Monday, June 4, 2012

Farce in three parts

On May 24, 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) made public the report submitted to it by the interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir appointed in the midst of the 2010 uprising in the Kashmir valley. The group of three interlocutors has produced a report that is rich in detail, based on extensive fieldwork, elegantly written, and apparently well meaning. However, we remain deeply sceptical that the public dissemination of such a report — or a public debate on the findings/recommendations — will help to build sustainable peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Not surprisingly, there are virtually no takers for the report among the stakeholders in the State and even the MHA has distanced itself from the work that it commissioned from the interlocutors, by adding the following caveat: “The view expressed in the Report are the views of the interlocutors. The Government has not yet taken any decisions on the Report.” In fact, we believe that the release of the report — instead of doing any good — will prove to be counter-productive and could further strengthen the sentiment in the State that the government of India is not serious about a resolution of the problems of Jammu and Kashmir. We have reason to believe that the recent ineptitude in dealing with the State stems from the decision that the Prime Minister would discontinue to have direct oversight over the affairs of the State. Contrast the “Naya” Jammu and Kashmir vision articulated by the Prime Minister in 2005 with the obtuse legalese articulated, ad nauseum, by the Home Ministry.
We have fundamental problems with almost all aspects of what has turned out to be a farcical exercise: beginning with the appointment of non-political interlocutors; and the structure and content of the report they have produced.
Ever since September 25, 2010, when the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) finalised the eight point political initiative on Jammu and Kashmir, at the height of the crises in Kashmir when over 100 people had been killed, expectations were raised that a seasoned politician would lead the panel of interlocutors. This perception was built on the successful all-party delegation that had visited the State. The announcement of a three-member non-political team provoked widespread anger and hostility and even invited ridicule. Although the three members were undoubtedly professionals, who had excelled in their respective fields, the impression was created that the panel had been finalised without due diligence or a serious application of mind by those who are quite oblivious to the complexities of the problems in the State and were insensitive to the sentiment of the people living there.
On symbolism and substance
In J&K, symbolism is almost as important as substance. Consider the history of the last half a century. Almost every political crisis and political agreement has been possible through initiatives led by heavyweights and backed by the political leadership of the country.
It was Lal Bahadur Shastri who was deputed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963 to help defuse the crisis following the theft of the Prophet's relic. While the chief of the Intelligence Bureau, B.N. Mullik, also played a vital role and enjoyed Nehru's confidence, it was Shastri who was the public face of the initiative.
The three parts
The 1974 Kashmir accord was possible because of the confidence that G. Parthasarthi enjoyed of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Similarly, in the 1990s, interlocutors like Rajesh Pilot and George Fernandes were able to make a difference because they created a perception that they were leading a serious political initiative backed by the highest political authority in the land. Indeed even the mandate of the panel of interlocutors had been defined in the most non-anodyne terms: “The three interlocutors appointed by the Govt. have been entrusted with the responsibility of undertaking a sustained dialogue with the people of Jammu & Kashmir to understand their problems and chart a course for the future.”
The Report, itself, as one of the interlocutors has suggested, needs to be read in three parts: a situation report, a set of political ideas for discussion, and a road map recommending confidence-building measures (CBM) and dialogue. Most informed observers of Jammu and Kashmir would gain little by reading the “situation report.”
The CBMs are well known and, in fact, do little to advance the work produced by the Prime Minister's Working Groups. Set up during the second round table conference of the Prime Minister in May 2006, the five working groups had a specific agenda: (i) confidence-building measures (CBMs) across segments of society in the State; (ii) strengthening relations across the Line of Control in Kashmir; (iii) economic development; (iv) ensuring good governance; and (v) Centre-State relations. Apart from the working group on Centre-State relations, all others submitted their reports in April 2007. The government had, in principle, accepted the recommendations and virtually committed itself to their implementation.
For instance, Hamid Ansari chaired the group on CBMs in the State, and it included representatives from all mainstream political parties and groups. The group's agenda included the following: measures to improve the condition of the people affected by militancy, schemes to rehabilitate all widows and orphans affected by militancy, issues relating to the relaxation of conditions which have foresworn militancy, an effective rehabilitation policy, including employment, for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, an approach considering issues relating to return of Kashmiri youth from areas controlled by Pakistan, and measures to protect and preserve the unique cultural and religious heritage of the State.
The group had recommended, among other things, a review and revocation of laws that impinge on the fundamental rights of common citizens, such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), review of cases of persons in jails and general amnesty for those under trial for minor offences, devising effective rehabilitation policies for Kashmiri Pandits and a comprehensive package to enable them to return to their original residences and for the Kashmiri youth in Pakistan-controlled areas, who may have joined militancy for monetary considerations or misguided ideological reasons, measures to strengthen the State human rights commission, and setting up of a State commission for minorities. The interlocutors' report, in no way, improves on these recommendations.
The only real value addition could have been on proposing new political ideas. And here, not only are there no novel ideas, even the proposals (borrowed mostly from other reports) are embedded in the “grand” idea of the establishment of a Constitutional Committee, to review all acts and articles of the Constitution of India extended to the State after the Delhi Agreement of 1952. In other words, the Report — on the most critical issue — passes the buck and recommends that New Delhi look for someone who is regarded in high esteem in the State and the rest of the country to do the job.
On other related issues too, the Report falls well short of expectations. The report does not give importance to delivering justice to those people wronged over the last two decades. The report also fights shy of identifying some of the other primary causes of the problems in the Jammu and Kashmir conflict: including the widespread rigging of elections, and the political high-handedness of New Delhi in J&K.
Truth and reconciliation
The report talks about the need to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). However, the report treats the whole concept of a TRC in a very casual manner. It says, for example, “even if justice cannot be provided for all victims of violence, if some of those guilty of human rights abuses, including militants, were to ask forgiveness from the families of their victims, it would provide closure for many.”
The report also suffers from a serious lack of focus. The report's recommendations address issues that trivialise the real problems of the State. For instance, by recommending inter-regional dance and theatre competitions, cultural talks about inter-regional culture, and establishing “an art gallery in Srinagar,” the interlocutors undermine the gravitas that a report of this kind should have, if it is to be taken seriously.
Finally, how does one evaluate a report of this kind? It has not managed to reach out to important segments in Kashmir, it has not produced any sort of consensus in J&K or in New Delhi, and its impact is not likely to be felt in “grand” political terms. This report, at best, is an academic exercise of little policy consequence. The fact is there exist valuable documents and reports, which have, in great detail, explained the possible trajectories for building peace in the State. It was not yet another document that we needed to resolve the multiple conflicts in the State, but a genuine political process of reconciliation between the people of the State and New Delhi. Many dissidents from the State opposed this panel of interlocutors because they believed that the group did not have a mandate to negotiate peace, and that this was merely a diversionary tactic to buy time. One-and-half-years later, they stand vindicated.

(Co-authored with Dr.Happymon Jacob)
Source: The Hindu, 04/06/12

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