Monday, October 28, 2002

An agenda for a new Kashmir

JAMMU AND Kashmir rarely opens up to new opportunities. In the last 13 years, the window has opened only twice. After the 1996 election, the National Conference Government could have, had it acted with greater wisdom and maturity, translated the electoral verdict into sustainable political peace and economic stability on the ground. And yet, as we know, the NC squandered that popular expectation because of its cavalier attitude. The 2002 Assembly election has pushed the window almost fully open. The new People's Democratic Party-Congress coalition Government has a real chance to channelise the people's vote for peace and prosperity into the construction of a "naya" Kashmir. And yet, as we know from past experience, the window could quite as easily shut back and it may take years before a new opening can be made.
The unfortunate political differences between the PDP and the Congress over the creation of a coalition Government for the first 15 days after the declaration of results had begun to scar the popular psyche. And yet, this scar will vanish if the new Government addresses the real hurts and hopes of the people of the State. Indeed, if the delay has resulted in a firmer commitment to a common minimum programme and in the determination to make a real difference, the loss of a fortnight may begin to be recognised, in retrospect, as a blessing in disguise.
The common minimum programme is an imaginative document, but the focus of attention should be both on short-term and medium-measures that can generate and sustain a process of change. The first hundred days must be used for assuaging the hurt of the average resident of the State and in making powerful gestures and signals, but the period beyond the first few months must be employed in making a significant difference to the quality of life of everyone in Jammu and Kashmir. In the 1940s, the National Conference, supported by the Congress, released its Naya Kashmir Manifesto: a document that electrified the State and transformed Jammu and Kashmir's politics, economics and society. There is a chance now for the new coalition Government to do the same in the first years of the 21st century.
Three short-term measures are self-evident. First, it is critical to build on the sentiment against violence and in favour of democratic processes. In Jammu and Kashmir today, there is an overwhelming sentiment against violence, irrespective of its origin or intent. Militancy may not be down and out, but it has lost its popular legitimacy. A large number of credible field surveys and opinion polls reveal that over 90 per cent of the Kashmiri people "disapprove" of violence. The elections too demonstrated that a large section of the Kashmiris is once again willing to give democracy a chance.
This widespread feeling can sustain itself only if people are empowered to more actively fight those who spread violence and terror in their name. This can only happen if there is an opening up of the political and civil space, by making the people rather than the security agencies the real bulwark against terrorism. While this may suggest a need to adopt radical measures, what is required is a gradual approach. Let there be a glasnost for the Kashmiri people, but care must be taken that this freedom is not used by external forces that are seeking to once again victimise the Kashmiris.
Second, it is vital to be as inclusive as possible and begin a dialogue with even those who may have stayed away from the election. It is clear that the PDP has won considerable support in the Valley, and the Congress has the mandate of the people from Jammu. But there are groups and individuals who supported others, or who were unwilling to participate in the elections. The main political groups in Ladakh and the separatists in Kashmir are just two examples. Including these groups in a dialogue is essential if the democratic process has to be carried forward, and their non-inclusion in the shaping of a new Kashmir may provide them with few incentives not to be subversive. Indeed, practical politics and political magnanimity, admittedly in rare supply these days, demand that even the NC is not excluded from such a process.
Finally, it is essential to meaningfully engage the rest of India including the Central Government. The State Government cannot hope to rebuild Kashmir in isolation; it requires a massive concerted effort of the Indian nation. It must be recognised that there is a growing sentiment within Indian civil society and powerful sections of the Central Government that partisan or sectarian agendas cannot be allowed to dictate policies towards Jammu and Kashmir. This feeling can only be tapped, however, if the State Government adopts an accommodationist rather than a confrontational agenda. The Congress has already demonstrated its willingness to be "generous" and go the extra mile. This should now reflect in its overall approach towards the State.
The medium-term agenda for the State must be focussed on that over-used but still relevant cliche: providing good governance. But reaching out to the people in Jammu and Kashmir must not become an excuse for providing sops and adopting populist measures. In fact, there are four essential pre-requisites for ensuring good governance in Jammu and Kashmir. One, a strong and stable economic infrastructure that can unleash the entrepreneurial potential of the people of the State as well as generate employment. Two, an accountable, streamlined and people-sensitive administrative machinery. Three, a speedy grievance redressal system that that includes an upright and effective Judiciary. Four, a revival of Kashmir's traditionally tolerant society and its expression in the form of Kashmiriyat. All four have been absent in the State for most of the last decade. Only if these are in place can we hope for an economically viable and politically and socially stable Jammu and Kashmir.
Finally, it is critical that the rest of India recognises the importance of Jammu and Kashmir and the urgent need to rebuild it. Jammu and Kashmir's uniqueness is obvious for a variety of historical reasons recognised even by the Supreme Court. More important, however, is Kashmir's singular importance to the very idea of India, which is often forgotten, that must now re-enter the consciousness of the political elite. A Muslim majority state that voluntarily acceded to India in 1947 lent tremendous strength to the construction of India as a vibrant, secular and pluralistic state. The battle, therefore, to recover the trust of the Kashmiri people is critical not just for the recovery of the ideals that inspired Indian nationhood, but also central to the war against obscurantism.
In other words, there must be a realisation that Kashmir must no longer be dealt with the kind of political ineptitude and bureaucratic inertia that has often characterised New Delhi's policies towards many other States over the last decades.

(Source: The Hindu, 28/10/02)

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The Musharraf conundrum

THERE IS a temptation to view Pervez Musharraf's recent diatribe against India, on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly, as having been provoked as much by domestic compulsions as by tactical considerations. And yet, even as the more charitably disposed will seek linings of silver in the General's dismal outpourings, for many in India the speech seems to validate, what may have at one stage seemed like a harsh judgment, that it is going to be extremely difficult to do business with Pakistan as long as the present regime continues in power. This is a growing view, even amongst those who are neither driven by any atavistic antagonism towards Pakistan nor are impervious to the imperfections of the Indian polity. The real challenge for India is, however, to convince its international interlocutors that this view of the General is not driven by the ferocious zeal of narrow nationalism, but is its considered verdict produced by sober analysis based on considerable evidence. For, increasingly, the Indian view of Pakistan's President is appearing to be in Manichean contrast to that being propagated by many Foreign Ministers across the western world. Consider two aspects of these differences in perception.
First, there is clearly a growing view within the United States, and amongst many of its allies, that Gen. Musharraf is a reliable ally in the war against terrorism and extremism, and that he has — in the post-9/11 period — almost acquired statesman-like qualities. Not surprisingly, the popular American newsmagazine, Newsweek, included the General on its cover in the issue to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The Indian experience would suggest almost exactly the opposite. Not only is the General unreliable, but is driven mostly by considerations of political expediency. To be sure, the Pakistan President is a shrewd tactician, but opportunism rather than vision seems to be the leitmotif of the military regime. Moreover, in an Indian view, the General swiftly buckles under pressure and threats but is rarely amenable to the power of reason or dialogue. There is a huge body of evidence from the recent past that can be garnered to support this assertion.
Gen. Musharraf's flip-flop on Pakistan's support to terrorism in Kashmir is just one example. The international and Indian pressure mounted on the military regime, in the aftermath of the December 13, 2001, attack on India's Parliament, clearly forced the General to make his famous January 12, 2002, speech, and admittedly the infiltration from Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir came down for a couple of months. But as soon as the pressure relaxed, terrorists began operating with impunity in Kashmir with Pakistan's support. Similarly, the Indian threat of military action after the terrorist attack on the Army camp in Kaluchak on May 14 this year again saw the General promising, a week later, to put an end to infiltration, only to dilute his commitment in an interview to The Washington Post once the threat of war had receded. Subsequently, not only was the farsighted Hurriyat leader, Abdul Gani Lone, assassinated, but scores of moderates were killed in a desperate attempt to subvert the electoral process in Jammu and Kashmir. In Lone's case there is reason to believe that elements within the core of Pakistan's establishment decided to eliminate him after his confrontation with the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence in Dubai. What does this reveal about Gen. Musharraf? Is this the commitment and vision of a statesman? Or is it the skulduggery of a dictator who believes that he can continue to vacillate on terrorism in Kashmir since the U.S. desperately needs him as its satrap in the region?
Second, the myth being perpetuated by Pakistan-watchers, across the Western world, that only the Pakistan army, particularly under the leadership of Gen. Musharraf, can build the foundations of peace with India. True, Pakistan's army, because of the long history of praetorian rule, is unarguably the most powerful institution in the country, but it is also the organisation that has the greatest vested interest in the continuing conflict with India. The growth in power and influence of Pakistan's armed forces has much to do with the long saga of enmity with India. There is little evidence, beyond anecdotal instances and an occasional statement, to suggest that the army today is willing to deny itself the most important reason for its existence and sustenance.
Superficial budgetary cuts in Pakistan's defence expenditure reflect in reality the pressure from international financial institutions, rather than the acceptance that the conflict with India cannot be continued. Instead, the belief that the strategy of bleeding India "through a thousand cuts" has worked is still finding expression in the statements of important voices within the armed forces. Admittedly, a deal with Pakistan's army is likely to be challenged in the short term within the country only by extremists, but the armed forces have the least incentive to make peace with India. More important, in the long term, it should be clear that the road to stable peace in the subcontinent can only be on the basis of shared values, especially those that are backed by public opinion and rooted in mature democratic political systems. This has been the experience across the world, and there is no reason to believe that India and Pakistan are exceptions to this strong global norm.
Moreover, Gen. Musharraf has shown no evidence of a readiness to compromise or do a deal with India. It is clear to even the most naive watcher of South Asia that at the moment there can only be two ways of making peace between India and Pakistan. The preferred Indian route, driven by numerous examples from other regions, is to end violence, establish confidence-building measures at the military and particularly the nuclear level, normalise relations in all areas and engage in a dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir even while recognising that there is no instant mantra that can resolve the bilateral aspects of the problem. The only other way, which finds backers within Pakistan's establishment, is to take head-on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. But even here, the only way out, as many rational Pakistani analysts admit in private, is to accept a solution on the basis of the status quo, and work towards converting the Line of Control into a Line of Peace, to use the words made memorable by the Pakistani leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto before the Shimla Agreement. In the days preceding the U.N. General Session, there were reports that Pakistan may be willing to accept such a conclusion, but such an outcome was categorically rejected by Gen. Musharraf in New York.
But if the Pakistan President is unwilling to build confidence in other areas until the Kashmir problem is resolved, and also rejects the only possible solution to Kashmir acceptable to India and the international community, and, meanwhile, continues to support the forces of terror in Kashmir, what purpose can be served by engaging him? Surely, the purpose of a dialogue should not merely be to accord legitimacy to a dictator because he happens to be the flavour of the season in the U.S. State Department. This is a message that needs to be conveyed to India's friends in the West in the starkest terms.

(Source: The Hindu, 17/09/02)

Monday, August 12, 2002

A vision for Kashmir

IN A little over a month from now, the first phase of polling will begin in Jammu and Kashmir. As of now, no political party in the State, other than the ruling National Conference, seems to be enthused by the elections. If this trend prevails, there is serious danger of a low voter turnout, and this would, whether we like it or not, erode the credibility of the polls. However, even at this late stage, it may be possible to create the conditions under which all those who do not participate in the electoral process will find themselves isolated from the bulk of the people in Kashmir.
But this requires the immediate articulation of a clear vision for Jammu and Kashmir by the top political leadership of this country. And the obvious choice is the Prime Minister on August 15, from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
The coming elections to the Assembly have, for better or for worse, acquired a special importance. The international community, especially but not only the United States, believes that elections could be a decisive step towards restoring peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Reports indicate that officials from both the U.S. and the European Union countries have been urging separatists to demonstrate their strength by participating in the elections. New Delhi has also signalled that it will not resume its dialogue with Islamabad until elections in Jammu and Kashmir are held in an atmosphere free of violence, suggesting thereby that an escalation of violence in the run-up to the elections would demonstrate bad faith on the part of Pakistan.
Moreover, there is some evidence that in the Kashmir Valley too, especially in the rural areas, there was, until a few weeks ago, a groundswell in favour of elections. And while it is almost certain that there will be no officially mandated international observers, there is no doubt that this is one election that will invite unprecedented media scrutiny. As one foreign journalist pointed out recently: "The Assembly election will invite at least as much attention as the Agra Summit last year."
And yet, the reality today is that the announcement of the polling schedule by the Election Commission has not generated much enthusiasm among the Opposition parties in the State.
Indeed, even many of the pro-India political parties have expressed strong reservations about the elections, while most of the separatists have already declared that they will not participate in the polls. Many Opposition leaders had hoped that a period of Governor's Rule would ensure that the electoral contest was not one-sided, but becomes a so-called "level playing field".
In addition, many moderate separatist leaders had been asserting that a dialogue, and the announcement of a few confidence-building measures by New Delhi before the announcement of the polls would make it easier for them to enter the electoral fray without losing credibility with the people. Conversely, if the Opposition parties, including the separatists, do not take part in the elections, the NC is likely to sweep the elections without much of a contest.
However, it is likely that, under these circumstances, the polling percentage will be very low and threaten to reduce the elections to a farce. Even the NC, under the untainted leadership of Omar Abdullah, is unlikely to be satisfied with such a result.
Is there a way out? Clearly, the polls cannot now be postponed and the decision on whether or not to have Governor's Rule during the electoral campaign is one that only the NC leadership can take. But it should be still possible, with political decisiveness and imagination, to stimulate public opinion in Jammu and Kashmir in favour of participation.
If this happens, all those who decide to stay away from the polls will risk political marginalisation and lose the chance of shaping the future of the State. But this cannot possibly be achieved by Track II dialogues, quasi-official committees or special envoys. What is needed is for the Prime Minister himself, on Independence Day, a month before the first phase of polling, to outline a non-partisan national vision for Jammu and Kashmir.
But in order for such a vision to really connect with the people of the State, it must be embedded in what are the six essential "Ds" of a thoughtful Kashmir policy: Democracy, Dialogue, Devolution, Development, De-internment and Disarmament. These need some elaboration.
First, the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, needs to reiterate that the Centre is committed to sustaining real democracy in Jammu and Kashmir, in letter and spirit. And not only will the coming elections be the first step towards that goal, with the world media being able to attest to their fairness, but this will be followed by steps to ensure that democracy is truly institutionalised up to the grassroots level. Second, Mr. Vajpayee needs to clearly indicate that the Centre will undertake a dialogue with elected representatives within the framework of insaniyatand that this dialogue will be unconditional and seek to address the cumulative grievances of the people of the State. Third, the Prime Minister must promise that the demand for devolution of powers of the State will be taken up with a seriousness that goes beyond the mere appointment of special envoys.
He must also signal that there is a growing realisation within the country that separatist tendencies grow when people feel disconnected from the structures of power; devolution, in turn, ensures greater participation and accountability and a greater stake in political normalcy and economic stability.
Fourth, the Prime Minister must offer the people of Jammu and Kashmir a new phase of development and reconstruction. In particular, he must address the approximately 200,000 unemployed educated young men and women of the State and he must pledge to create a host of new opportunities for them, including ensuring that the private and the public sector undertake special recruitment drives in the State. Fifth, Mr. Vajpayee should signal that all those from the State interned in jails, without trial for many years, will be released within days if they are not being held for any serious criminal offence. Finally, he must articulate a vision of a weapons-free Jammu and Kashmir if Pakistan stops sponsoring violence.
The Prime Minister must promise to ensure that the State returns to what it was: a non-violent society where even the sight of a gun would terrify the most hardened. Much of what is stated above is drawn from the statements Mr. Vajpayee has made on Kashmir over the past two years. But the various strands need to be brought together in a composite policy.
Indeed, if the Prime Minister does outline such a vision, it could electrify Jammu and Kashmir, and the results would be evident even beyond the coming elections.

(Source: The Hindu, 12/08/02)

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Dangers of dividing J&K

A VISIT to Jammu and Kashmir is a reminder that one of the most vital parts of the Union of India continues to wait for an imaginative political initiative, which can ensure that the upcoming elections to the Legislative Assembly are credible and inclusive, in letter and in spirit. In the last month, however, a dangerous new tendency, backed by powerful forces, has begun demanding that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh be divided into separate political units.
On June 22, at Haridwar, the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a division of the State, including the creation of a separate Union Territory for Kashmiri Pandits carved out from within the Valley. Similarly, on June 30, at Kurukshetra, the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sought separate Statehood for Jammu and Union Territory status for Ladakh. In addition, the Jammu Mukti Morcha and the Ladakh Buddhist Association are leading the local campaign for this demand.
Posing as a prudent solution, this demand, if conceded, could lead to — apart from political chaos — violent social disruption in the State and create a communal polarisation that would not just irretrievably destroy the cultural and social fabric of the State, but have dangerous consequences for communal relations in the rest of India. In addition, trifurcation would forever end the possibilities of reviving the plural traditions of communal harmony in the State that had once made it a symbol of the very idea of India.
The demand for a division of the State, per se, is not new. The United Nations mediator, Sir Owen Dixon, had recommended a partition of the State in 1950, and elements within the Praja Parishad agitation of the early 1950s had also sought that Ladakh and Jammu be detached from the Valley if full integration of the State was not achieved quickly. But, in its new avatar, several factors have coalesced to produce a potentially explosive situation.
Most important is the widespread feeling within Jammu and Leh of deprivation as well as political and economic discrimination by politicians from Kashmir. While this feeling of deprivation may have some grounds, it is being exploited, as is clear, by sectarian political groups who are demanding separate Statehood for Jammu and Union Territory status for Leh. They argue that not only will separation from Kashmir ensure better governance, more economic opportunities and a greater share of political power, but Jammu and Leh will also be able to distance themselves from the militancy. In its most extreme form, ideologues of this demand suggest that it is in the national interest to limit the "area of operations" of the security forces, and that division will ensure that only one-sixth of the whole State will then remain troubled.
This logic is dangerous for at least four reasons. First, trifurcation will destroy the composite identity of the State, which has existed as one unit since 1846, and send a dangerous message to the whole nation. If Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists cannot live together in one State, can they do so in a larger entity?
Second, it will most probably lead to a transfer of Muslims from various parts of Jammu, including parts of the city, but also from Doda, Rajouri and Poonch, assuming that the whole province is made into a separate State. Third, it will lead to such deep communal polarisation that bloody communal riots will inevitably follow. It is no coincidence that the only force in the Kashmir Valley that has traditionally supported the idea of a division of the State are sections of the Jamat-e-Islami. Finally, any plan to carve out a separate enclave for Kashmiri Pandits will not just create a dangerous precedent, but ghettoise one of India's most cosmopolitan and dynamic communities.
Two other factors, it needs to be conceded, have fuelled these regional tensions. First is the Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC) report released by the State Government in April 1999. Vastly different in scope and imagination from the State Autonomy Committee (SAC) Report, the RAC recommends the reconstitution of Jammu and Kashmir's existing provinces into eight new ones. The most controversial part of the recommendations is the manner in which Jammu province is sought to broken up along communal lines. All majority Muslim areas are sought to be detached from Jammu ostensibly because they share a different ethno-linguistic character. Although no action has been taken on the report as yet, it created an impression within Jammu that the State Government is seeking to increase its political marginalisation even further. Indeed, given its controversial nature, an expert committee had been appointed by the State Government to study the RAC's findings, but the committee was wound up even before it had completed its task.
Second is the controversial Kashmir Study Group Report, `Kashmir: A Way Forward', released in February 2000. Members of the Study Group include a number of prominent academics and former diplomats from the United States and Europe and three prominent American Congressmen. Painstaking in its details, and imaginative in many of its ideas, the report suggests, as one of its plans, the creation of a hypothetical Kashmiri State, sovereign but without an international personality, which includes the Kashmir valley, but also Doda and potentially also Gool Gulab Garh tahsil of Udhampur as well as Poonch and Rajouri (all within Jammu) and even Kargil. While the report argues that areas outside the Valley have been included because these areas are imbued with the cultural traditions of Kashmir, is it a mere coincidence that all parts included are Muslim majority areas? While the report itself has not been widely circulated, many of its recommendations are being widely discussed in the State.
Regional harmony, it should be clear from experience, cannot be ensured through partitions, but through a decentralisation and devolution of financial and economic power that will treat the panchayat as the primary unit of governance. Jammu and Kashmir is not Assam or Uttar Pradesh where the carving of smaller States will provide for better governance, it is in fact a recipe for disaster.
Moreover, what is needed is the return and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandit minority community to the Valley, to revitalise the traditions of pluralism and communal harmony there, not their segregation into separate enclaves or their continuation in migrant camps.
In other words, there is as much need for a devolution of powers from New Delhi to Srinagar as there is for a transfer of authority from Kashmir to Jammu and Ladakh, and beyond to the grassroots level. Only then can empowerment and autonomy have any real meaning.

(Source: The Hindu, 16/07/02)

Monday, June 24, 2002

The endgame over Kashmir

EVEN THE most inward-looking of political observers will now have to recognise that international attention is going to continue to focus on Kashmir much beyond the present crisis in India-Pakistan relations. This sharp internationalisation of a problem that India has traditionally sought to fiercely insulate, offers New Delhi, counter-intuitively, an unprecedented opportunity. Political imagination blended with diplomatic deftness could create the conditions for a final settlement that would not just be in the long-term interests of India, but would win widespread internationalsupport. But shibboleths of the past and dogmas of the present need to be discarded if India has to play to win the endgame over Kashmir.
It needs to be first understood that even if the present crisis with Pakistan is resolved to India's satisfaction New Delhi can no longer continue with business as usual. The shield that had seemingly protected Kashmir from the knuckledusters of global opinion has been pierced irreparably. Kashmir is now out there, on the centrepiece of the agenda of every country that matters. Sensitivity to India may mean that, in the short-term, the `K' word will only be whispered in the corridors of the global power elite or that meetings on the issue may be sequestered from public view, but the trend towards greater involvement seems unstoppable. A benign Mexico may have been successfully prevented from hosting an informal meeting on Kashmir under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council, but it will be difficult to prevent the more assertive interests, including NGOs, who will be seeking to make capital out of the interest the issue has generated. Even until a couple of years ago, it was not unreasonable to believe that most Americans and a large section of Europeans would identify the Kashmir Valley most with Cashmere, the fine wool that made for haute couture. Today, not only does Kashmir evoke an image that is rarely warm and comforting, but finds a place in the column of even the most blase political commentator in the Western world.
What, however, is the dominant view within the laity and among the high priests of the international community? If indeed there is a mainstream view, it is epitomised by the recent comments of Joseph Biden, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Biden asserted that if "India is willing to make substantive changes in its policy towards Kashmir, Pakistan must be willing to accept the LoC as a border and end its support for insurgency". Clearly, there are three parts to the Biden formula, which were also being echoed by officials and non-officials in the U.S. and in Europe. First, there is the strong belief that for any movement on Kashmir the violence must end or show a significant decline. No one, but no one, believes that the politics of terror can be used to pressure Governments into making concessions. Until there is a clear demonstration that Pakistan has stopped sponsoring violence in Kashmir, there will be little attention paid to New Delhi's policies. Conversely, as soon as a judgment is made that Pervez Musharraf has translated his words into deeds, the onus will quickly shift to India.
Second, there is clearly a growing view, among those who matter within the international community, that a final settlement on Kashmir between India and Pakistan can only be on the basis of the Line of Control being converted into the international border, with minor adjustments if need be. A number of reasons are being offered by experts on why this is the only way out. For one, it is being pointed out that there have been at least three occasions when there seemed to have been a near agreement between top Indian and Pakistani leaders that Jammu and Kashmir be partitioned along the Ceasefire Line/LoC.
In 1955, the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Pakistani Governor-General, Ghulam Mohammad, are said to have agreed to a division along the Ceasefire Line with minor adjustments. Between December 1962 and May 1963, Pakistan's then Foreign Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and Swaran Singh, a senior Indian Cabinet Minister, discussed a plan for partitioning along the Ceasefire Line. In 1972, Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Z. A. Bhutto, too, seemed to have arrived at an understanding that converting the LoC into the international border was the only way out of the Kashmir conundrum. History apart, there are other important reasons why converting the LoC into the international border is being seen as the most practical solution to the Kashmir issue. Most important, a solution to the Kashmir problem, it is recognised, cannot be provided on the basis of absolutes. Absolute victory is not possible for either India or Pakistan. It is unrealistic for New Delhi to imagine that it can, with either force or diplomacy, reunify the whole of the State. Similarly, Islamabad, too, must realise that neither war nor support for terror or international pressure will force New Delhi to give up the provinces of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Moreover, it is being recognised, that rewriting boundaries in South Asia will have disastrous consequences for the region. Apart from displacing huge populations, it could lead to communal clashes bloodier than those during the Partition of India. Third, it is being pointed out, the present LoC corresponds, more or less, to a broad ethnic-linguistic division within the former princely state. Finally, it is argued that the two regions have lived as a part of India and Pakistan for more than half a century. Although they have grievances against their respective leaderships, there has been a cumulative process of integration that will be extremely difficult to reverse. While acceptance of such a move means India would have to forsake its commitment to the unanimous parliamentary resolution that calls for reclaiming the territory "under Pakistan's occupation", and for Pakistan to give up its traditional claim to all of Kashmir, a conversion of the present LoC would, in the eyes of many do-gooders, settle a problem which has defied a solution for over half a century. It is, however, the third part of the Biden formula which demands immediate attention from New Delhi. If Pakistan is expected to end its sponsorship of violence and accept the LoC as the international border, India too is expected to make substantial changes in its policies towards Kashmir. "Substantial changes" is not difficult to decode. India, it is believed, must not just be willing to hold inclusive and credible elections in the State, but also negotiate with elected representatives the quantum of autonomy the State's people feel is necessary for functional self-rule. And that the package of autonomy worked out must be guaranteed for the future, by making it a basic feature of the Constitution of India.
Implicit in the formula is the view that the conversion of the LoC would not mean continuation of hostilities. If India and Pakistan were to see the sense in such an idea, they could work toward converting the territory around the LoC into a demilitarised zone. Gradually, there could be a resumption of trade, free passage of goods and problem-free travel for people across the divide, and both Kashmirs would enjoy autonomy within India and Pakistan. In sum, rarely, if ever, in the last 55 years has there been as real a possibility of finally settling the problems over Jammu and Kashmir as there is today. The climate of opinion, internationally and within Kashmir, offers India an unprecedented opportunity. It would be a tragedy, however, if this opportunity was squandered because of political inertia or bureaucratic ineptitude.

(Source: The Hindu, 24/06/02)

Thursday, May 23, 2002

A voice of the Kashmiri people

Who was the real Abdul Gani Lone? Peace activist? Militant leader? Politician's politician? Or almost a political statesman? At some stage or another, during his long political innings, Lone had earned each one of these sobriquets. Indeed, one of the fascinating aspects of Lone Sahib's life was that even the most determined political pundit would find it difficult to reduce him to a cliche. However, if there was an enduring aspect to Lone Sahib's political career, it is not just his ability to reinvent himself, but his uncanny, almost intuitive, feel for the pulse of the Kashmiri people. It was here that Lone stood taller than most of his contemporaries. He genuinely reflected the voice of the people of Kashmir, their hopes, concerns and aspirations. And he was ready to change his mind and his politics the moment he felt that he was getting disconnected from the grassroots. This explains not just the reasons for Lone's ostensible lack of political consistency, but his deep commitment to dialogue, peace and non-violence in his current avatar. For, it was his belief that this was what the Kashmiris desired most of all at present, and he was ready to even lay down his life for this goal.
Lone Sahib began his political career in the Congress, at a time when the State was ruled by the Congress Chief Minister, Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq. It is believed that Sadiq's successor, Mir Qasim, was peeved with Lone because even as a Cabinet Minister Lone would frequent the local cafeteria or the neighbourhood barber shop, something unheard of in Kashmir's deeply hierarchical and feudal environment. But then he was unwilling to stop being the people's man. Not surprisingly, when Lone Sahib founded his own outfit, he called it the People's Conference. During the initial years of the militancy in the early 1990s, the People's Conference too boasted of its own armed outfit, Al-Barg. This then was, of course, a reflection of the times. And when the APHC was set up, the People's Conference became part of the umbrella separatist alliance and Lone a member of the executive committee. Indeed, had the People's Conference not had a militant wing, he may not have been accommodated within the APHC's executive committee.
Lone was amongst the first Kashmiri separatist leaders to recognise that the indigenous political movement had been hijacked by Pakistan and that the fate of the Kashmiris was of little concern to Islamabad. During his visit to Pakistan last year for the wedding of his son, Lone was strident in his condemnation of jehadi forces and foreign militants who, he argued, had brought havoc and devastation to Kashmir.
Similarly, as a Kashmiri nationalist, Lone was fiercely opposed to giving a religious colour to the political struggle of the Kashmiri people, and this had brought him in direct opposition to several leaders. As is well known, at a recent conference in Dubai, he reportedly told his Pakistani interlocutors, including the ISI chief, that it was time that they stopped interfering in Kashmir and that the gun had no longer any role to play in the politics of the Valley. Understandably, for his straight talk and his pro-Kashmiri views, Lone had become a target of extremist groups and their supporters.
I cannot claim to have known Lone Sahib well. I must have met him no more than a dozen times in the last six years. But during each meeting, I learnt a little more about Kashmir, became more sensitive to the problems of the people and my admiration for him increased with each encounter. But there were other connections. He had known my grandfather, fondly remembered having played Bridge with my father in the sleepy town of Langet, his sons — I discovered — had been my junior in the Irish Catholic School of Srinagar, Burn Hall, and his daughter, a brilliant lawyer, had been taught by my mother at the local college.
There is nothing unique about this network of connections. At one stage, most Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim families could have spoken about a similar web of togetherness. The tragedy of Kashmir, of course, is that these relationships are fast disappearing.
The last time I met Lone Sahib was at a tea in Delhi, a couple of months ago, hosted by Malini Parthasarathy, the Executive Editor of this paper, for a small group that also included Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. What I remember most of that meeting was the deep faith that Lone Sahib seemed to have in the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and his belief that left to himself, ``Vajpayee would have solved the Kashmir problem''.
Lone may be dead, but the potency of his message cannot die. It is time for all those in Kashmir who believe that only through non-violence, dialogue and a process of reconciliation can the problems of Kashmir be resolved — the essence of Lone Sahib's ideas — to stand up and be counted.
The challenge for all Kashmiris really is to translate the political legacy of Lone into a mass movement for peace. That would be a real tribute to Lone Sahib and everything that he represented.

(Source: The Hindu, 23/05/02)

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Shaping peace in Kashmir, unilaterally

THERE IS an overwhelming consensus in this country that the real test of Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf's intentions and sincerity lies not in the power of the address that he recently delivered, but in the resoluteness with which he undertakes to execute the policies that he so deftly articulated in the speech. It remains to be seen whether Gen. Musharraf is really as attached to the ideas and policies of Kemal Ataturk as he claims to be, and if he truly has the capacity to deliver his country from the mess brought about by his predecessors. India has to carefully watch and decide whether Gen. Musharraf continues to be the erstwhile commando, driven by expediency and tactics, or is he — in his new avatar — a Mikhail Gorbachev-like leader who, even while being a product of the established order, has realised that the system is so rotten that unless he radically changes policies, internally and externally, his country will slowly slip into nothingness. In the interim, therefore, New Delhi will have to sustain the diplomatic and military ante to ensure that Islamabad is in no doubt that words alone cannot assuage the anger and frustration that the people of India have experienced in recent years at Pakistan's obdurate behaviour, and which was accentuated by the violation of one of the country's most sacred institutions on December 13.
However, even while the wait-and-watch phase continues, the time may have come to fashion a concrete plan for peace in Jammu and Kashmir. India has demonstrated its steely resolve, but the occasion may, hopefully, not be too far off to reveal the moral fibre of the Republic. Although the success of any peace project in the State will be dependent on the ending of violence, or at least its significant reduction in the Valley and beyond, many of the principal elements can, I feel, be put in place unilaterally and must be undertaken as early as is possible. While such a programme of action would have to be necessarily executed in different parts, three in the case of the plan outlined below, the total blueprint should be made available for discussion and dissemination even before any action is taken. Moreover, the different parts of the unilateral peace process could be initiated in parallel.
Part one of the peace plan would demand unilateral gestures of goodwill by the Government and the people of the rest of India towards the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There is recognition throughout the country of the deep suffering the Kashmiris have endured over the last 12 years, and this latent reservoir of empathy needs to be tapped. The time has come for the nation to reach out to the Kashmiris. If and when the violence comes down, and there is sufficient proof that Pakistan has indeed closed down the terrorist camps and stopped infiltration, the most important gestures will be to significantly reduce the presence of the Army, the paramilitary and other security forces. The maintenance of law and order must again become the responsibility of the local police, and all special operation agencies and vigilante groups, wherever they exist, must be disbanded.
In addition, the biggest private sector companies must be encouraged to invest in the State and extraordinary incentives must be provided to ensure that this happens. Equally, large corporations should be persuaded to employ men and women from the State, and — if necessary — reserve a quota of jobs for youth from the region. Further, a central task force must be set up, with the explicit purpose of strengthening the State's infrastructure, particularly in the areas of power, roads, education and health, and a special fund created to ensure that there is an efficient and time-bound execution of the projects that are taken up.
Similarly, a special relief, rehabilitation and reconciliation commission needs to be formed, which includes leaders from various communities and social groups, to set into motion the process of rebuilding civil society, providing support to those traumatised over the last decade, and repairing inter-communal relations. Civil society groups, including cultural organisations, from the rest of India have begun to make their presence felt in the State, but so far it is simply not enough. The verve, vitality and commitment of India's powerful non-governmental sector must find expression in Jammu and Kashmir, and there is a need for engagement in practically every area, from environment to education, from theatre to traditional crafts.
Part two of the peace plan is probably the most vital as this would involve ensuring that Kashmiris secure peace with dignity. Elections to the Assembly, which will be held within the next nine months, offer a historic opportunity to restore the faith of the ordinary Kashmiri in Indian democracy, justice and fair play, and to demonstrate to the world New Delhi's capacity for conflict management and problem solving. Clearly, if the elections have to count for something, they must be credible and inclusive and ensuring that this happens forms the backbone of the programme for peace. Credibility should not be difficult to achieve. The Election Commission of India, together with a group of eminent persons from the country who are requested to observe the elections, can ensure that there are no malpractices and that all charges of foul play are promptly investigated.
Ensuring popular participation, especially from those alienated by the past record, is much more difficult. But this may be possible, if a unilateral promise is given, without prior negotiations (which have proved to be so frustrating) with Kashmiri leaders, that post-elections the quantum of autonomy necessary to fulfil Kashmiri aspirations will be negotiated with the elected representatives within a definite period of time and the agreement arrived at will be guaranteed for the future. It will then become the responsibility of all the Kashmiris who are so desperately seeking peace to ensure that there is popular participation. Simultaneously, a nationwide information campaign on Centre-State relations and decentralisation must be initiated to ensure that there is a widespread realisation that autonomy, in essence, is about empowering people, making people feel that they belong, and about increasing the accountability of public institutions and services. Separatism grows when people feel disconnected from the structures of power and the process of policy formulation; in contrast, devolution ensures popular participation in the polity.
Finally, part three of the plan for peace would include a signal to Pakistan that there would be a sustained dialogue on Kashmir if Islamabad not only rejects violence, as an instrument in its totality, but also commits itself not to attempt subverting the first two parts of the plan. No less important, the dialogue on Kashmir must be embedded in a larger programme of peace and cooperation. It should now be obvious to the political leadership of Pakistan that the conflict over Kashmir is only a symptom of deeper differences, rooted in the manner in which the two nation-states were differently conceived and have grown over the last 50-odd years. Thus, even as Pakistan reconstructs itself, as hopefully a modern and liberal nation-state, unprecedented economic and political cooperation and eventually soft borders on all sides must complement the dialogue on Kashmir. In January 2001, the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, declared in his "musings" from Kumarakom: "In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past. Rather, we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity for the entire South Asian region. In this search, the sole light that will guide us is our commitment to peace, justice and the vital interests of the nation." The time may shortly come to translate the promise of those words into reality.

(Source: The Hindu, 17/01/02)