Amidst the continuing violence and protests in J&K, it appears that the army is gaining ground gradually. The government, both at the centre and the state have displayed the resolve to not bow down to the militants. However, at some stage a dialogue must start between the government and the selected groups. When should the government take the initiative to get the groups concerned on the table? The author tries to answer such questions and debates various issues that impinge on them.
TOWARDS A SOLUTION IN KASHMIR
A lot has been written and discussed on the future of Kashmir. There are two broad opinions being projected in social media by those following the current scenario in Kashmir. These can be divided into hard and soft options. The hard option talks of an immediate solution, which includes revoking article 370 (whether it can be, is another issue), creating secure colonies for Kashmiri Pundits and possibly even trifurcation of the state into three parts (again debateable legally on the issues governing accession and merger), alongside enhancing military power to ensure the writ of the state is enforced. The soft option implies a steady move towards resolution, including first winning trust and resolving current issues. It avoids measures which could further alienate the population.
The second option implies moving steadily, rather than hastily as in the first; hence would be slow and with setbacks expected periodically. In both cases, enhancing military power to control militancy, giving a free hand to security forces to counter Pak’s aggressive designs and to control levels of violence remain the central theme. Endorsing the second option and its methodology is the theme that this article examines.
Clear lines are required for talks with concerned stakeholders. There is a school of thought which believes that the government must initiate dialogue with the Hurriyat and Pakistan, amongst others. This school is supported by the National Conference (NC) leadership, some elements of the Congress and PDP. Some out of the limelight politicians even rushed to meet the Hurriyat, but like those before them, returned empty handed and shamed. They believe that the Pakistan-Hurriyat combine holds the key to the future of peace in J&K and hence are a part of the solution.
The present Modi government has clearly ruled out this school of thought. It firmly believes that talks with Pakistan cannot be conducted under the barrel of a gun, as every time it has taken a step forward, an incident vitiates the atmosphere. Further, unless offer for talks are supported by their army, albeit surreptitiously, it is unlikely to make any headway. The Hurriyat is unwilling to discuss within the gambit of the constitution as also refuses to condemn the violence, hence talks with them are futile. It is known that they are puppets of Pakistan and only have one thought, plebiscite, which is no longer possible. Hence, the government considers both as being a part of the problem. The two schools of thought are thus diametrically opposite. Therefore, a third school of thought needs to emerge.
Again, there are limited avenues for the third school. There is no second rung leadership which has the trust of the locals, mainly the youth, with whom the government could discuss, once it isolates the Hurriyat. The Hurriyat has ensured this. Political parties, including the two main Valley ones, NC and PDP, are unwilling to participate; fearing political isolation. The youth presently agitating remain unorganised. Only a few thousand participate, holding the state and its population to ransom. Therefore, no single group is openly available for talks. Local militants are incapable of uniting akin to those in the North East, under a single banner, enabling talks. The only option for the centre, if it desires talks, is to create a group of its own comprising of respected elements within society. The difficulty is, nominating those who could influence the population. Presently, no such group appears visible in the near term.
The next aspect which needs to be considered is when does the government initiate a dialogue, if any, to resolve the ongoing impasse. If it acts in the present volatile scenario, it could convey a message that it is initiating action solely because the Kashmir Valley is slipping out of its hands. Alternatively, it could wait for a semblance of near normalcy (complete normalcy is unlikely in the near future), then its actions could be considered being undertaken from a position of strength. This approach had succeeded in creating peace in other militancy affected areas in the North East and Punjab, where the army created conditions of near normalcy, forcing militant groups into the defensive, permitting the government to initiate dialogue.
In each case the government was patient and awaited the right opportunity, however, in a modern communication driven world, where social media rules, such patience may not be feasible and hence the government may be rushed.
Pakistan is aware of the options open to the Indian government and has created an unending supply of cannon fodder (militants) aimed to thwart these options. Its funding of the violence through the Hurriyat and pushing in militants, irrespective of failures and losses is solely aimed at denying the Indian army from gaining the upper hand. The deep state, comprising the Pakistani Army and the ISI, is firm in its belief that their ultimate aim of wresting Kashmir would succeed employing their present approach, and hence refuses to permit its own government from initiating dialogue. Thus, for the Indian government a stalemate remains a part of its plans for moving ahead; an environment which suits the deep state as the Indian army continues to remain embroiled in Kashmir.
The government adopted an offensive policy for handling the present situation. It has permitted the army to enhance its offensive actions along the Line of Control (LoC), while inducting additional forces for counter infiltration and counter militancy operations. The intention is to make it costly for Pakistan in terms of destruction of defences, resulting in increased vulnerability in the long term, human costs and decline in its internal political support and reputation. Simultaneously, the police and CRPF have been given leeway to control stone throwers, while the NIA has been unleashed to control funding and isolate the Hurriyat. This in nutshell appears to be the first phase of the government’s strategy.
With no suitable groups to initiate dialogue, the only option available lies in the government unilaterally announcing its initial proposals, seeking views and talks with anyone willing to participate. This again is fraught with risks, as its offer could be twisted and exploited by opposition parties and anti-national elements. Hence the governments, both at the centre and the state are stalemated in their future course.
An out of the box option could be tying the Hurriyat in legal tangles and threatening criminal actions to a level that they may be compelled to agree to a dialogue.
Before initiating any action, there are some pre-requisites which would need to be fulfilled. These include creating a conducive environment by reducing the numbers of infiltrated and local militants, containing violence and isolation of the Hurriyat.
The next requirement is perception management. This needs to be handled at the state and national levels. At the national level, all television discussions stereotype Kashmiris as anti-nationals, whereas the fact is that a few thousand, unemployed and misguided youth hold the state to ransom. Channels should be advised to invite local youth seeking a brighter future and a peaceful environment to share their views, rather than always selecting the same anti-national activists.
Simultaneously, at the state level, activities which involve the youth should be enhanced. The army has proved time and again that sporting events have been great successes, even in troubled times in the Valley, and witnessed wide participation while enhancing bonding. The presence of thousands of youth despite calls for boycott at recruitment rallies for the army and police indicates the levels of desperation for a better life, sans violence. Enhancing employment opportunities is a critical necessity.
What can the government offer, which could be acceptable by the masses, barring the pro-Pak Hurriyat and a few thousand misguided local militants and their supporters? Plans for development have regularly been made, funds pumped in, but corruption and bad governance has ensured that the local Kashmiri is denied the benefits. Not much has changed in rural areas. The government cannot offer plebiscite or freedom, however it can initiate action to build confidence and allay fears which exist in local.
J&K is the only state which acceded but did not merge, implying it has maintained its pre-independence boundaries (while those of other states have been regularly altered as per national requirements), has its original flag and constitution. Hence, local fears emerge from losing this identity. Another fear is that a Hindu majority government at the centre, in coalition with the PDP may attempt to change demography and engulf a Muslim majority Kashmir. This fear was propagated by the NC and the Hurriyat, based on the assumption that the government was seeking to create secure colonies for Kashmiri Pundits and ex-servicemen. Rumour mongering only added fuel to fire on these issues. The governments both at the centre and the state had to clarify, in parliament and state assembly, that there is no such intention. Thus, the government should first dispel such fear in open statements.
Secondly, the government needs to revisit the autonomy issue, mainly based on the terms of merger of the state. By granting autonomy in areas, which do not affect national decision making, to the state, it could recreate confidence that there are no plans afoot to disturb the status quo. Once these issues are addressed, confidence restored, then the government may move ahead with offers for development. Amongst the first actions in development is enhancing civic facilities including power generation, employment enhancement and better educational facilities. Providing corruption free governance and accessibility to government representatives would go a long way in restoring confidence. Simultaneously, the state government must initiate talks with student bodies of colleges to understand grievances and seek remedies.
The move towards a solution may sound systematic; however, every step is fraught with pitfalls and roadblocks. Movement ahead must be in stages, one step at a time. Pak would continue to thwart all attempts and dislodge the process, but perseverance and diligence would ultimately pay. Confidence, building trust and good governance must move hand-in-hand. The role of the state government is pivotal. It must seek to create a second rung of leadership, acceptable to the youth, with whom discussions can progress with the passage of time.
We need to remember that no problem was resolved overnight. The Naga insurgency is still being resolved. In J&K, with active interference by Pakistan, it may take longer. Sole military force has never been the answer, it has always been resolution by political means with the army only shaping the environment. The nation needs to realise that all Kashmiris are not anti-India, but those who are, dominate headlines. Patience is the key, however unless initiatives begin, a stalemate would continue. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, reaching it needs careful negotiation.
Maj Gen Harsha Kakar (Retired)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)