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Autumn of Discontent


While normalcy seems to be returning to Kashmir Valley, it is still too early to pass any judgement, says Anil Anand
ANIL ANAND | Issue Dated: January 5, 2017, New Delhi
Tags : Chil e Kalan | Democratic Party (PDP) | Sadar-e-Riyasat | Dr Karan Singh |

Autumn has set in, and the valley of Kashmir has been enveloped by the crimson blanket of falling Chinar leaves. This is a prelude to the snowy white cover expected during ‘Chil e Kalan’, traditionally considered to be the harshest 40-day period of winter. Coming after over four months of total shut-off, these weather conditions, normally associated with serenity, have a different meaning at this juncture.

On the face of it, the situation seems to be limping towards normalcy, for which different quarters offer varied explanations. From both the Centre and State's point of view, it is the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive posturing towards Pakistan that manifested in a surgical strike across the Line of Control, which has now led to the current normalcy. Also that coupled with the demonetisation of high value currency notes, Islamabad has been defanged, and therefore is unable to continue sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

This view might not be entirely wrong, but is not wholly correct, and absolutely not the whole truth. The official barometer to measure this semblance of normalcy is mostly based on two premises – reduction in the number of terror related incidents and the ongoing successful conduct of examinations in schools which reopened after four months amidst threats from separatists.

Coming against the backdrop of a fresh calendar of agitation programme announced by the separatist amalgam Hurriyat Conference, these are significant developments. It raises a few vital questions. Firstly, is this a decisive trudge towards lasting peace? Secondly, will merely doling out financial packages cap everything else? And thirdly, and even more significantly, is the use of unbridled force the optimum option to deal with the situation, as powerful quarters at the Centre have been propagating time and again?

A Jammu and Kashmir watcher of any consequence would certainly not respond to these questions in the affirmative. There cannot be one single approach to tackle the prevailing situation in the border state which is a mix of historic baggage and recent blunders. It has both internal and external dimensions, whether one likes it or not.

The internal dimension is not merely confined to the ground situation within Kashmir. There is no doubt that the Valley is a flashpoint, and has been a festering wound over the decades; but this internal dimension, though not in terms of law and order or terrorism, spreads to the other two regions of the state as well – namely, Jammu and Ladakh. However diverse the three regions might be, these are intertwined; and the growing regional disparity, with no attempt on the part on the privileged to strike a balance, has made any particular region-centric approach politically and administratively difficult to implement and untenable.

There is no doubt that wounded and bruised by terrorism, the Valley requires greater care and tending. However, any move at providing succour to Kashmiris evokes sharp reaction in Jammu and Ladakh, and vice versa. The regional tensions have become more vicious after the BJP–People's Democratic Party (PDP) alliance formed the government. The two parties did share power but failed, deliberately or otherwise, to evolve a strategy whereby they could keep their respective regional aspirations (in terms of politics) under wraps for some time. PDP being a Kashmir-centric party, and BJP having its base in Jammu, failed to rise above their narrow political interests and went on a collision course, resulting in erosion of the state government’s authority, with separatist elements taking undue benefit of it.

An illustration of how unaddressed regional tensions derail Centre and the state governments’ initiatives could be seen in the recent visit of an All Party Parliamentary Delegation. It was an ill conceived and an ill timed initiative. Ill timed because the entire Valley was shut and the visiting delegation could hardly meet anyone other than those connected with the official quarters. It was ill conceived as in a bid to strike a regional balance between PDP and BJP’s respective constituencies, Jammu was forcibly included in the itinerary.

For any major initiative to succeed in Kashmir, it is imperative to take both Jammu and Ladakh in confidence. And the reverse would also be true. The balancing acts, if at all, should not be made in desperation but with planning and due diligence. The idea should be to create a congenial atmosphere where the three regions can recognise each other’s problems and the solutions thereof.

It would have been more prudent if the All Party Parliamentary delegation visited the three regions separately. Kashmir needed immediate attention; but in their subsequent visits, they could have assured people in the other two regions about addressing their issues as well and not to be antagonised with the focus on the Valley. But it is also a stark reality that political parties, national and regional, have been fuelling regional tensions for their political benefits. This political approach is as old as India’s freedom, and all parties have their fair share of blame.

Many would deny the external dimension of Jammu and Kashmir crisis. But surely, it cannot be denied that Pakistan has a role to play in fomenting trouble in the state.

It also cannot be denied that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is an integral part of India and vouched by the 1994 Parliamentary resolution. After all, why are efforts being made to isolate Pakistan on international fora if there is no external dimension to the Kashmir problem?

Currently, the external dimension is at full play all along the international border starting from Kathua up to Akhnoor and the Line of Control from Akhnoor to Kupwara in the Valley. Unprovoked Pakistani firing has uprooted people residing along this entire border belt from their homes and hearths. According to an estimate, over 10 lakh people living in border villages have been suffering for the past few months.

Certainly the old UN resolutions have become irrelevant in the context of Kashmir. But the external dimension unfolding every now and then on the Indo-Pak border is a reality and any effort at resolution of Kashmir crisis would be incomplete without taking this factor into account. This issue was very well articulated by veteran Congress leader and former Sadar-e-Riyasat of J&K Dr Karan Singh, while speaking in the Rajya Sabha.

The successive governments at the Centre and in J&K had the habit of sitting on their laurels and taking credit whenever the tide in Kashmir turned towards a semblance of peace. This mistake has been repeated time and again and perhaps it is going to be repeated in the current context as well.

In the recent past, two healthy developments have taken place in the Valley. Firstly, the authority of the separatists seems to be weakening as people, of late, have been ignoring their calls for strikes. Secondly is the fact that over one lakh students, backed by their parents, decided to take their examinations ignoring threats from militants and separatists. The schools had been shut for more than four months under threats which were willy-nilly facilitated due to a non-existent BJP-PDP government.

Such healthy developments had taken place from time to time in the past also but were never seen and utilised by the governments as an opportunity to work towards restoring people’s confidence on the route to finding acceptable solutions to problems. The issues facing Kashmir are complex and problems have varied dimensions ranging from political, regional and local.

Kashmir today is comparatively calm but certainly not peaceful. It is an uneasy calm and the opportunity should be properly used by the Centre to start a multi-pronged efforts for converting the current situation into lasting peace.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to repeat the mistakes of the past and overwhelming attempts are being made by the ruling dispensations to claim credit for successful conduct of examinations and for people ignoring separatists’ calls for bandhs and strikes.

The fact is that the only plausible argument for the current surprising normalcy is that people of Kashmir are tired and yearning for peace. The Centre and the state governments must seize this opportunity and take an all encompassing initiative to carry this sentiment forward.

It is a worldwide tested phenomenon that States are run by authority and erosion of authority leads to situations like the one witnessed in the Kashmir region during the last six months.

There was absolute erosion of the governments’ authority and no efforts whatsoever were made at its restoration. It needed to be restored but certainly not through the absolute use of force; power can at best be a significant constituent of the multi-pronged approach and not the only.

The anti-national and anti-India elements have to be quelled with an iron fist. But the inherent contradictions within the BJP-PDP combine in the initial stages made it impossible. The crisis became acute after the sudden death of the then chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. In the aftermath, neither her successor daughter Ms Mehbooba Mufti nor the BJP component of the alliance seemed to have any clue as how to deal with the situation.

For any initiative, political or financial, to succeed, both BJP and PDP needed to move away from their stated positions on various issues related to Jammu and Kashmir. An intention to this effect was conveyed in the agenda of governance which the two parties arrived at before forming the coalition government. But in reality, it never percolated down to the rank and file.

The current mood in Kashmir has opened a likely window of an opportunity. It could be exploited through a meaningful approach and at the same time by building pressure on and isolating the separatists forces, be it of the political colouring or the gun totting ones.

No financial package would give desired results unless the ground situation improves. The state government must come out of the closet and give a strong exhibition of its capability and intention before demanding a financial package from the Centre.

The Centre has a vital role to play and it cannot shirk its responsibility in Jammu and Kashmir, the state being a strategically located hilly region. A close monitoring by the Centre is much desired which should be done without being perceived as interfering into the state’s matters.

Yet another opportunity is fast emerging for all stakeholders particularly the governments to snatch and build upon it. Adversarial and politics of self-aggrandisement has proved to be the bane of the Jammu and Kashmir crisis.

Obviously, in a democracy, political parties would wish to derive mileage from any positive contribution made by them in retrieving any situation, more so of an issue like Kashmir.

The problem in the case of Jammu and Kashmir is that political parties in power rush to claim credit where there is none. An all encompassing approach with provision for a multi-dimensional dialogue at various levels has to be thought off immediately. Politics must take a back seat, at least initially, for any renewed effort on Kashmir to succeed. Pragmatism and not chest thumping of any kind would help.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017