CLAMOUR for peace is the buzzword when it comes to discussing Kashmir situation in the midst of current spate of violence. It has always been a tricky situation to predict either the causes behind turmoil in the valley or the possible way out in quest of peace. Yet, there has never been a dearth of efforts in the past to break the vicious circle with fair amount of success.
Currently Kashmir is passing through a phase of turmoil which has come in the wake of a new political backdrop and, subsequently, many new and dangerous dimensions added to it. It has made the task daunting, but not impossible, for those who are in the quest of or clamouring for peace.
It is being perceived-and it is not entirely wrong-that Kashmir is passing through the worst phase of terrorism or unrest, even worse than those days of 1990 when the valley was almost shut with no political activity in sight to sustain democracy. A big difference this time is that a democratically elected government is in place-the debate over its efficacy apart-whereas in the mid-90s the official agencies struggled hard to start the democratic process to give a chance to the people to elect a dispensation of their choice.
In the normal course, it is fraught with danger to predict or even analyse as to what triggered a particular situation at a particular time. It is akin to sticking one’s neck out to forecast weather in the valley, which in the hills changes by the hour. The current situation has a different dimension and is a break from the past in the sense that certain possibilities were looming large after the BJP-PDP combine came to power and those needed to be either pre-empted or addressed well in time to at least lessen the impact, if not prevent it altogether. Preventing occurrence of such a situation in Kashmir had always been a tall order.
There was nothing unconstitutional about this alliance forged between two political parties which secured majority of seats, the PDP in Kashmir and the BJP in Jammu region. But the underlying difference between their respective political ideologies and the strong public perception against the PDP in Jammu and that against the BJP in Kashmir was bound to turn into a flash point if not handled tactically. The worst fears have come true and the situation has been allowed to spin out of control because of the sheer apathy of the two alliance partners.
Could this gap between the two ruling alliance partners be bridged or public perceptions changed? One convenient answer, again based on certain perceptions, is in the negative.
IT definitely was a difficult alliance and needed to be followed-up with painstaking efforts to make it acceptable in the eyes of people of both Jammu and Kashmir, more so in Kashmir. But that was never done. As a result, public unrest took over everything else and Pakistan merrily fished in the troubled waters as has been its wont in the past.
The leaders of both the BJP and the PDP needed to be commended to come together despite strong differences on almost all issues. But it would be naive to accept that all their differences ended with the claim of coming together to meet aspirations of people of the two regions and, at the same time, bridge the gap between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh which was at a dangerous level. This claim has since fallen flat.
The PDP founder and the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, could have been a great asset in the matter of making the alliance acceptable in Kashmir. But his unenviable position of a veteran Kashmiri leader was never used to its full potential by his ally and big brother BJP. The ailing Mufti died a dejected man, though he never showed any remorse for having joined hands with the BJP.
Mehbooba Mufti : On the horns of a dilemma
ONCE a firebrand leader who would promptly reach out to the families of terrorists killed in encounters with security forces, PDP president and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is today the most vulnerable. Given the choice, she would not continue in a coalition which, apart from being unacceptable to her core support base, is one where her hands are tied and lips sealed. Also, she has to cater to BJP’s discourse in which there is no space for soft-peddling even in the name of Kashmiriyat.
But, she has no option but to continue the alliance unless BJP pushes her to the brink. But, as Mehbooba has adopted a line in consonance with the BJP’s national politics, the national leadership of the party is shy of taking the BJP-PDP alliance to a breaking point. On certain counts they have given Mehbooba some elbow space on issues like Article 370, but beyond that she is at their mercy.
In a way, Mehbooba-led PDP and BJP have become indispensable for each other till the time the parties have a total rethink. The other option for the BJP is to engineer defection in PDP and create a new alliance. Such rumours were in the air and at least two senior PDP leaders had showed inclination to lead the charge, but the move could never take off.
Such a move, if it happens, is fraught with serious consequences. First, the memories of GM Shah experiment, who was installed as Chief Minister after Dr Farooq Abdullah’s majority government was removed by engineering defections in mid-1980s, are still etched in people’s mind. Secondly, adventure by any PDP leader to break the party to align with the BJP is easier said than done, given the present public mood and the volatile situation.
Mehbooba has lost credibility in people’s eye as she is being perceived as furthering the BJP’s interests in the Kashmir Valley. The issues of misgovernance have taken a back seat and totally clouded by politics. Replacing her with a new dispensation may not help generate public sympathy in her favour, but it would certainly create another villain in whosoever becomes the Chief Minister.
Mehbooba’s dismissal or imposing Governor’s rule would only add to the chaos and bring the Centre in direct clash with the situation at ground. Although the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Singh, has recently made an “off-the-cuff” remark about a possible shift to rotational system with the BJP having a Chief Minister, it neither has seriousness nor acceptability on ground. That would only provide Mehbooba an excuse to walk-out of the alliance.
– Anil Anand
HIS death further compounded the problem both within the alliance and the PDP with his inexperienced daughter Mehbooba Mufti replacing him. Her problems were aggravated by the attitude of the overzealous ally leadership. They wanted her to speak in their tone and at the same time perform, thereby putting her as well as the alliance’s existence into danger.
To be fair to Mufti Sayeed, he took a greater risk than the BJP in joining hands with the saffron party and accorded more space to his ally. In turn, he expected some elbow space to sell the alliance in the Muslim majority Kashmir. But that never happened. The hardening of stance on BJP’s part not to look beyond the party’s stated thinking and give alliance a real chance on the ground by transcending beyond government formation, led to the situation slipping out of hand to the advantage of separatists and pro-Pakistan elements.
So, in more than one way, there is something unique about the problem erupting afresh circa 2017. There was a simmering discontent resulting out of the formation and, later, inaptitude of the BJP-PDP ruling coalition. As stated earlier, there was a strong sense of prediction this time with none other than a former GoC and some others time and again pleading that factors, other than the security forces, should also actively come into play to pre-empt a dangerous situation building around.
FORMER Northern Command chief, Lt Gen DS Hooda, on the eve of his retirement made a strong case for opening dialogue, particularly with agitated youth. This suggestion assumes more significance in the backdrop of another thought-provoking comment made by him that he did not see an easy solution to end Kashmir conflict and called it a “long war” that would require “long term approach” and that militarily the situation has largely come under control.
His views were somewhat shared by former Army chief, Gen VP Malik, particularly in regard to opening a dialogue and seeking a political solution to the problem. That in no way suggests that the security apparatus has to lower their guard, which was made amply clear by them.
It is the prerogative of any new elected government to formulate new policies to tackle situations like those prevailing in Kashmir. So did the BJP government under Narendra Modi. But, somewhere in this new formation, the views of the two Generals have not found an echo till date.
A new doctrine is at play in Jammu and Kashmir. It is based more on the asserting authority of the State, which is fair. But it overlooks the need for a middle ground to open a dialogue. The only commonality between the earlier policies and the new Kashmir doctrine is that in both the cases the alarming trend of radicalisation of Kashmiri society, particularly the youth, has been overlooked. Barring the Army, which has laid greater focus involving youth at various levels, no other arm of either the Central or the State government has done anything concrete in this direction.
Behind observations of these Generals is a strong feeling to prevent any situation where protesting mobs come face to face with a fully trained professional army. This is direly needed to avoid a catastrophic situation and protect the Army’s sanctity.
WHAT the two Generals have been implying through their thrust on dialogue is that the political process should take over from where the security forces have retrieved the situation. The increasing scenes of college and school students, particularly girls, taking to the streets in protest and raising anti-India slogans are a reflection to the fact that their worst fears have started to come true.
A key to preventing this situation, and as propagated by not only the Generals but by other sections of the society also, was protecting the middle ground necessary to keep some channels open for dialogue with all the stakeholders. Instead of protecting the middle ground, which has dangerously shrunk over the months, the debate on this count has been snubbed with Centre’s (read BJP) reiteration that no talks would be held with the stone-pelting youth on the street, or that the dialogue would be held only after the last gun of the terrorists is silenced.
Asserting the State’s authority is an important part of State craft and there are no two views about it. But, in the context of a democratic polity, the exertion of the State’s authority has to be followed or accompanied with measures that keep people’s confidence in the system intact. In the current context, a dichotomous situation has arisen. The State’s one way assertion of authority has led to the muzzling of saner voices in the Kashmiri society. A buffer which could have, as in the past, helped explore middle ground for a dialogue is under great danger of losing its voice.
This apart, the current situation has arisen also due to a total mismatch between what the security apparatus has achieved and what the political arm (read the Centre and the State government) would not do. There are limitations to what security forces could do in a well-defined democratic system, as pointed out by the Generals. They have a limited but an important role to contain a situation and then provide a safe platform for governmental and political activities to reach out to the people and win their hearts and minds.
THE process of containment of terrorism necessarily needs to be accompanied by simultaneously exploring avenues to open dialogue with all the stakeholders. Of course, it is the prerogative of the government of the day to decide how, when and where to start the dialogue, or its mechanism, through direct or indirect means. But, it is a necessity to break the logjam and the only potent avenue is through dialogue.
The hardening of stance in a particular direction by the ruling alliance partners has also led to a serious difference in the thinking of the political masters and what those manning the security felt. Ostensibly, under political compulsions and matching up to the new doctrine of nationalism which could have a bearing for the BJP at national level if seen propagating a dialogue with all the stakeholders, the situation in Kashmir was allowed to drift. It created a fertile ground for the separatist and radical interests to sway the sentiment towards a direction where it suited them the most. The absence of any mechanism to engage the society made things easier for them to mould public opinion to their advantage.
That is certainly not to suggest that there is only one shade of public opinion in the valley and that everyone concurred with those pelting stones on the streets and totting guns. Strong abhorrence to dialogue till the last gun has been silenced has led to more protests and resultant causalities. Somehow, it has resulted in a situation where the entire population seems to have been united by a common sentiment.
This is an alarm of a different kind and a more dangerous one. The stone-pelters and gun-wielding youth are considered as stray and indoctrinated groups, but the number of their sympathisers in the society has grown sizably. The college and school students are increasingly hitting the road in protest while the State government is haplessly looking the other way; these are dangerous dimensions. So what really was the trigger behind the current situation?
ALok Sabha bye-election, the other postponed, and poll for 11 seats to the State Legislative Council were dutifully completed to maintain the charade of strengthening democracy. Notwithstanding the serious situation prevailing on the ground, the purpose was to somehow complete the electoral drill without caring for people’s sentiment. Not that this has happened for the first time in this troubled State. On the face of it, this electoral phase might look a miniscule one, but it has hit the credibility of poll process much harder than at any stage in the past. National Conference chief patron, Dr Farooq Abdullah, won the Srinagar Lok Sabha bye-election which recorded the lowest ever 7 per cent polling, with his share being less than 50 per cent. The legislative council polls witnessed the ruling alliance partners BJP and PDP clashing and not collaborating with each other.
These are certainly disturbing developments particularly from the peoples’ perspective and have tossed certain serious questions even as the previous concerns arising after such situations have remained unanswered for all times to come.
Hurriyat: Losing relevance
THE All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), even at best of times, in terms of separatist amalgam’s relevance, has only been a talking shop. Its leaders have a knack at hobnobbing with Pakistan to foment trouble in the valley, which was always done at a price and, at the same time, keep certain quarters in Delhi convinced that the Hurriyat could come handy while initiating a dialogue at some juncture. Of late, the Hurriyat has totally lost its relevance. In fact, even in the run-up to the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, its leaders were confined to their houses.
Most Hurriyat constituents are either one-man army or have very small pockets of influence. Under the present circumstances, the movement on ground has totally slipped out of their hands. The new generation of separatists, influenced by a set of radicalised youth such as Burhan Wani, have been openly questioning the standing and contribution of Hurriyat leaders.
The Hurriyat leadership, of both Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Gilani factions, are at a crossroads. They are in a dilemma of their own making for running the risk of losing clout with Islamabad and, at the same time, totally discrediting themselves in the eyes of Kashmiris for amassing wealth and ensuring that their own wards enjoyed all privileges.
The only plus point with Hurriyat factions is that these have some experienced leaders. Despite having lost ground to a new set of separatists of the Wani genre, Mirwaizs and Gilanis can still play a meaningful role to extricate Kashmir from the current mess and help create a situation where dialogue could be held for all the stakeholders. For that to happen, the Hurriyat leaders would have to do some soul searching and become more transparent about their financial matters.
Other than Hurriyat, the rest of the separatist diaspora is unorganised and leaderless. But somehow, due to certain factors related to mainline politics, they have generated public sympathy.
– Anil Anand
There is a question mark on whether these bye-elections should have been held or not? The decision to hold polls is in itself mired in controversies. Majority of the key players involved in the conduct of elections were of the strong view that the situation was not conducive for elections. It was intriguing that one found the Election Commission of India (EC) and the Home Ministry on opposite sides of the fence on this issue. This is another matter that their difference came to light only in the post-Srinagar poll scenario as the blame game over low polling began. The ministry claims it had advised the EC against this while the latter boasted that it does not require the ministry’s clearance to hold elections, that too in a place as sensitive as Kashmir.
The security related arrangements are in the ministry’s domain. So the EC’s claim seems too farfetched. It is only reflective of a bigger malady that has set in. Although it has nothing to do with the functioning of either the Home Ministry or the EC, the malady has its basis in the differing political perception of the BJP and the PDP over handling of Jammu and Kashmir.
The security forces were too stressed to be pushed into the poll process without any thinking and a proper plan in place. As a result, the worst fears of the two General have come true and security forces have been left bruised, cornered and forced to offer explanations for acts which they were asked to perform as their duty. At the same time, those who should have been actually blamed for creating a mess due to misgovernance or total lack of good governance are sitting pretty and celebrating victories.
There is no doubt that holding of bye-elections was a big trigger this time for vested interests to seize the opportunity. A non-existent State government with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti caving-in when she was expected to stand up and seen to be at total mercy of the Centre, has led to a hopeless situation.
It was justifiable in the early 1990s to start political process at all costs when the valley was under the tight grip of Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfits. The political class also showed courage and fought elections at great personal risk. Dr Abdullah was one among them. So, in some ways, the low polling percentage was also seen as an achievement.
BUT in 2017, after a lot of hard work and sacrifices made particularly by the security forces in retrieving the situation, the abysmally low 7 per cent polling is simply unacceptable. More seriously, the repoll in 38 polling booths recorded a pathetic 1 per cent voting and still the system had the audacity to accept this outcome.
It is certainly not to blame the people of Kashmir who have on many occasions in the past shown their faith in the power of ballot. Those who either misread the situation or allowed elections to happen for personal reasons are certainly to be blamed.
The situation was on an even keel both in Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies. How come elections happened in Srinagar and postponed indefinitely in the latter simply because South Kashmir, of which Anantnag is a significant part, the mainstay of the ruling PDP, was up in arms against the Muftis or that Dr Abdullah was “assured” of his victory in Srinagar. The political machinations seemed to be at full play in these bye-elections. Some willingly and others unknowingly became part of this. Decidedly the people of the State have been the losers once again.
The BJP-PDP alliance was justified by the two partners on two pretexts; First, to provide good governance and second, and more importantly, to bridge the dangerously increasing gap between Jammu and Kashmir regions. In over two years of its existence, the alliance has miserably failed on both these counts. Again, a significant factor responsible for it is the failure of the two parties to thrash out a common ground to provide them a cushion against their regional political interests and, in the case of the BJP, even the national one.
The governance is the worst sufferer all this while with corruption is rampant at all levels. It seems there is no attempt to set the house in order by either of the two ruling alliance partners who are focused on pursuing their respective brand of politics. A strong impression has gathered that the Chief Minister finds herself in a state of helplessness to convince the Centre to accept certain ground realities.
How would anyone describe the visuals of a small group of security personnel surrounded by an irate anti-India slogan shouting mob? This is the worst testimony of erosion of the State’s authority. This was another matter that the security personnel maintained their cool and did not use weapons to open fire in self-defence.
The security forces, particularly the Army, have a prescribed role in any given situation; more so in an internal conflict. Trained to kill the enemy, the Army has its limitations when dealing with own people in such situations. Thus, there arises a need for a dialogue and to engage with the people to prevent any direct clash between them and the Army.
It is rather disturbing that the Army has willy-nilly become the focal point in public discourse in this conflict. In fact, they are finding themselves caught in the crossfire. What better describes the situation than the words of Lt General Hooda: The Army is “either being strongly supported or strongly hated”. A rather unlikable situation has arisen for the Army where fingers are sought to be raised on its rich secular and impartial image.
His words are not less than a pointer towards emanating alarming signals. Again, the underlying concern behind these words of caution is to prevent mass protests through other means so as not to land the Army in a direct clash with the public.
LT General Hooda and people of his ilk should be heard carefully when they talk of the need to have a “calm, practical and realistic” look at the situation, which is very complex and having cross-connections at every intersection. They speak from a position of strength while making such suggestions and these should not be misconstrued as weakness.
In the current situation what worries one the most is the continuous widening of conflict zone and simultaneous shrinking of the middle ground. If still left untended, it can further add to the problems.
Interestingly, the conflict zone had considerably shrunk after peak militancy days of the 1990s. This was made possible mainly through coordinated efforts of the government and the security apparatus. As a result, not only the political process was restarted after a decade of turmoil but free and fair elections could be held thereafter. This, in turn, led to improved governance and willingness to talk within Kashmir and on a separate stage with Pakistan.
The killing of home-grown militant outfit Hijbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, a local, and developments thereafter, has not only given rise to a new generation of militants but has also pushed the educational institutions, down to school levels, into the conflict zone. Mishandling of the circumstances connected with Wani’s killing had a catastrophic effect on the situation.
There have been persistent efforts by Pakistan and its agent to drum local support to foment trouble through acts of terrorism. It is a recorded fact that even during the peak militancy days it was difficult for them to get local recruits into their cadres. However, in the post-Wani scenario, local recruitments have become easier and, in many cases, voluntary. This has emboldened dreaded terrorists outfits such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahiddin.
One area which needed a greater focus was the alarming increase in the radicalisation of the youth. There are no visible attempts over the years, leave alone formulating a policy, to arrest this trend. It required efforts at the societal levels by tapping the saner elements. But, with the middle ground shrinking fast either out of fear or sympathy, such efforts could become more difficult.
In the name of middle-pathbreakers, there are only stray efforts by certain private quarters or peacenicks to save and strengthen this middle ground. One such effort was made by former Foreign Affairs Minister and veteran BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and some other stray groups without eliciting any response from the Centre. None from the valley’s saner elements have so far shown any inclination to make efforts on this front unless the ground situation improves.
TACKLING Kashmir crisis is a long-drawn battle and requires strategy on firm footing which should be divested of political and electoral compulsions. There is a school of thought which backs a Punjab-like operation in the valley using power of the gun. This is the most unfeasible option, particularly in Kashmir which is demographically homogeneous and will be fraught with repercussions.
Reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir or its trifurcation is being forwarded as another solution. This is easier said than done. Giving statehood to Jammu region and Union Territory status to Ladakh have been in the agenda of the BJP since the days of its earlier avatar, Bharatiya Jan Sangh, apart from the abrogation of Article 370.
Not only the three regions are presently dangerously placed against each other but situation is far from normal even within the regions. There are divisions and sub-divisions in the respective regions and any attempt at reorganisation without building consensus at all levels would create problems afresh.
As an option, trifurcation of the State can be put as an agenda on the discussion table. It needs to be explored during times of normalcy otherwise it could prove to be a costly proposition; a hasty decision could propel a fresh wave of discontent in all the three regions.
The priority of the day should be to first control the situation and keep the dialogue option open at all levels. It is important in the national interest to protect the Army’s sanctity. The trifurcation of the State could be an option to be explored during times of normalcy. Else, fishing in troubled waters could prove too costly.