Mainstream, VOL LIV No 43 New Delhi October 15, 2016
Understanding Kashmir Imbroglio 2016
Sunday 16 October 2016
by Ram Puniyani
In the din of hysteria created around the military action on the LoC, which was in response to the killing of 18 Indian Army jawans in Uri, the issue of anguish of the people of Kashmir has been undermined. As such India-Pakistan skirmishes (September 2016) are mostly centred on the issue of Kashmir. On one side India’s claim is that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India and no power on earth can separate it from India. Pakistan, on the other hand, raises doubts about the Kashmir’s accession to India, and says that as it is a Muslim majority area and it should be part of Pakistan. The attack on Uri by terrorists killing 18 Indian soldiers has rekindled the issue once again. The whole episode actually began with the killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commandant who was killed in an encounter by the Indian military. After his killing there were two types of reactions yet again.
The Indian media presented it as a big achievement in cracking down the militancy. A section of the Kashmiri people was shocked and they started coming out on the streets to protest. The manner of their protests has been that of stone-throwing on the police-military forces. In the painful incidents which followed, nearly 80 people have been killed, over 9000 people got injured and many of those injured suffered pellet injuries leading to the loss of their eyes and penetration of pellets into different parts of their body. Some Army-police personnel have also received injuries. The resulting situation led to the imposition of curfew in the State and this curfew had been the longest curfew which was imposed in the State.
In an attempt to restore peace, various efforts have been made by the state. Union Home Minister Rajnath Sigh visited the Valley to hold discussions with the State leaders. His and the stand of the Government of India has been that they will not hold talks with the separatist leaders. When the all-party delegation visited the Valley some of the members of the delegation like Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja tried to meet separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani, who refused to meet them.
Curfew was lifted after nearly two months, but the situation remains tense. With the attack by the terrorists in Uri, the whole focus has shifted to the issue of terrorism. As far as the disturbances in Kashmir are concerned, the government is alleging that the protestors are a mere five per cent of the population and they are being instigated by Pakistan. Surely Pakistan has some role in keeping the Kashmir issue alive to bake its own political bread. But the discontent of sections of the Kashmir people has been simmering and has reached a peak in the last few years. The youth in particular are disgruntled due to the feeling of alienation. The people of Kashmir are double victims. The acts of terror are a regular nuisance to peace in the Valley. No less is the violation of the civil rights of the people from the armed forces. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is operational in the area, gives impunity to the armed personnel leading to the regular harass-ment of the innocent civilians in the area.
Amnesty reports emanating from Kashmir tell us the extent of such violations. The Amnesty International’s report, released in Bangalore, begins with defining the scale of human rights violations in Kashmir that have been perpe-trated by the security forces personnel with glaring impunity. The report states that from 1990 to 2011, the Jammu and Kashmir State Government reportedly recorded a total of over 43,000 people killed. Of those killed, 21,323 were said to be ‘militants’, 13,226 ‘civilians’ (those not directly involved in the hostilities) killed by the armed groups, 5369 security force personnel killed by the armed groups, and 3642 “civilians” killed by the security forces.
The AFSPA, which gives the Army sweeping powers, leads to extra-judicial executions and other human rights violations. Section 7 of the AFSPA makes it mandatory to seek the prior sanction of Central and State authorities in order to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts. Under the pretext of protecting national security, the excesses of the security forces go unchallenged. 96 per cent of all complaints brought against the Army in Jammu and Kashmir have been dismissed as “false and baseless” or “with other ulterior motives of maligning the image of Armed Forces”.
It is in under these circumstances that every incident in Kashmir acts as a flaring point and the youth in particular come to streets to protest in large numbers. Their deeper dissatisfaction with the state of prevailing affairs is very painful. In the civilian areas there is a practical Army rule, nearly six lakhs of Army personnel have been deployed there for years. The people of Kashmir do not have the feel of democracy for years and this leads to a deeper dissatis-faction; it is not just a Pakistan-inspired problem, while the role of Pakistan in instigating the protests is very much there.
What is the way out? The UPA II had set up a three-member interlocutors committee. They in their report wanted the clauses of autonomy of the Kashmir Assembly restored; they also emphasised on dialogue with the dissident militants and with Pakistan. There has been a constant demand to remove the AFSPA from the region and to reduce the number of armed personnel in the area. The present coalition of the PDP and BJP, which is ruling the State, is very ruthless as far as dealing with dissidence is concerned; their stand of not talking to the dissidents has prolonged the restlessness in the area. Pakistan’s role with the attack on Uri and before that in Pathankot has vitiated the atmosphere further. One remembers that during the election campaign the BJP used to assert that with Modi in the seat of power, terrorists dare not attack! That hollow boast stands exposed. The need for peace in the area, the need to give the Kashmiri people an era of calm is needed in an urgent manner. Pakistan needs to be engaged on matters related to Kashmir. The treaty of accession of 1948 giving autonomy to Kashmir needs to be respected. The report of interlocutors was a major and balanced approach on the issue. It needs to be brought forth and considered seriously for bringing in peace in the region.
The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.