In the wake of the terror attack near Pulwama on February 14, which led to the death at least 40 CRPF jawans, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that forces have been given a free hand to tackle militants in Kashmir. This is, ironically, no different from what he has been saying all along — we need a robust, aggressive, no-talks policy in Kashmir.
It’s sad this government has steadfastly refused to hold any talks with Kashmiris, even while he had proclaimed from the ramparts of Red Fort in 2017 that the Kashmir problem can be solved only through embrace, not bullets.
“How is the josh” cannot substitute for a coherent policy. Josh has to be supported by a concrete action plan, which unfortunately appears to be missing where Kashmir is concerned. There is confusion and a feeling of adrift in the corridor of powers about Kashmir, leading to the present situation.
Soldiers keep losing their lives, fighting militants and young men keep taking to militancy in Kashmir, but the government has no clue how to stop it. They pander to their vote bank by talking of abolishing Article 370 and 35(A) but are unwilling to walk the talk.
In fact, they happily formed a coalition government in Kashmir along with PDP whose opposition to the abrogation of both articles is well known. The government keeps arousing emotions on the issue of “Pandits”, but have no clarity on what they plan to do to enable their return to Kashmir.
Rhetorical repetition of the words of Atal Bihari Vajpayee “Insaniyat, Jumhuriyat aur Kashmiriyat” (Humanity, democracy and Kashmirityat) are thrown about, without a road map to implement it, and it does not make for sound policy to look for resolution without it.
The interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma is shown scant respect by the stakeholders, perhaps because they know that his advice carries no weight. Shunned by separatists, he is reduced to talking to people who are not relevant.
The Kashmir policy of this government is based on denial and some underlying assumptions, which are erroneous.
Firstly, assuming that militancy is entirely fueled from outside (i.e. Pakistan is true only to a limited extent). Pakistan exploits the prevailing sense of injustice amongst Kashmiris. Government fails to acknowledge the importance of neutralising the internal causes leading to the present situation.
While it has to be conceded that the problems in Kashmir started much before the present government took power. It is the amateur handling of the situation, which is leading to further deterioration of the situation.
The common Kashmiri has only a woolly idea of what is “azadi”. He is certain that he does not want Kashmir to go to Pakistan. He also is sure that an independent Kashmir is not a viable option. They need to remain within India but still want azadi. When asked about their idea of azadi, I was told by Kashmiris that they wish to live with dignity without “oppressive restrictions imposed upon them in the name of controlling militancy”.
This sense of alienation is further accentuated by the perception that all of them are being viewed as militants or militant sympathisers. Their loyalty to the nation is always suspected. The infamous case of “human shield” is case in point.
Whether the person was guilty of stone-pelting or not, was not the issue, Kashmiris feel that the officer used him as a shield just because he wanted to save “us” (personnel of Indian Army) from “them” (Kashmiri). Shortsighted acts like awarding the personnel the Army Chief’s Commendation sowed further divide.
The government, headed by Mehbooba Mufti had an Agenda of Governance (AoG), but they were widely viewed to be dishonouring important commitments like (A) review of the necessity of “Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)” and (B) no dilution of Article 370.
Major objections against Article 370 are that it prevents the application of Indian laws to the state of J&K without the approval of the state Assembly. However, it will be found that most of the provisions of the Constitution and the laws are now applicable in Kashmir also. Therefore, the practical implications of autonomy, or “azadi”, that they now seek are limited to the extent of being allowed to lead their lives peacefully.
Furthermore, if provisions of law and the Constitution can be extended by following due procedure without stoking nationalistic passions, why keep raising the issue of Article 370? Don’t we have many similar provisions in the Northeast and even Himachal Pradesh?
Also, if we can talk to Mizo and Naga separatists for decades and resolve issues, why can’t we do so in the case of Kashmir?
The second assumption is that the Kashmir problem has communal overtones. The notion that it is all led by Wahhabi Islam is a myth. This narrative has been propagated and has gained wider acceptance, specifically in the last few years.
As I wrote in the piece, the Kashmiris are aggrieved by the perceived sense of discrimination and everyone being branded as terrorists. Kashmiri culture is seeped in Sufism, which shuns communalism.
While a few who are indoctrinated by Islamic propaganda cannot be ruled out, branding everyone with same brush leads to further alienation. Policy, driven by such thinking, is bound to show Kashmir as a communal problem, rather than an issue to be decided politically.
Thirdly, assuming that success in eliminating militants leads to the elimination of militancy is incorrect.
In fact, if we compare the militancy related casualties in the last decade as people gained faith in the dialogue process, these decreased significantly from over 4,500 in 2001 to less than 400 in 2009.
Violence declined because people endorsed the dialogue process initiated by the Vajpayee government. Repeated efforts of the Vajpayee government to bring pro-separatist Hurriyat and even Hizbul Mujahadin for talks led to a reduction in violence. Chances of peaceful settlement got a boost with the option of autonomy within the Constitution.
This political shift resulted in relative calm over the ensuing years, with tourism and business in Kashmir flourishing. However, the stance of no dialogue has led to the deterioration of the situation.
June 14, 2018 report of UNHR Office called for respect of human rights of the people of Kashmir and POK and called for inquiries into the allegations of abuse.
India dismissed the report as fallacious and accused the UN human rights chief of prejudices.
Denial of any human rights violation thus gives legitimacy to the case like that of “human shield”, whereas it accounts to a war crime, according to Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.
Such denials embolden perpetrators to repeat offences. Government by treating the UN report as an opportunity to act against violators would have given an unambiguous signal of its good intentions.
The Kashmir problem is not a military problem nor an economic problem, which can be merely addressed by ensuring development. It is a politico-social problem which has to be addressed through dialogue and reconciliation with all stakeholders.
The security forces can be only expected to carry out the task of bringing violence levels under control and facilitate an environment for dialogue.
Sanjiv Krishan Sood is a Retired Additional Director General of Border Security Force. Having put in over 38 years of meritorious service he has served along all the borders of our country with Pakistan and Bangladesh including eight years on LC, and in the sensitive Samba Sector of J&K. A security analyst, his interests include Border Management, issues of topical interest, the role of security forces in Security Matrix of India, politics and humour. He tweets at @sood_2--NC