Hopeless solutions

THE DISCOURSE heard most loudly in New Delhi is that it wo­uld be magnanimous to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), as if this were the cause of the trouble, overlooking the fact that it has been the failure of governance both in New Delhi and Srinagar that has led to the present unhappy state. This misplaced grandst­anding establishes an unfortun­a­te equation between terrorists and a sovereign Army by sugge­s­ting that if the AFSPA were withdrawn, i.e. the Army went ba­ck to the barracks, then the terrorists would also withdraw as a quid pro quo. The AFSPA is a legal empowerment given by the nation to the Army to legally pr­o­tect the Army while it physically protects the nation against the kind of elements we have seen in Jammu and Kashmir. True, there have been very bad slippages and an empowered Army must also be accountable and transparent. But to pretend that if the AFSPA were to go away the violence and the political mess in Jammu and Kashmir would ma­g­ically disappear, is being self-delusional. The Army has not fired a single bullet on the streets of Srinagar or at any demonstrators elsewhere during the recent troubles. Let us not blunt our own instruments. On the other ha­nd, any concession that is gi­ven now without bringing the situation under state control might only buy temporary peace without solving anything.
The other expression frequently heard is “the legitimate aspirations of the people of Kashmir”. How are these aspirations different from those of the people of the rest of the country? Surely all of them want for themselves and their families a quality of life — health, education, employment and security — that improves steadily with time, along with the freedoms and equalities guaranteed by our Constitution. Any demand outside the Constitution is, therefore, illegitimate and cannot be entertained by the rest of India. Besides, any demand must also relate to people from Jammu, the Srinagar Valley and Ladakh — to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Gujjars and Bakarwals and not only a section of the Muslims from the Valley. Meanwhile, the Kashmiri Pandits have been pushed into the arid desert of our votebank politics and sacrificed to our secular beliefs. The writings that come out from Jammu and Kashmir are only about the aspirations of the people of the Valley, the Muslim majority and not about the rest of the state. Farooq Abdullah’s recent comment that Jammu and Kashmir was a part of India that did not want to be part of Pakistan has to be repeated, over and over again.
One of the country’s mainline newspapers carried a picture of a young Kashmiri man with two stones in each hand. These sharply jagged pieces of rock hurled at some speed at anyone would be quite lethal. So those whose hearts bleed should understand that this is not the age of innocence. The destruction and burning of a school in Tangmarg in protest against Quran burning in the US which never happened was an opportunity for the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Massarat Alam to arouse religious-Islamist feelings among the youth and had little to do with political aspirations. Ensuring closure of schools and specialised institutes like the National Institute of Technology for long spells is in itself a tactic. It leaves students uneducated and, therefore, the right material for indoctrination or unemployable for want of qualifications. There is frustration either way.
It is true that there is anger on the streets that will not go away easily. The problem is political but it is one that has been created and nurtured all these years for sectarian and regional gains by one side and allowed to fester through political ineptitude on the other. One mistake has been that we have tried to reach Srinagar through Islamabad without realising that Islamabad will never let a solution be found. We have assumed that peace with Pakistan will get us peace in Jammu and Kashmir. This will never happen because it is in Pakistan’s interest to have India in this impasse. There are signs that Pakistan, beleaguered as it might be with its own existential problems, seeks to impose itself in Jammu and Kashmir once again. Statements emanating from Pakistan foreign office, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Nawaz Sharif and, not to be out done, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the ideological inspiration for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, indicate an overt pattern. The covert pattern is evident from the kind of money being handed over to violent demonstrators and the increased numbers of encounters with infiltrators. One should expect that the situation will be ratcheted further till at least US President Barack Obama’s visit in November.
The question is what to do next. Surely the writ of the state must be seen to be running first. The people of the Valley have to be made to understand that the rest of India will not allow another partition; nor allow any kind of autonomy that the rest of the country does not have. It has to be made clear to the people of India — Jammu and Kashmir included — that no government in the country has the mandate to alter the status of the Valley.
The main demand in the Valley would be to ensure that justice is delivered and seen to be deliver­ed. It is no use throwing in more mo­ney now; the state is not exactly poor with its high rate of subsidy and a nationally competitive per capita income. The youth of Jammu and Kashmir need to be drawn out of their feeling of discrimination and deprivation. Instead, New Delhi should be offering opportunities to them to seek education in the rest of the country which makes them employable and accepted all over where they will get what the rest of the youth in India get nothing more nothing less. This will broaden their horizons and keep them away from the growing influences of bigotry which, in turn, has to be tackled separately.
There will be resistance to all these efforts, even sabotage. It is a long haul but we need to persist. It will take time. Amalgamation always does.

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency

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