The Prime Minister’s flip-flop political and diplomatic efforts so far have not brought peace in Kashmir.
People of Kashmir remind Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP of the foremost poll promise made in 2014 to 130 crores people of India that Kashmir imbroglio shall be resolved. The promise has not only failed but the situation has worsened in the past four years both in the Valley and along the Line of Control (LoC). Now that 2019 Lok Sabha polls are approaching, the BJP would be seeking votes and if Kashmir is not salvaged from its worst-ever mess then Mr Modi’s image of a strong leader will take a beating.
The BJP has parted its company with the PDP. In the past BJP-PDP alliance was termed as a strategic partnership in dealing with the Kashmir affairs. Now the BJP has brazenly dumped the ruling partner by paving the way for Governor’s Rule. The BJP leaders say the decision to pull out of the government came a day after conditional ceasefire for Ramzan ended. Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had reportedly demanded an extension of ceasefire in the Valley. She pleaded it had brought hope and peace in the minds and life of the people. Security forces while giving power presentation to home minister in a review meet in Srinagar had termed the truce as 70 per cent successful. In the past, the Army and other security top brass had said that Kashmir peace can’t be brought about by military action; it is a political problem that requires a political solution.
Ram Madhav, the BJP-designated trouble-shooter in Kashmir, said that the Mufti government failed to contain militancy and radicalisation of youth in the Valley. “The situation in the Kashmir Valley has deteriorated... radicalisation is on the rise,” Mr Madhav said. Nobody in Kashmir buys such explanations. Instead the state has an opinion that Mr Modi has failed Kashmir.
One of the causes of the new-age turbulence is attributed to betrayal of democratic expectations and promises made by Mr Modi and the BJP in the run-up campaign in 2014. The youth had participated in large numbers in the electoral process in the 2014 state Assembly elections and voted out the incumbent government. The so-called “North Pole-South Pole” alliance of the BJP-PDP was a positive consequence of the promises made. Now the ground reality is that the government has failed the people. How to win back the trust and goodwill of all the sections of people, keeping in mind their aspirations, is the challenge in Kashmir.
Kashmir deserves to be managed by a “grand vision” that can encompass a comprehensive process to resolve the imbroglio instead of dithering. The question remains whether Mr Modi and the BJP have any out-of-the-box vision and the will to resolve the issue? The Governor’s Rule temporarily may bring some positive changes on the security scenario, but it can’t resolve the people’s aspirational issues. The anti-terror operations were already a great success in civil rule as most of the top terrorist leadership were killed before the Ramzan truce.
How to tackle the rising recruitment to the militant ranks of even highly educated youngsters is a crucial task ahead. Militancy in the Valley also seemed to be changing qualitatively with fidayeen (suicide) attacks taking place over and over again.
The subtle people’s support to militancy seen in the large participation in funerals of the slain militants and large-scale protests across the Valley, are issues that should worry all citizens and the government in particular.
The militancy in the Valley, however, also seems to have developed an autonomous raison d’etre in the absence of a comprehensive policy.
The worrying phenomenon for the nation is the deep mass alienation caused by adhocism and mismanagement of Kashmir affairs from time to time. The unrest in Kashmir has always been attributed to cross-border hostilities and terrorism. But the unabated turmoil and political turbulence in the Valley is rooted deep in the denial of justice, disrespect to legitimate aspirations and frequent skullduggery resorted to by New Delhi.
It is a time when international players are active on peace initiatives in South Asian region. Recently a UNHRC report asked for international investigation for human rights violations in J&K, PoK and Afghanistan. US President Donald Trump is said to be wanting to mediate between India and Pakistan. He would be encouraged after his success with North Korea to get involved in brokering a deal on Kashmir if he pushes Pakistan hard on what the US wants in Afghanistan — the longest war in American history and one where it has invested heavily in men and materiel. The Indian subcontinent is bound to be impacted by Mr Trump’s shaking up of international relations. Indian diplomats and Kashmir policymakers have to tailor the perceptions accordingly. Therefore, dumping and discrediting a Kashmiri chief minister more so the current one — Mehbooba Mufti — who staked her political niche by partnering with the BJP, a right-wing party generally perceived anti-Muslim, and standing with conviction for accessionist polity in Kashmir at critical times has not gone well with Kashmiris. Local watchers see in it as an insult and yet another political blunder by Mr Modi.
The changing character of the insurgency/militancy is a serious warning. An urgent policy correction at all levels — policy perceptions, governance and a strategic shift — is needed to prevent escalation and further radicalisation.
Kashmir analysts are surprised that New Delhi’s policy and its political managers are so incompetent, apolitical and naive, as not to be willing to leave any space or room for the Kashmiri leadership to exert a moderating influence that could prevent youngsters from taking up the gun.
Kashmir has been on the boil for more than 29 years. Tens of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers, have died and almost the entire population of Kashmiri Pandits exiled. Kashmir affairs are seemingly messed up. Terrorism has rendered the state, especially the Valley, without liberty and individuality. It has devastated the economy, education and normal living pattern, the plural ethos, and imperilled institutions. The societal psyche is turning cynical and despondent and that is what Pakistan and militancy have managed to do with the people of Kashmir.
In the name of self-determination people have no voice of their own and the emotions are controlled and charged by proxies. People know the disastrous consequences of the harm Pakistan and terrorists have done to the current and future generations of Kashmir. But the anti-India sentiment that has grown over the years is so strong that people refuse to see the logic.
The government should acknowledge that use of military force is not a solution to the complex situation in Kashmir. It has to be a blend of engagement and dialogue with all the stakeholders. It is the psychological, attitudinal, social, political and economic grievances that need to be addressed. Therefore, the government should worry more about winning back the trust of the people and let terrorism be handled by the security forces.
Tourism, education, health services, law and order, developmental activities and public grievances system have collapsed or stand completely eroded. Democratic institutions have been marginalised and discredited. Drugs, black-marketing of essential goods, smuggling of timber, hawala and fake currency have become the backbone of a parallel conflict economy.
People are making a connection between the heating up of the LoC and terrorist attacks in the state and proxies of the Pakistan Army. The argument goes that by using terrorist proxies, the Pakistan Army distances itself from terrorist attacks and pays no price for its subterfuge. The “robust” response of the Indian Army this time around, it is said, is meant to punish the other side by specifically targeting Pakistani Army posts.
New Delhi needs to approach issues keeping in sight the fact that India’s strategic interests are intertwined with the goodwill of the Valley’s ordinary people, including Kashmiri Pandits, and not the land alone. Before the new-age violent unrest and upsurge gets further out of hand, New Delhi needs to deal with the issues with a “grand vision”.
The Union of India needs to act now and engage with the youth of today and Kashmir’s leadership in a serious dialogue. Political dialogue with all the stakeholders is an internationally acknowledged jurisprudence for conflict resolution. For New Delhi, it would be the prudent and astute political approach for a resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio.
The Prime Minister’s flip-flop political and diplomatic efforts so far have not brought peace in Kashmir. Therefore, a change of policy is the only way forward. Kashmir calls for peace and its people crave for a peaceful life for future generations.
The writer is a senior Supreme Court lawyer and chairman Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group. He can be reached at email@example.com