M K Dhar
Needless confusion has been created by the group of interlocutors through their report on a “New Compact” with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and those who have trashed it as lacking in novelty and ignoring the basic issues involved in normalising the situation in the State and meeting aspirations of the people. The current lull in insurgency is due, not so much to the success of the operations launched by the security forces, as to the conscious decision of Pakistan’s cunning military leadership not to engage in two fronts simultaneously. The ISI-sponsored Jihadi activity along the eastern border with India has been reduced to concentrate forces on the western frontier with Afghanistan to deal with the rebellious tribal groups and with coalition forces under attack by the Taliban sponsored by them and continuing US drone attacks to eliminate troublesome Al Qaeda and Haqqani Taliban fighters. Policy makers need to break free of the belief that the last two summers were idyll, as things could change suddenly as the Generals decide to turn their attention towards Kashmir to again build pressure on India to resolve outstanding bilateral issues.
Though the interlocutors have done a thorough job within the limits imposed by their term of reference, they have said practically nothing new that has not been said before. The problem of Centre-State alienation is as old as the country’s independence and numerous committees, commissions and interlocutors have been commissioned by Governments of the day to defuse the situation, douse the fires and buy temporary peace. Their recommendations, too, follow a set pattern and you could not grab anything novel or showing the way out of the crisis situation, which needs resolution over the long term.
The Centre has contributed its share in messing up the situation and has not succeeded in evolving a solution in consultation with the many sake-holders, with security stability and development in mind. The basic issues of misgovernance, administrative corruption, excesses of the security forces, lack of employment opportunities for the youth — which is tempted to join the ranks of stone-pelters in the streets — miscarriage of justice, lack of efficient grievance redressal mechanism and, above all, machinations of opportunistic and dishonest politicians, have never been addressed in a thorough manner.
Then, there are those who dole out advice on the lines that India should settle the Kashmir issue with Pakistan and the internal situation in the State, created by Islamabad and its agencies through jihadis and hired local fighters and their leaders, will resolve itself. The Pakistani dimension of the issue has been exploited by many interests politicians of various hues, the Islamabad created Hurriyat, the mercenaries, the administrators and equally also by many agencies. The sufferers are the people who feel being used to serve others’ interests, with their basic needs and interests being neglected.
The stratagem has been used so often as to lose all credibility. A novel feature of the three interlocutors’ report is that the Union Home Ministry, which set it up, has yet to consider it and come to any conclusions, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Hurriyat conference have both rejected it as a futile exercise aimed at obfuscating the issue. Their main recommendation to set up a Constitutional Committee to review all Central Acts and Articles of the Constitution applied to the State after signing of the 1952 agreement, is a hot potato few would like to touch, least of the UPA Government which is now pre-occupied with ensuring its own stability. Pakistan would not have been able to exploit the Kashmir issue internationally had it not resorted to terrorism and had the Indian State not failed to manage the situation internally, in association with local politicians, and foil Islamabad’s designs. This is not happening even now and yet politicians are taking the lead in demanding re-adjustment of Centre-State relations.
The committees and interlocutors appointed since the days of Sheikh Abdullah in 1977 wrote their reports and departed and their labours seem to rest at the bottom of the Wular Lake. The Governments’ failure was demonstrated by the uprooting of the entire Kashmir Pandit community from the Valley and conditions have not yet been created for their honourable return in safety and security. Having brought about a communal polarization in the Valley, Pakistan found it easy to infiltrate jihadis and create local sympathizers and organizations to target the security forces and unsettle the situation. Promises to grant autonomy were made from time to time but have not been kept till today. Article 370 of the Constitution accords a special position to the state and Central Acts have been applied with the concurrence of the legislature and have, by and large, benefited the people.
Nobody has seriously talked about eroding this Article and even the BJP led NDA Government at the Centre did not dare tamper with it inspite of including a promise to do so in the party’s manifesto repeatedly. Only authoritarian regimes detest democratic laws and have no regard for the fundamental rights of their people. The demand for application of Central laws arose during Sheikh Abdullah’s early phase because the people were denied democratic rights, free speech, fair elections and right of appeal to the Supreme Court which had not existed till then. Some other laws, including those pertaining to labour, industrial development, women’s rights, ensuring speedy justice etc too were similarly introduced, not to tighten the grip of the Indian State — as the ruling National Conference is fond of saying — but to allow the people to seek justice in case of highhandedness by the State. If experience has shown that some Central law are regressive and have worked to the disadvantage of the people, these should be examined and relevant Amendments carried out through a wide consensus. Tampering with the Constitution is neither necessary, nor desirable and Art 370 provides enough safeguard against encroachment of the State’s autonomy.
No doubt, application of Public Safety Act, the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Power Act has raised complaints of misuse, which need to be addressed. In the first place the police force and the Army, which are doing a commendable job tackling insurgency, need to be given fresh lessons on respecting human rights and not misusing the power available to them under these laws. There should be a reappraisal of these laws and Amendments made to prevent their misuse though the Army is strictly against repeal of the AFSPA. It is a myth that some of the Acts have abridged the State Government’s powers to cater to the welfare of the people and should be repealed. Those who make such recommendations, including some political parties in the state, ought to convince the people as to how return to a pre-1952 status will enhance their democratic rights, protect their freedoms and human rights better than now.
The issue that are being debated over and over again had been addressed by the five working groups set up after the Prime Minister’s Round Table conference in May 2006, which submitted their reports in 2007, but were soon forgotten. The most crucial one submitted by the panel headed by the vice-President Hamid Ansari had addressed most of these issues including improving the condition of people affected by insurgency, rehabilitating widow and orphans affected by militancy, an effective rehabilitation policy, including employment for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, allowing Kashmiri youth to return home from areas in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, review of cases of detenus held without trial or for minor offences and consider grant of amnesty to them and review of AFSPA. Other related demand, such as, thinning out presence of security forces from populated areas and confidence-building measures, which have been made in the past, also deserve serious consideration.
It is obvious that peace in Jammu and Kashmir is also contingent on improved relations between India and Pakistan. As Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has said the goal should be to make the LoC “irrelevant” and it should become a symbol of concord and cooperation. Some movement in the direction of trade liberalization has begun and other steps also need to be taken. But the Pakistan Army may again turn spoil-sport and reverse the civilian Government’s policy of improving relations with India.