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Mainstream, VOL LII No 29, July 12, 2014

Has Government a Kashmir Policy?

Monday 14 July 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

There is no dearth of serious thinking in this country over the festering crisis in Kashmir. Perhaps no other issue in our polity since independence has stimulated so much thinking—both in-depth and widespread—as the question, what to do in Kashmir. Across the entire spectrum of our political parties, Kashmir gets high priority.

What is more significant is that a degree of introspection is visible over the Kashmir question which is missing on many other important questions facing the country today. Even in circles generally regarded as pro-establishment, one discerns quite a lot of rethinking, even reviewing objectively some of the actions and calculations of the past. In short, there is hardly a sacred cow with regard to Kashmir today—undoubtedly a very congenial augury for the search for a durable solution of the Kashmir crisis.

In recent years new issues have come up with regard to the Kashmir crisis. In the past the international aspect of the Kashmir question as perceived in our country was equated with the approaches and attitudes of the Western powers and Pakistan’s lobbying in the UN and Islamic forums. The Cold War conditions ensured for India a degree of unthinking support from the Soviet bloc because it virtually became an item of superpower rivalry over India. Whether it is the exercise of the Soviet veto in the Security Council deliberations or Khrushchev’s flamboyant bluster at Srinagar that he would send his forces the moment we shout across the mountains, there was an assured international support for New Delhi’s Kashmir record, no matter whether it was good, bad or indifferent.

All this has now changed. There is no question of fetching political dividends over Kashmir from the Cold War. At the same time, the end of the Cold War has not meant that Pakistan could get blank-cheque support from the Western powers. If Kashmir has been a complex issue for India, it is no less for Pakistan.

Along with the wholesome endeavour at reviewing and reappraising past decisions—which appears to be widespread barring a die-hard section which could see nothing wrong in most of the developments in the past—new issues have come up in relation to Kashmir which hardly attracted notice ten years earlier. An important item on this count is the question of the violation of human rights. At the beginning there was a tendency to pooh-pooh it as Western-inspired to discredit the Indian official record. But what is noteworthy today is that the human rights aspect of the Kashmir question has attracted a lot of attention at the national level. Some of the intrepid activists in our country have come out boldly on this question. The old tendency to cover up our own faults for fear of attracting adverse international response has largely disappeared, and a healthy urge in our country to be fair and objective has been perceptible in recent times.

In the last one week two important publications dealing with the Kashmir question have made their appearance, Kashmir: The Troubled Frontiers by Major General (Retd.) Afsir Karim, and another, Kashmir: The Wounded Valley by the distinguished journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea. The launching of these two publications provided occasion for public discussion on the Kashmir question by a whole galaxy of specialists, scholars and political personalities ranging from former Jammu and Kashmir Governors B.K. Nehru, Jagmohan and G.C. Saxena, to political leaders like Farooq Abdullah and Saifuddin Soz, as also Rajni Kothari, Mani Shankar Aiyer, Jaswant Singh, jurist Soli Sorabjee, former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit and former civil servant Nirmal Mukherjee, to say nothing of media practitioners, H.K. Dua and Dileep Padgaonkar.

Obviously, diverse views were expressed at these gatherings about the past, present and future. That was noting unexpected. What is, however, striking is that both the books as also all these important figures, who mould the public opinion of this country, came out with certain common observations, cutting across party lines and reassessing past happenings wiht a rare absence of inhibition. And out of these very useful talks emerged certain common points of convergence.

First, everybody seems to agree that the military presence can hardly bring peace and stability to the trouble-tossed Valley. While the need for military action to put down armed militancy is acknowledged by many in India, hardly anybody—not even the Army brass nor the cast-iron bureaucrat—claims that tran-quillity and stability can ever return to the Valley by force of arms. There may be difference in assessment about the intensity and spread of militancy, whether it is hit-and-run guerrilla actions or more effective insurgency, but few would deny that the presence of the Army in the Valley could at best be a temporary emergency, not a final solution at all. Neither history nor geography warrants the assumption that any guerrilla militancy could be liquidated by military means. What the armed forces can do is to contain militancy and not eliminate it. For the liquidation of militancy what is needed is political intervention. This has been the lesson from all over the world—from Vietnam to Sri Lanka, Africa and West Asia. And the Indian armed forces leadership is not unaware of this hard reality.

Secondly, it is almost unanimously agreed that there is widespread alienation of the Kashmiri people, alienation from the Indian state machinery and also to a substantial measure, from the Indian public. No doubt that has come to a large extent by the manner in which the political process in Kashmir was allowed to be corroded by promoting sycop-hancy and large-scale venality and everything was winked at in the name of emergency, that Kashmir being in the front-line of confrontation with Pakistan, there need not be any meticulous observation of democratic norms.

However, the basic flaw lies in the inability on the part of authorities to perceive respect and nurture the psyche of the Kashmiri people—what is called the Kashmiriyat, the unique, eclectic cultural heritage of the Valley which manifests itself in the urge for self-expression and politically to some form of self-determination. The contribution of Sufism with its stress on the synthesis of cultures as demarcated from the controntationist attitude of orthodoxy, whether Muslim or Hindu, can hardly be ignored in the development of the personality of Kashmir.

This is a point which was emphasised by B.K. Nehru in his lucid intervention and elaborated with great scholarship by Ajit Bhattacharjea in his book. It is also to be noted that the neglect of this Kashmiriyat has been brought about by mindless mishandling from New Delhi as in equal measure by the infiltra-tion of Islamic bigotry across the border from Pakistan. How to restore this precioius matrix that is the rightful heritage of the people of the picturesque Valley is a challenge that faces not only the government at the Centre but all political parties across our country.

Thirdly, it is acknowledged that there could be no settlement of the Kashmir problem without the governments of India and Pakistan engaging themselves in free and frank talk. No matter whatever the obstacle for such an undertaking there could be no peace in Kashmir without involving Pakistan in such a settlement. Not only because the militants get arms and support from Pakistan, but because a good part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir is today under Pakistan. Right from the day of Kashmir’s accession drama—more precisely, as part of the accession drama—Pakistan can hardly be ignored in any settlement of the Kashmir crisis.

Fourthly, it is recognised on all hands that no settlement of the Kashmir question can come without starting the political process. For that, the urgent need is to begin talking to all parties concerned—from the acknowledged political parties to the Hurriyat conglomerate and even the militant with the gun. The old stand that New Delhi would talk to only those who would subscribe in advance to their allegiance to the Constitution no longer holds good. A useful suggestion made by Mani Shankar Aiyer was that to begin with there should be election to the local bodies, and then step by step towards Assembly poll. As the crisis in the Valley has become grave there is need to begin talks with all, and out of protracted talks would emerge a pattern which can lead to settlement. It is also recognised that the degree of autonomy to be needed to bring about a settlement in Kashmir would have to be much wider than is envisaged anywhere today.

And this brings one to the last point in the current discussion on Kashmir: what really is the Centre’s policy towards Kashmir and who really runs Kashmir from New Delhi? The unedifying spectacle of the Union Home Minister being bypassed by his Minister of State who runs his own Think Tank on Kashmir. The government having his own approach. The intelligence set-up, its own assessement. The Prime Minister’s Office has its own line, if it has one at all. The totality of this bizarre spectacle brings out the shocking state of paralysed inaction at the Centre.

At this point of time, therefore, any solution of the Kashmir crisis hs to start with the Centre. That is, the Centre has to have some clear thinking and a unified coordinated command to put that thinking into practice. The starting point of the journey to Kashmir, therefore, is New Delhi at this moment. 

(Mainstream, May 21, 1994)