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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 32 New Delhi July 30, 2016

Solution to the Kashmir Problem

Tuesday 2 August 2016, by Sandeep Pandey

On July 8, 2016, the Supreme Court said that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, in force in parts of the North-East and J&K, cannot be an excuse for extrajudicial killing—whenever such allegations surface they have to be investigated regardless of whether the person is a dreaded criminal, terrorist or an insurgent. On the same day a young militant, Burhan Wani, was killed in an encounter with the security forces. We don’t know whether it was a case of extrajudicial killing. Prashant Bhushan says it was a fake encounter. Extrajudicial killings have been going on quite freely. The case in which the above judgment has been delivered has a list of 1528 deaths in counter-insurgency operations in Manipur from which the Court has sought details on 62 which are suspected extrajudicial killings. And Manipur is a small State compared to J&K.

Moreover, the turnout at Burhan Wani’s funeral indicates two things—either the killing was perceived to be extrajudicial or he is viewed by the Kashmiri youth as more than just a militant. He represents the aspirations of the Kashmiri youth because of which they like to associate themselves with him even taking the risk of facing fire from the Indian security forces. The experience of Burhan Wani at the hands of the Indian security forces when they beat him up and humiliated him is the same that every Kashmiri youth faces at some point or the other and even repeatedly. Most simply pocket the insult. Some, like Burhan Wani, revolt against it and in the process become a militant. There are a number of organisations from across the border which are ever willing to train such youth in the use of arms and explosives and guerilla warfare, even though Burhan is not believed to have received training in Pakistan. He was the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen at the young age of 22 years.

The basic question is: who or what is responsible for the birth of militants? Pakistani terror organisations or the policy of the Indian state which alienates the youth of the Valley? Why is the demand of Omar Abdullah as the then Chief Minister of J&K and for which Irom Sharmila has been fasting in Imphal for the last 15 years— the removal of AFSPA—not being met? Only a reduced presence of the security forces can lead towards a situation of normalcy. But the security forces scuttle this idea.

A political problem cannot be treated like a law and order problem. The Indian state must accept that there is disaffection in Kashmir and the political views of the national political parties and the people of Kashmir probably differ greatly. The only way out is dialogue with not just the political parties but all sections of separatists and insurgents in Kashmir which the current BJP Government at the Centre seems to be disinclined towards. It is not that the government doesn’t talk to such groups. In Nagaland they have had an agreement with the separatist groups. Moreover, if the government is not talking to the separatists in Kashmir, then it is sure recipe to push them towards Pakistan, for which then the govern-ment should not blame them.

At a time of grief and crisis a refreshing approach has been offered by the former Home Minister, P. Chidambaram. He has differentiated between the land of Kashmir and the people of Kashmir. He argues that successive governments of India have worried about the territory of Kashmir in their zeal to maintain Kashmir as an integral part of India but have failed to take the people along. The people have become more and more alienated because of the government’s policies.

Considering that P. Chidamabram was the Home Minister, it is commendable that he has expressed his opinion so candidly and taken a position very radically different from the traditional official position of the government.

Chidambaran advocates honouring the promises made by India to J&K at the time of its accession to India. He argues for more autonomy to J&K, allowing them to frame their own laws as much as possible as long as they don’t conflict with the Constitution of India. He calls for Indians to respect the identity, history, culture and religion of the people there.

Chidambaram has made a surprising revelation that he was in favour of withdrawal of the armed forces from the civilian areas and for them to be posted only in border areas but the defence establishment did not agree to it. In any case he thinned the security forces by 10,000. He also wanted the State Government to be responsible for the day-to-day law and order situation but again the security forces were not agreeable to this proposition.

If Chidambaram and Omar Abdullah were allowed to work on their ideas, the situation would have been completely different today. People would have been spared the presence of the security forces among them which can be oppressive and humiliating. If people had felt more involved in running their own government they would have also felt the responsibility to maintain peace. It is possible that still some extremists would have continued to operate. But then it must have been left to the Kashmiris to deal with their fellow citizens to try to convince them to leave the path of violence.

Right now the presence of the Indian security forces for such a prolonged period makes them look like an occupying force. P. Chidambaram says we cannot preach to Sri Lanka to respect the democratic rights of its Tamil minority when we’re not able to do it with the Kashmiris.

If human rights violations take place because of the presence of the security forces, we cannot expect the Kashmiris to trust the government. The ultra-nationalist view of the present government in power in New Delhi makes things worse. They know only one way to deal with their opponents—that is, to remain tough. It is beyond their imagination to talk to the people whom they consider as anti-nationals. They just can’t perceive that whom they consider as anti-nationals may not be so in the eyes of the people of Kashmir. They could even be their heroes. Unless the government starts seeing things from the Kashmiri perspective, there would be no headway towards resolution of the Kashmir conflict.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.