Why Is Kashmir Quiet?

On Monday, July 04, around 20,000 Hindu pilgrims were allowed to move to the cave shrine of Amarnath. A batch of over 15,000 people from the Baltal base camp and another 5,000 from Pahalgam journeyed towards the ice stalagmite formation, a symbol of Lord Shiva.

However, there was one impediment to the visitors. It was a sudden burst of inclement weather. Nevertheless, defying that, more than 85,000 pilgrims have already performed the yatra since it started a few days back on June 29.

Nonetheless, there have been allegations that the Jammu and Kashmir government and “Shri Amarnath Shrine Board” failed to conduct the annual Amarnath pilgrimage smoothly. In that regard, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has demanded reconstitution of the shrine board. On July 04, VHP state chief Rama Kant Dubey claimed: “Pilgrims were stopped for hours without any arrangement for food or shelter and were also lathicharged and harassed during the past 24 hours.”

While the authorities are grappling with the arrival of hundreds of unregistered pilgrims, they are quite at ease with the ‘threat perception’ from the Islamic fundamentalists. After a period of doldrums, Kashmir seems to have been at peace; at least for the last nine months.

Describing the silence

A couple of lines from Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” are worth quoting here: “After a winter’s gestation in its eggshell of ice, the valley had beaked its way out into the open, moist and yellow. The new grass bided its time underground; the mountains were retreating to their hill-stations for the warm season.”

In such a landscape, as Aadam Aziz (father of the protagonist in “Midnight’s Children”) set foot on the streets of Srinagar, he was fortunate not to observe any army camp on the lakeside. He was privileged not to exchange unfriendly stares with any khaki-clad soldier. The cacophonous resonance of the coercive jackboots was not omnipresent.

Well, those times were different. 2011 marks a new decade. May be a new thought-process? Or will it?

Stephen Cohen is not much enthusiastic about it though. His despondency is expressly manifest in his recent comment regarding the fate of Kashmir. Cohen, a celebrated India-analyst based at the prestigious Brookings Institute, lamented that Kashmir dispute shall last, perhaps, another 100 years. No doubt, his lexicon is naturally flooded with showdowns prevalent in European and American history. And hundred years’ war is a patent terminology in that regard.

What he obviously implied was the ad infinitum progress (or the lack of it) of resolving the imbroglio existing in the valley, and to nobody’s chagrin, one may infer that he meant “Kashmir” on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).

From an exclusively Indian perspective, the last few months have been quite quiet in the Kashmir valley. The ‘Kintifada’ (Kashmiri Intifada) has subsided. The frequency of Bandh has depleted. The denizens somehow have bagged the mental musculature to sneak out of their wooden architecture and stroll in the parks.

However, is this temporary lull – a natural dip in a civilian-based insurrection? Or is it a forced milieu created by the supra-authorities through their gendarme and diplomatic ruse? Or is it the outcome of an intricate mélange of various conflicting parameters spanning from effective armed authority on one hand to focused administrative apparatus on the other?

Kashmir has remained a disjointed province from the Indian mainland; if not always, then at least for the last two decades. No statute is applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. For it, a special provision exists in the constitution (viz. Article 370). For the commoner, the province is ‘different’. Yet, it has always been a lucrative proposition to pay a visit to the paradise on earth.

Kolkata-based academician Esa Bose gleefully concurs with such an idea. Her brave sojourn in the valley in the second week of April this year bears anecdotal evidence to the fact that ‘normalcy’ has been restored in Kashmir, albeit may be on a temporary basis. The snow-capped serenity, reflection of the azure from the Dal lake, the strangely peaceful boulevards of Srinagar, the dome, those pigeons on the minarets and the column of erect pine trees flanking the otherwise treacherous terrain somehow effaces the red stains from the valley. The army and paramilitary, however; according to Bose, are cordially present mostly visible in Srinagar at roughly ten feet spatial intervals and gradually fade away as one peregrinates to the countryside.

Indian National Congress’ (INC) spokesperson Manish Tewari further assures the tourists [indirectly though]. In an interaction with the experts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) on April 12, 2011, Tewari spoke of concern regarding the “generation in Kashmir that has seen almost 20 years of internal strife”. He emphasised a “concrete need to reach out to this generation” of Kashmiris with “a certain amount of sensitivity, caution and prudence.”

The Business of Interlocution

To an extent it was prudence from the government of India; as its bureaucratic-policymakers came out with a masterstroke, the moment when the INC-led government was literally cornered due to the ‘mass’ protests in tune with the Palestinian Intifada. The decision to ‘deploy’ a set of three interlocutors, in line with the British legacy of appointing committees to ‘resolve’ outstanding issues, has worked remarkably well. The credibility of the interlocutors, a couple of them at least, that is of Radha Kumar’s and Dilip Padgaonkar’s was never under scrutiny. Their infiltration into the hearts and minds of several sections of the populace has implemented the status quo at least. Their ‘penetration’ has stirred the ‘big-fish’ agitators. For instance, Hurriyat Conference suspended one of its important constituents—the Ittehad-ul- Muslimeen (IUM), led by Maulana Abbas Ansari just because the latter spoke to the interlocutors!

In October, 2011, one year term of the interlocutors will end. On Friday, July 01, chief interlocutor, Dilip Padgonkar said that they would submit a composite report over political, social, economic aspects to the Union Government by October this year. Padgonkar also said that the political settlement was in the hands of the Centre. “We are here only to assess the situation and talk to every section. The overall political settlement is in the hands of central government,” Padgaonkar uttered.

At the same time, he cautioned thus: “Finding a solution might take some time. Decision in haste would be a futile exercise.” Nonetheless, the senior journalist was reluctant to air his team’s proposed roadmap in public.

On the other hand, Padgaonkar’s colleague in the committee, MM Ansari outlined a ‘solution’ to the vexed Kashmir problem in an article for Greater Kashmir. He wrote: “panchayat provides an ample opportunity to resolve all the outstanding issues, which have contributed to the process of alienation among the people.”

He was of the opinion that the status of pre-1947 Jammu and Kashmir has changed. And since the provinces are administered, in parts, by India, Pakistan and China, presently, it seems almost impossible that in the foreseeable future any of these countries would ‘vacate’ the occupied territories for which they have fought prolonged wars at huge political risks and economic costs. Hence, it might be inferred that the interlocutors’ approach to solving the quagmire would be through a nationalistic prism, without diluting the territorial integrity of the Indian Union.

Whether Padgaonkar and others would succeed in eliminating the popular grievances or exterminating the cross-border encouraged militancy is not for sure. But what they have done and would continue to do for time to come is the creation of a conducive atmosphere for the people-friendly army to take over and proceed with its Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM)-based counter-insurgency operations.

Role of the Military

And Lt. General Ata Hasnain seems to be the fittest person for the job. “The first Muslim officer to command the Army in Kashmir in two decades, Hasnain is attempting to bridge the divide between the Army and the people with his ‘heart as weapon’ doctrine,” reported Muzamil Jaleel for the Indian Express on April 16, 2011. The General’s penchant for a WHAM-based approach reverberates when he utters: “Times have changed and the Army cannot limit its role to military operations. We have to look at security in much more comprehensive terms.”

A ‘pro-people’ army under Hasnain’s command, compounded with the diplomatic agility of the interlocutors exhibit the capability to suppress the grotesque revelation, as articulated by Basharat Peer in Granta, that there might be mass graves in Kashmir; dug up by the Indian forces.

Peer wrote a gripping piece, travelling through the lanes and alleys of Srinagar, lined with walnut trees and turrets and then climactically watching the Kashmiri Intifada at the boulevard of the city. He has given graphic details of the history of the militant movement since 1989. The sad part of the whole piece was the title of the story. It read as “Kashmir’s Forever War”.

Will the ‘war’ in Kashmir go on for another hundred years or more or forever?

Indeed, Peer terms it as a ‘war’, a war with the Indian state. Apparently, he presents an unbiased picture of the stone-pelting Kintifada in his article at Granta. However, on closer look it appears that he might have missed a couple of points. Like, he does not talk about the plight of the Kashmiri Pundits. He does not talk about any demographic cleansing. As a mainland Indian, it is disheartening to discover that Indian forces could be so brutal, as portrayed by Peer. Or maybe, that is the very essence of Realpolitik, the very ingredients of counter-insurgency, which we as city-bred, potato-fleshed, chicken-hearted individuals are not able to fathom, let alone digest.

Can there not be any solution to the Kashmir issue? Can there be a referendum in Kashmir? Would that be detrimental to India’s (and Pakistan’s for that matter) prestige in the world fora? A believer of realism in foreign policy would reply in the affirmative. Geopolitically, India may not afford the loss of Kashmir. But who would be held responsible for the reddening of the orchards in times to come—the Indian [Pakistani] state, the Kashmiri separatist strand or the western importation of the concept of nation-state itself?

Of late, the army has come under fire from the civil society and to some extent, bit strangely, from the young Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, with regard to the continuity of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in the valley. As reported in South Asian Idea, Corps Commander Lt Gen Hasnain “very candidly and politely reiterated the oft-repeated stand of the Army” as regards to AFSPA.” He said that the Army had been fighting a proxy war in Kashmir which is a mix of guerilla war, war of attrition and war against disinformation. Naturally, it was a different experience for the Indian Army which has fought three conventional wars against Pakistan. According to Hasnain’s reading, the militants use civilians as their shield and the Army is committed to protecting the civilians.

Actually what can be inferred from Hasnain’s comments is that civil society’s dig at AFSPA has been dexterously used by the militants in their ‘information war’. Thus, withdrawal of AFSPA would be a tactical victory for the militants. After all, in a post 9/11 era, guerilla wars are basically a subset of Fourth Generation Wars; which contain the element of a propaganda war as a decisive component.


 KASHMIR CONFIDENT OF CONTINUING CONFIDENCE BUILDING


The summer, this year, has ushered in a confident Jammu and Kashmir. The law and order situation has been peaceful, the tourists have arrived at in the valley in large numbers, the infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) has been at a twenty-year low, and the Government of India continued discussing confidence building measures with Pakistan during last week’s foreign secretary-level talks.

The Indian delegation led by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao did not display any allergy when the “K” word came up at the talks.

The delegations reportedly spent nearly four hours discussing the Kashmir issue. The confidence building measures are expected to result in a liberalised visa agreement, increase in trade and travel across the (LoC) and better banking linkages.

It has been noticed that there was a suggestion from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq that the Kashmir issue should be discussed with Pakistan.

Only hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani felt that discussions with Pakistan were a waste of time. The Omar Abdullah government has taken several positive steps that have enabled the Central and State Governments to look forward to a peaceful summer after two years of violence during the tourist season.

There have been significant changes. The panchayat elections in the state have seen massive participation. The State Government has indicated that it is committed to implement devolution of maximum amount of power to the grassroots. Steps are afoot to set up a State Finance Commission that will help devolve financial powers to the newly elected bodies.

The allocation of Rs 6, 600 crores as the annual plan outlay for Kashmir—600 crore more this year—is expected to spur development in the state. Moreover, Rs 1, 200 crore will be received by the state under the Prime Minister’s reconstruction programme. The Planning Commission has suggested that some initiatives should be taken to further improve public-private partnership in the development of both physical and social infrastructure.

Significantly, the controversy as to whether there would be a ‘rotation’ in the government has been set to rest. Home Minister Chidambaram, who reviewed the security situation, said on June 21, that the Centre and the Congress are happy with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and there will be no rotational chief minister in the State. “Everybody in the Central Government is happy with Omar as Chief Minister. I make it clear that there will no rotation.”

Chidambaram also noticed that the security situation has improved in the valley and one does not find the Army in civilian areas like Srinagar city. It is confined to the barracks and the borders only. He drove around downtown Srinagar to feel the real situation.

Commander of the 15 Corps Lt Gen SA Hasnain also reviewed the security situation and disclosed that so far no infiltration has taken place this year. Two attempts by militants to sneak into Kashmir were foiled. He said: “This is for the first time that infiltration has come down to zero in last 20 years.”

One hopes that the peaceful environment would spur tourism and economic activities, which would result in increased employment. The paramilitary forces are expected to recruit over 3000 youth this year.

The Amarnath yatra has already commenced. The government has to deploy additional battalions of paramilitary forces, which would return to their barracks soon after.

It is expected that the committee appointed by the State Government to consider the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from certain areas of the state where security scenario has improved, would submit its recommendations soon. One also expects that the group of interlocutors comprising noted journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, Prof Radha Kumar and MM Ansari, would submit its final report to the Central Government.

Looking back, the violence during the last two summers were largely due to elements working against the state to neutralise the massive participation of the people—61.47 per cent—in the assembly elections in 2008.

Steps taken by the State Government to deal with lumpen elements and the reaction of the majority of the people who are keen to maintain peace towards the activities of separatists and their over-ground workers has succeeded in improving the situation in the valley. The stage is now set for meetings between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan later this month. And India would not be shying away from the “K” word during those talks. (Himalayan Affairs)

 By Ghazunfur Butt


 The Disruptive Elements and Pakistan Factor

Did Mirwaiz Umer Farooq mean business as he urged the Pandits to return to the valley? Addressing a Friday gathering at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar on June 10, 2011, he said: “We have always maintained that Kashmiri Pandits are an inseparable part of society and their return should not be linked to the resolution of Kashmir issue. No one here says that they should return only when the Kashmir issue is resolved.”

On the other hand, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Muhammad Yasin Malik, has said that despite using military might during the past six decades India has not succeeded in breaking the resolve of Kashmiri people to get freedom from its bondage. Addressing a conference on 04 July at Tahab in Pulwama, Malik said, “Resolve of Kashmiris to achieve freedom could not be broken in 63 years. Even the military might and the repressive measures could not suppress the aspirations of the Kashmiris.”

He nevertheless, urged scholars and religious clerics to educate people in brotherhood and harmony. Thus, he too, albeit indirectly, along with Mirwaiz was hinting toward a ‘secular’ Kashmir—a move probably too late in the day in order to resurrect the image of the hardliners.

Now, nobody would receive adulations or extra benefits to reveal that Pakistan still abets terrorism in Kashmir: for historical reasons. But it is worth mentioning a New York Times (NYT) report of July 03, 2011 which claims that the “Pakistani military continues to nurture a broad range of militant groups as part of a three-decade strategy for using proxies against its neighbours (read India) and American forces in Afghanistan”.

Such a statement flowed from a former militant commander, who chose to remain anonymous while divulging the details to the American daily. Of relevance to India was what the former commander told about Kashmir. He informed that Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment (read the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI) has not abandoned its policy of supporting the militant groups as tools in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the border territory of Kashmir.

To have an evaluation of the numbers, Pakistan has, according to the said NYT report, 12,000 to 14,000 fully trained Kashmiri fighters, scattered throughout various camps in Pakistan, and the latter is holding them in reserve to use if needed in a war against India.

Yet, as per the information revealed by the unknown commander, “Pakistan has been losing the fight for Kashmir, and most Kashmiris now want independence and not to be part of Pakistan or India.” Since September 11, though Pakistan has redirected much of its attention away from Kashmir to Afghanistan. Lots of Kashmiri fighters are not interested in that Jihad anymore. This, may be, another reason for the present lull in Kashmir.

Amusingly but on expected lines, commentators based in Pakistan continue to reprimand India with regard to the decades-old Kashmir issue. One analyst, writing for The News, says: “How many pretexts would India give to avoid constructive talks with Pakistan to mend the festering wound?”

As if to buttress the irrational arguments of his fellow analyst, Dr Raja Muhammad Khan in the daily, Pakistan Observer, posits: “By creating instability in Pakistan, India desires to entangle Pakistan in a situation where it is unable to concentrate on issues like Kashmir. Provoking armed conflict within Pakistan by its neighbour (India) would mean promoting terrorism. Should not international community question India for such an act of global concern?”

Actually, matters have been further complicated by the puerile statement made by India’s incumbent Prime Minister. In order to shed the tag of a ‘shy politician’, Manmohan Singh recently met editors. In that conversation, Singh had said: “Pakistan will leave Kashmir alone, because they have their own share of internal problems”. Naturally, such verbiage has inflamed the atmosphere, more so, as it appears somewhat incongruous on the sidelines of the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary level talks.

Thus it can be said that Composite Dialogue may not be on the agenda of Indian policymakers, at least in the immediate future. And Pakistan would continue to grumble about that matter. Even Nawaz Sharif has taken offence at Manmohan Singh’s remarks and publicly expressed his indignation.

What Lies Ahead?

At this juncture, it may not sound too chimerical that the recommendations of Padgaonkar and his associates, clubbed with effective policing and aided by lack of military activities by the Islamic fundamentalists would resolve the Kashmir issue to a significant extent.

More jobs, better infrastructure, and an amiable Army could create the milieu where separatist elements would be further marginalised. However, integration into mainstream politics of the Mirwaizs and Maliks could possibly satiate their lust for power. The two-decade-old bedlam in Kashmir may be assuaged, if the Government of India proceeds tactically with its WHAM-based counter-insurgency efforts and if it keeps on ‘talking’ to the citizenry.

One thing will not happen for sure. Parting of ‘the territory’ by India is out of question. Academician Prof Sukh Deo Muni once informed this author over a chat in Facebook that India had ‘unofficially’ confirmed its stance of treating the LoC as the de-facto boundary. Prof Muni argued that keeping the agenda of Kashmir as the ‘core issue’ does not stand its ground anymore.

Holding a plebiscite in the valley seems anachronistic as the Pandits need to be re-ordered and the ‘percentage demography’ needs to go back to pre-1946 levels, which again, require a lot of doing and a similar amount of ‘undoing’.

Vijay Kumar Joshi retired as the Director, Northern region, of the Geological Survey of India (GSI). He worked in Kashmir for a number of years and shared his rich experiences with the author. He asserts: “A number of times I have mingled with the villagers in the remote places of Kashmir. I have a strong feeling that the Government of India perhaps did not pay heed to the local voices since the very beginning. During Sheikh Abdullah’s regime subsidy on food was so much that quality rice was available for Rs 1 per kg. Kashmiris were pampered and treated not as Indians but as something like Jamayi babus.”

To mention Joshi further: “When a common geologist like me could make out the sinister motives of some elements in the villages, the so called agents of the government were perhaps snoozing! And I am talking of a period when Kashmir was a heaven for Bollywood films. No one imagined what is going on inside the villages.”

It can be concluded that concessions and subsidies won’t serve the purpose. Kashmir needs to be treated on a par with the rest of India. Then only a proper integration is possible.

By Uddipan Mukherjee

 

 

 

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