Sunday, July 11, 2010

All is not lost yet as Govt fights the fire in Kashmir

ALMOST every crisis in Jammu and Kashmir also has a hidden opportunity that we have consistently missed. The present uprising of the young in the Valley threatens to overwhelm all the gains made over the past years. And yet, it is possible to redeem the situation even now. But for this, New Delhi and Srinagar have to act not just in synergy, but demonstrate the imagination, creativity, and, above all, the determination necessary to gain the trust of a generation whose anger has been visible on the streets of Kashmir over the past few months.

For New Delhi, it is critical to once again recognise that Jammu and Kashmir, for a variety of reasons, is not just another state of the Union. It cannot be dealt with the kind of political inertia and bureaucratic ineptitude that the Centre can afford in its relations with other states without any dangerous consequences. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (and I am sure so does Sonia Gandhi) understands this clearly. But this has to be immediately appreciated by all those in North Block in charge of Jammu and Kashmir. In any case, it is critical that the PM, who still enjoys great credibility and goodwill in the Valley, personally appeals for peace within the next few days.

Based on this understanding, New Delhi must immediately act on three fronts. First, appoint a special representative for Jammu and Kashmir. Ever since N. N. Vohra was appointed the governor of the state in 2008, there has been no designated interlocutor for talks. The appointment of an interlocutor right away will not be seen as a sign of weakness; rather it will signal the sensitivity of New Delhi to the voices of dissent and anger that are still alive in the Valley. But the appointment of a serving or a retired bureaucrat would be a mistake, given their training and attitude. A political heavyweight like, say, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh, or any other person who enjoys the confidence of 7, Race Course Road, and 10, Janpath, would indicate the importance that New Delhi accords to a dialogue.

SECOND, the Centre must appoint an expert committee to consider, afresh, the recommendations made by the Prime Minister’s working groups on governance, confidence building measures ( CBMs) — both internal and those across the Line of Control ( LoC) — economic reconstruction and Centre-state relations. Several key recommendations, particularly those given by the working group on internal CBMs (chaired by Hamid Ansari) have either not been implemented or have been taken up half- heartedly. Their effective implementation would be a trust- building measure of great significance. Unfortunately, the report of the working group on Centre-state relations has led to discord rather than furthering an understanding.

Another urgent necessity is an empowered task force of experts that examines the report and its detailed annexures, consults with stakeholders and arrives at a consensus that would, more or less, satisfy most shades of opinion.

Third, the government must reach out to the angry youth, especially the unemployed, through all the resources that India can bring to bear through the public and the private sector. The youth can become the state’s greatest strength — its soft power — in the years to come, if we immediately give their development our highest priority.

The challenge for the Omar Abdullah government is even greater. This is unlikely to be the only crisis that the CM will face in his political career, but it is easily his worst so far.

The credibility of his government, the party and of his chief ministership has been severely dented. There are no magical mantras for gaining popularity, but acting on the following three fronts will go a long way in reestablishing his authority.

FIRST, FIX blame and take action. The impression that there is administrative anarchy must be corrected. The government must “mean business” and must be seen as taking action against those responsible for the present crisis. This is not to recommend finding scapegoats. But it is essential for some officials to be punished if the faith of the people has to be restored in the system and if the bureaucrats are to take the political leadership seriously.

Second, reach out to everyone. A politician is one who only thinks of the next election; a statesman is one who thinks of the next generation. Bury the past, forget the bitterness of yesterday, and try and create a new way in politics. Meet young people, as many as you can, every day. And call on your political opponents (drop by at Fairview to see the Muftis and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at Nageen) and seek their support in the crisis.

Generosity in politics will never be seen as a weakness. Political leaders who demonstrate humility in crisis always emerge stronger at the end of the day. Form a Council of Elders, drawing on the great strength of the state’s civil society, and meet them regularly taking their counsel and support.

Finally, prevent violence and killings. This is easier said than done. But let the police understand that there will be costs if there are any fatalities, and take immediate action when there is even a reported abuse of authority. Strengthen the human rights commission, give it greater authority and let it become a credible institution in the eyes of the people.

This is an agenda for just a month; much more will need to be done if Jammu and Kashmir is to have durable peace.

(Source: Mail Today)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Answer is as Complex as the Situation

WHENEVER there is a crisis in Jammu & Kashmir, we like to find a scapegoat. This is an easy escape route that unfortunately prevents us from taking a comprehensive view of the complexity of the problems impacting the state. Consider the history of the problems. In 1953, Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed after it was believed that he was part of an Anglo-American plot to wrest the Valley from India. In 1964, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was the scapegoat after massive protests that followed the theft of the holy relic. The pattern continued through subsequent decades.
Today, there is rage among the youth of the state. It is anger that stems from two decades of conflict, the violence, curfews, killings and a near-total breakdown of the system. This angst, disillusionment, frustration — call it what you will — demands attention and sensitivity from the Indian nation: from the government of India, from civil society, from corporate houses, and especially from the media. Every Kashmiri young man and woman needs to be given a vision of the future, a vision full of opportunity and where he or she feels secure in every sense of the term. And that vision has to be translated into reality. This requires a detailed roadmap, out-of-the-box thinking, and a willingness to reach out at every level.
It is often asked why J&K should be considered a special case. Kashmir’s singular importance to the very idea of India is often forgotten. 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 win back the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri youth is critical not just for strengthening the ideals that inspired Indian nationhood, but is central to the war against extremism and fundamentalism. In other words, Kashmir must no longer be dealt with the kind of political ineptitude and bureaucratic inertia that has often characterised the Centre’s policies towards many other states. And let me say this clearly: it is not just the youth in the Valley but the Dogra youth of Jammu and the Kashmir Pundit youth in migrant camps that demand equal attention.

(Source: The Economic Times)

Bringing Stability to J&K @ IBNLive Chat

Q: Sir, In your opinion who is responsible for the current scenario in the state of Jammu and Kashmir?

"...this radicalization has been caused by multiple factors, but above all by a sense of hopelessness. This is a generation that has seen suffering, killings, political uncertainty, and has had to remain sequestered in their homes for great lengths of time. A generation that has witnessed often a daily tragedy, seen no light at the end of tunnel, often endured harassment, and which has been distrusted by sections of the Indian establishment, is consequently simmering with deep discontent and angst. And yet these young men and women are not at an age where they can introspect and take a long-term of view of matters."

For the complete transcript of the chat click on the following link:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rebels with a Cause

The deployment of the Indian Army on the streets of Srinagar to enforce a curfew is a grim reminder that the state has descended into a deep crisis once again. Unlike in the past, the writ of the state is not being challenged primarily by a popular insurgency or by militant organisations or even by a separatist cartel. Instead, it’s the anger of a new generation of young men and women who have grown up in these two decades of conflict, which is translating into resilient protests in many parts of the Kashmir valley. And tragically, most of those killed over the last weeks have been young people, often in the prime of their life. The irony is that at a time when Pakistan is in internal turmoil, and its leadership is still reluctant to talk meaningfully on Kashmir, our own follies have, once again, derailed Jammu and Kashmir’s journey back to stability. In any case, what is immediately required is for New Delhi and Srinagar to fully understand the anatomy of the uprising and then craft policies that can quell this rage.

Four important features of the protests need to be highlighted. First, while this rebellious urge may have been sparked off by specific incidents of violence and killings, it’s a larger expression of anger, disillusionment and frustration. While it’s tempting to reduce the protests to indoctrination by extremist Islamic groups, Pakistan’s machinations or the influence of other vested interests, the reality is that this radicalisation has been caused by multiple factors, but above all by a sense of hopelessness. This is a generation that has seen suffering, killings, political uncertainty, and has had to remain sequestered in their homes for great lengths of time. A generation that has witnessed often a daily tragedy, seen no light at the end of tunnel, often endured harassment, and which has been distrusted by sections of the Indian establishment, is consequently simmering with deep discontent and angst. And yet is not at an age where it can introspect and take a long-term view of matters.

Second, this is also a generation, somewhat paradoxically, that’s been empowered by technology. The internet, as we know, is a powerful instrument of social communication. But it’s an equally powerful instrument of radicalisation and political mobilisation. One has to conduct only a sample survey of the Kashmiri lists on, say, Facebook to witness the anger, the appeal of the ‘stone pelters’ as well as the collective expression of rebellion.

Third, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a leader, or leaders, who is either inspiring these protests or directing them. There may be those who are ideologically or logistically guiding these protests. But there’s no mainstream or separatist leader who can legitimately be blamed (or claim credit) for the street protests. Finally, this rage of the young is built on the larger and longer sense of Kashmiri victimhood, injustice and insecurity about their identity. Therefore, in addition to long-term political prescriptions, three immediate initiatives need to be taken.

One, it is vital to end this cycle of protest-violence-protest. Surely, in the 21st century it should be possible to control protesters, armed only with stones, without having to kill young men and women. It’s not surprising that the average Kashmiri finds it disturbing that while Kashmiri protests lead to deaths, protests during the Bharat bandh, for instance, lead to no such violence. Zero-tolerance of human rights abuse can’t remain a slogan; it must be translated into reality with immediate effect.

Two, it is vital to engage these young men and women or at least sections of them. This has to be done not just by the government alone, but in partnership with civil society. The state government must also bring all the stakeholders together, including parties in opposition. In addition, there are men and women of unimpeachable integrity who can be called upon to form a Council of Elders who can work with Mohalla and Village elders and the imams of local masjids to restore peace. G.Q. Allaqaband, Nighat Shafi, Girija Dhar and Agha Ashraf Ali are some of the eminent individuals who immediately come to mind.

Three, Kashmir has, of course, been flooded by schemes and packages, but this is the time and place for one more scheme. The prime minster must announce a new Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) for Jammu and Kashmir, which would, in partnership and consultation with the state government, seek to ensure that every Kashmiri young man and woman will be provided the opportunities that ensure that s/he becomes an empowered stakeholder in the future of the state. YES should make interventions wherever needed to provide access to the best quality of training, coaching, counselling and guidance available in the country. And YES should do everything necessary to ensure that every Kashmiri young person can be secure of his/her future.

Let us also realise that the understanding of Kashmir, despite all these years of problems, remains shallow in the corridors of power. When Kashmiris, who took to the streets in a similar uprising in 2008 over the Amarnath land controversy, turned out in even larger numbers to vote in the state elections last year, this was mistakenly seen as evidence of Kashmiri fickleness. It was a mistake to view the elections as signaling a return to ‘business as usual’ in the politics of the state and as obviating the need for a special and more imaginative approach. The triumph of democracy shouldn’t have been a moment of triumphalism.

In fact, by acting in a statesmanlike fashion on a variety of issues, New Delhi would have demonstrated a willingness to reward participation in the democratic process and not be seen as capitulating to extra-constitutional pressure. This unique opportunity was missed. But all is still not lost. Much, as has been indicated, can be done unilaterally and immediately to respond to the deep yearning of the young people of the state for security in all its dimensions: that is freedom from fear in the physical, political, economic and cultural spheres.

(Source: Hindustan Times)