Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Masked men of Kishtwar

Known in the past as the land of sapphires and saffron, Kishtwar today is a metaphor for the larger collapse of the idea of Jammu and Kashmir. Once, the state's greatest strength was its rich cultural, linguistic, religious and geographical diversity. Today, as most of these identities have morphed into shrill, polarised and communally charged monsters, the real danger to J&K is from within. Unless the nation acts today, the state is sure to implode tomorrow. For, much of what we are witnessing is a consequence of the warped and short-sighted policies of the Centre and the state.

Kishtwar, contrary to the instant commentaries that have appeared in the press, was not always a communal cauldron. I went there first as a child, only a few months old, in 1962, and stayed on till 1964. My father was posted as a divisional forest officer and as a young married couple, some of my parents' best memories are from their time in Kishtwar: picnics in the great meadow, the chowgan, driving along the mighty Chenab and the warmth and simplicity of the Kishtwari people. Every year, they went on horseback for the two-day yatra of Sri Sarthal Deviji, 30 kilometres from Kishtwar, and all the logistics — from the horses and the tents to the food — were arranged by the Kishtwari Muslims. Unlike the adjoining (the more developed and literate) Bhaderwah, there was virtually no communal tension, and as the sun set, everyone would rush home, lest the mythical dayans (witches with twisted feet) of the town preyed on them. There was harmony, a gentle togetherness and a resilience that prevailed until militancy overwhelmed the state in the 1990s. Indeed, in the 1960s, Kishtwar's greatest singer and poet, Ghulam Nabi Doolwal (Jaanbaaz) wrote what was his most popular song: "Maanun tse peyee, sahib chhu kunuyee, yaa yetti maanun yaa taetti maanun (Accept you must that the lord is the same, whether you accept it here or you accept it there)."

What we are witnessing across the state today is the ugliest form of regional and sub-regional chauvinism and sectarianism. And this is being articulated through what the Italian anthropologist Simone Mestroni describes as an assertion of "masculinity", which seems to define the culture of protests in the state. The masked men of Kishtwar, the arsonists of Jammu and the stone pelters of the Valley are the angry young men of a lost generation.

Is there a way forward? Yes, if there is an-all party national consensus on the following minimum agenda.
First, recognise that a J&K fragmented by sharp, conflicting identities is not in anyone's interest. There is a misperceived and dangerous idea, floating as a doctrine within the Indian establishment, that the less united the people, the easier it will be to manage them. This policy of divide and rule led to the partition of the country, and has accelerated demands for a trifurcation of the state.

Second, admit that there are deeply alienated young men across the state whose anger needs to be addressed through multiple initiatives. Jason Burke recently wrote in The Guardian of the possible emergence of a militancy led by educated young men in the Valley, and this anger is by no means restricted to Kashmir.
Third, do not reward chauvinism. Chauvinism is contagious, as we saw during the Amarnath land row controversy, and appeasement of chauvinists is a short-sighted policy fraught with dangerous consequences.
To give you a personal, anecdotal example. In 2010, Kapil Sibal, then HRD minister, asked me to be the first vice chancellor of the Central University of Jammu. I was reluctant to go in the first place, but as the news spread, there were protests in Jammu on the grounds that I was Kashmiri and pro-Kashmiri, despite having served as vice chancellor of the University of Jammu for six years. While I had no intention of going, I was still personally advised by the political leadership in the country to turn down the offer, as it could lead to instability in the state. Subsequently, a retired IAS officer from Jammu was appointed. If the republic of India is ready to compromise even on the appointment of a vice chancellor, will this not give a fillip to regional chauvinism?
Fourth, restore faith in the process of dialogue. Few people have any faith left in the dialogue after being repeatedly let down, and especially after the report of the three interlocutors was given short shrift by the home ministry. It will take time, effort and a national consensus before the people of the state regain trust in the intentions of New Delhi, but the investment is well worth it.

Finally, make the state government accountable. The impression being created is that the coalition government has been given a carte blanche; this is deeply counter-productive in a state like J&K.

In 2005, the prime minister made one of his finest speeches. He said: "Jammu and Kashmir is the finest expression of the idea of India. Diversity of faith, culture, geography and language has traditionally never been a source of conflict. In fact, the people of this state celebrated diversity and lived in harmony for most of the time. We now need to revive those bonds and that spirit of accommodation and mutual respect, even while we sit down, in good faith, to resolve many of our genuine differences. My vision, I have stated many times before, is to build a Naya Jammu and Kashmir which is symbolised by peace, prosperity and people's power. As I have often said, real empowerment is not about slogans. Only when every man, woman and child, from Ladakh to Lakhanpur and from Kargil to Kathua through Kashmir, feels secure, in every sense of the word, can we truly say that people have been empowered."

There is still time, even in the final months of his government, for Manmohan Singh to redeem that pledge, even if partially.

I returned to Kishtwar only in 2003, as vice chancellor of the University of Jammu, and the town had bounced back to harmony and relative prosperity due to the ongoing Dulhasti hydel project. I went for the Urs of the patron saint of the region, Hazrat Shah Asraruddin Baghdadi, and praying for peace in the state, I tied a thread at his shrine. I am looking forward to the day I can go back to untie that thread.

(Source: The Indian Express)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unless India acts today, J&K will implode tomorrow

Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir remains on the edge, four days after the outbreak of communal violence that left three persons dead. Is a dangerous mix of religion and terror at work? Is one of the most sensitive regions in the country being polarised on religious lines? Prof. Mattoo joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the issue. 

To read the transcript of the chat, click on the link below:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Seizing the opportunity

As co-chairs of the Chaophraya Dialogue between opinion makers from India and Pakistan, we are encouraged by reports of resumption of the official dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi, and of a possible meeting between the two Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this September.
We believe, however, that it is also time for important gestures by the political leadership of the two countries to inject fresh momentum into the fragile peace process. An early visit to Pakistan by the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, would be one such gesture. While such a visit should not be burdened with the expectation of a grand strategic bargain at this point, as many summits tend to be, it should signal the need for genuine reconciliation. Dr. Singh’s visit to Islamabad should then be followed by a summit between the two heads of government meeting in New Delhi.
Both visits can be preceded or followed by a meeting in Islamabad of the Indian External Affairs Minister with his Pakistani counterpart. This would provide space for confidence-building between the two countries and allow them to frame a working agenda for ongoing talks on a calendar of unresolved and upcoming issues. There is a small window of opportunity in bilateral relations — the leadership of the two countries must seize this opening.
The power of democracy
India prides itself as the world’s largest democracy, while the people of Pakistan recently affirmed their thumping support for democracy in the face of terrorist threats. An elected government has handed over power to a new one in Islamabad after a national election. A resumption of official visits at this historic moment would signal the triumph of democracy in the region.
Unlike in the past, there is consensus among most major political parties in Pakistan on the need for improving relations with India. The outgoing federal government in Islamabad which leads the parliamentary opposition today, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is a strong proponent for talks. This gives Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif opportune space to consult other political parties (including the PPP, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement) to forge a national consensus on the need for reconciliation with India, and the leadership of key parties in settling on a viable timeline of confidence building measures. To build support for an ongoing dialogue that pivots to peace, Dr. Singh must also lead an all-party leaders’ delegation to Pakistan. The principal opposition party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will likely not oppose such a move. Some of the boldest initiatives towards building peace in the region were supported by Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his term as leader of the previous BJP-led coalition government.
Checking a drift
Indian concerns about the lack of progress regarding the trial in Pakistan of the perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai mirror worries in Pakistan over the lack of progress over several bilateral issues. Many issues seemed to have been agreed upon, yet have defied closure. Clearly, the current strategic stalemate has gone past its function of calming down post-crisis turbulence; instead, it has begun to reinforce a dangerous drift away from the will and momentum needed for peace.
The view that these issues should not stand in the way of sustained dialogue is widely shared among Track II interlocutors between India and Pakistan. In fact, last month, at the 12th round of the Chaophraya Dialogue which brought together parliamentarians, former government officials, generals, diplomats, academia and journalists from both our countries, the joint view was to press for moving away from the “pause” button and look for a new normal.
Moving forward
The menu for action forward on a reset does not need any reinvention. The recommendations from this round of the dialogue included the need to resume the back-channel dialogue on Kashmir; active, not pro forma, revival of the ministerial level India-Pakistan joint commission created in 1983, which should become a mandated official space for old and new problems to be cleared, such as visa, travel and communication, and the need for periodic dialogue between the two ministries of defence.
Leaps of faith have played a great role in building peace throughout history. Conservative and risk-averse bureaucracies have, however, systematically and deliberately underplayed the importance of such exchanges. After nearly 66 years of bilateral conflict, the resumption of dialogue at multiple levels, from the top to the joint secretary level, could have a tremendous impact on a region bracing for multiple transitions.
Islamabad has signalled more than once its interest in taking visits and negotiations forward. New Delhi has reciprocated but stopped short. It is time Dr. Singh moved away from the Cold War straitjacket India-Pakistan relations have fallen into, and infused a new sense of hope to the people of the subcontinent.
For real reconciliation between the people of both countries, gestures are critically important. Indeed, contrary to orthodox wisdom in India, unilateral overtures towards Pakistan need not be a political liability. The recent India Poll conducted jointly by the Australia India Institute and the Lowy Institute for International Policy revealed that while an overwhelming majority of Indians identify Pakistan as a threat, nearly 90 per cent agree that ordinary people in both countries want peace, and a similar number believe that a real improvement in relations requires courageous leadership in both countries. More important, nearly 80 per cent felt India should take the initiative in seeking peace with Pakistan.
The findings suggested that if Dr. Singh were to visit Pakistan and take the lead on a dialogue, he would have popular support at home.
We believe that the time has come for the political class in both countries to make important choices that will spur peace for both India and Pakistan.
- Co-authored with Sherry Rehman
(Source: The Hindu)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Of three crucial elections and a withdrawal

The region is headed for either a phase of unprecedented violence and conflict, or the crises that we see unfolding could become an opportunity.

THE next 16 months will be critical for South Asia. We could see the region descend into chaos, or it could prove to be a turning point in the history of the region. Much will depend on the India-Pakistan dialogue and whether Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif are able to arrive at a modus vivendi when they meet in September on the sidelines of the meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Three critical elections and one withdrawal are slated to happen next year and they will all impact on the region decisively. The most inclusive and least controversial will be the Indian general election, sometime in the spring of 2014. It is all but certain that Narendra Modi will be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, and the election potentially the most polarising in India’s history. While there is a robust debate on the Gujarat model of development (particularly invigorated by the recent exchanges between Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati), few have any idea on what would be Modi’s foreign policy were he to become the Prime Minister.

Will the foreign policy be driven by primarily his economic agenda of accelerating growth, or will it propelled by a fierce nationalistic weltanschauung? Or will it be a combination thereof? How would a Modi government relate to India’s smaller neighbours, and what view would it take of Pakistan and Afghanistan? Clearly, Modi has made some pronouncements, and even written a letter to Dr Manmohan Singh on the Sir Creek dispute, where he said: “I would earnestly request you to stop this dialogue with Pakistan at once and Sir Creek should not be handed over to Pakistan.”

But there is a difference between being a Chief Minister of a state and being the Prime Minister of the Republic of India. Even the most hardline leaders have had their policies tempered after assuming power, and I have even heard many Pakistanis suggest that only a BJP Prime Minister, whose nationalism would not be in doubt, would be able to make peace with their country. Recall too Modi’s first public speech, after being elevated as the BJP’s election campaign committee chief at Madhopur in Punjab — on Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's death anniversary — where he invoked Atal Behari Vajpayee and talked about the need to heal Kashmir’s wounds.

The uncertainties of the region are compounded by the rather dark future of Afghanistan, which could witness a civil war even before the next election slated for April 2014 and before the withdrawal of the forces by NATO and other partner countries later next year. Afghanistan is being seen in zero-sum terms by India and Pakistan, and this could become a dangerous theatre for their rivalry. Even now the signs are ominous. The US is trying to cobble a deal with the Taliban with the assistance of Pakistan, while President Hamid Karzai views this, not without reason, as a plot to undermine him and sees India as probably his only remaining ally. And remember that Karzai, who is often vilified in the Pakistani and American media, is one of the shrewdest politicians that I have met, and may spring a surprise by hastening the withdrawal of the NATO forces before the elections and by implementing his own succession plan.

And finally we have the elections in Jammu and Kashmir towards the end of 2014. There is no doubt in my mind that these elections too will be a turning point. The bleak scenario is of increased militancy aided by an unstable Pakistan, a chaotic Afghanistan and increasingly alienated young people of the state, in which the elections are reduced to a farce with no one outside the mainstream participating and with a very low voter turnout. The state could then witness another decade or so of grave violent conflict. Or the elections could become the most inclusive in the history of the state and lead to enduring peace and stability.

In sum, the region is headed for either a phase of unprecedented violence and conflict or the crises that we see unfolding could become an opportunity. If the latter is what we want to see, it is critical for New Delhi and Islamabad to immediately resume the official dialogue, and strengthen the back channel through the two designated interlocutors: Shayryar Khan and Satish Lambha. This dialogue must include sustained discussions on the future of Afghanistan. In addition, as the Chaophraya Track II dialogue recommended recently, it is important to revive the ministerial level India-Pakistan joint commission created in 1983; and there is urgent need for a dialogue between the two Ministries of Defence with adequate military representation.

Simultaneously, there is critical need to address the continuing trust deficit between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi. Not through tactical diversionary measures, but through substantive peace-building measures. Indeed, if and when they meet in New York, the two Prime Ministers must recognise that any further drift in bilateral relations will be dangerous for the future of the entire region.

(Source: The Tribune)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Story of Telegana: Why India Needs Smaller States

Despite protests, India is right to create smaller states like the new state of Telegana. Speaking on ABC Radio National, Professor Mattoo said the decision to carve out a new state of Telegana from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh could be seen as a political maneuver by India’s ruling Congress Party to win votes in areas that would come under the new state. However, he told Radio National’s Waleed Aly that the principle that smaller states can be better managed than massive ones is a sound one.

You can hear Professor Mattoo’s views on the issue on ABC Radio National’s website at: