles and urged them to uphold
Some retired officers, clad fancifully in their mess uniform caps,
may talk tough on TV, but the institutional view that has evolved in the
army in the past decade or so has been that it should keep away from
internal security duties to the extent it can. Its job is to fight the
country’s external enemies and involvement in internal security saps the
morale and the soldiers begin to lose their professional edge. This is
the reason the army stayed away from fighting Maoists in central India.
The biggest problem the government confronts is in determining the
typology of the Kashmir uprising. Does it arise from the lack of job
opportunities and poor development? Is it a Pakistani-inspired event and
are the stone-throwers all Pakistani agents, as finance minister Arun
Jaitley had suggested the other day?
Common sense and experience would suggest neither. Yes, the situation
presents a golden opportunity for Islamabad, which makes no secret for
its support to militancy and separatism. But the kind of protests that
are rocking the state, especially southern Kashmir, definitely have an
element of popular support. We would not have had a casualty count of 67
on the 46th day
of the agitation otherwise. For this reason, categorising armed
militants like Wani as ‘terrorists’ is self-defeating. For the
agitators, Wani is a hero. So you have a dichotomy which indicates two
opposing viewpoints which are clearly unbridgeable because you cannot,
under any circumstances, negotiate with terrorists.
Just what the agitators are seeking is more difficult to answer
because accounts suggest they are largely leaderless. Given their
hit-and-run actions and the fact that the protests are spread out across
a wide swathe of southern Kashmir, it is unlikely that they are being
directed by one individual or agency. That does make it difficult for
the government to engage them in talks of any kind.
However, it is clear that they represent an edge of the Valley
Kashmiri movement which, for the want of a better word, seeks self rule.
What was solemnly promised to them by the government of India at the
time of accession or even the Delhi Agreement of 1952 has not been
given. However, the BJP’s own belief is in the importance of taking away
even the shreds of that autonomy that remains. And so here, we have
another conundrum, expecting the BJP-led government to negotiate on an
issue it simply does not accept – the need for more autonomy to the
A quarter century of armed militancy has revealed that there is
nothing in the arsenal of the militants that can force India to concede
anything. Prime ministers in the past, like P.V. Narasimha Rao, said
that the sky was the limit when it came to autonomy within the Indian
constitution. Now Modi may be moving down that path. At some point in
time, there is a need to clinch a settlement. The constitution is
capacious enough to accommodate diversity, because it was designed to be
so. However, short-sighted politics and the insecurity of the security
establishment have prevented it from being applied in its full depth.
For the Modi government this should not be entirely new, as it has
been negotiating with the Naga separatists ever since it came to power
and has even reportedly worked out an agreement with them. The problem
actually arises from the Muslim-phobia of many BJP leaders and their
security advisers. This is a serious problem and will have consequences
not just for Jammu and Kashmir but the rest of the country as well.
The Wire August 26, 2016