Friday, 1 June 2012

Solving Kashmir: Feasible?
Kashmir Times
  • Published:10/19/2011 11:50:00 AM
  • Updated: 10/19/2011 9:58:31 AM
  • Filed Under: opinion
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Unlike the usual practice, the report of the three interlocutors has been punctually handed in to the Home Ministry exactly a year since the group was tasked to recommend ideas on a political solution to the internal dimension of the Kashmir issue. The idea behind the report was to ascertain the diverse viewpoints in the state to be able to better reconcile and address them. It has been controversially kept confidential, even as its main thrust areas have been given out as a proposal to set up three regional councils and development. The interlocutors have been asked to keep themselves available for interaction with a parliamentary group from all parties. This has both positive and negative portents in that it cannot be said with any sense of conviction that the government is indeed resolved to wrap up the Kashmir problem.
Confidentiality gives the government breathing space to digest its contents and once its position is formed, either release it in whole or selectively. The idea is perhaps to defuse the inevitable brickbats it would receive from those either not represented, such as separatists who kept away, or those who believe their views were neglected in some measure. The issue of greater concern is the implication of lack of political strength. If the government was seriously thinking of engaging meaningfully with the issue then it would release the report, even if with redactions, witness the debate it generates and proceed to implement the ‘doable’ portions. The unpalatable parts of the report, if any, can then be contested politically in the open domain, both in Delhi and in J&K. The democratic advantages of this are obvious. Not doing so indicates hesitation on part of the government in facing up to the challenge.
This conveys the impression that the interlocutor’s appointment was an exercise to help tide over the summer of discontent in Kashmir. The summer having been quiet, it would appear that there is little necessity to follow up. This is where New Delhi would be making a mistake in losing yet another opportunity. As was the case with the Justice Jeevan Reddy committee report on the AFSPA in the North East, the report could well be consigned quietly to history. But as the Telangana agitations remind us, reports have a tendency not to be forgotten by affected people. This may not be how the Center intends to play its hands, but it would be better advised not to even consider inaction as an option.
Firstly, the visible strategic factors indicate decline in insurgency in Kashmir. The turnout of over a million tourists over the year is best indicator of this. The problem is this being mistaken as the end of militancy. There is the ever present possibility of revival of Kashmiri angst. The winds from the Arab Spring have been strategically kept at bay so far by the interlocutors being engaged in their mission. However, in case the people get the impression that that Center was less than serious then they will feel let down and are likely to express it. The armed phase of the militancy is thankfully over but the power of peaceful demonstrations, reinforced by Anna’s anti-corruption movement, has not been lost on the youth. They have three summer’s of experience in this. Liberal application of the PSA has kept the lid on tight this time, but India, poised on the cusp of great power status, stands to be embarrassed in case aspirations remain unaddressed.
Secondly, the physical attack on the eminent lawyer, Prashant Bhusan, in the premises of the Supreme Court ostensibly for comments in favour of resolution in Kashmir, was a demonstration by forces that stand for the status quo. The timing of the attacks indicates the message that the Center will be challenged if it were to pursue a reconciliatory course in Kashmir. In case the Center was to remain reticent, then it would only encourage such anti-democratic forces. They have a constituency in Jammu region, as the blockade of 2008 during the Amarnath land issue related crisis demonstrated. They have the capability of holding up initiatives, if emboldened. Therefore, rapid and purposeful follow up of the practicable recommendations of report will be useful, even if more politically sensitive portions are released for wider debate.
Lastly, the international factor needs keeping in mind. The pressures on Pakistan from the US endgame in Af-Pak are evident. The visit of Karzai to Delhi and the resulting ‘strategic partnership’ that envisages increased Indian involvement in training and capacity building of Afghan security forces, among other aspects, will have fallout in Islamabad. While Pakistan cannot dictate India’s regional engagement, its ability to influence events in Kashmir is inescapable. In awareness of this capacity, India must try and reduce any intention it might have to interfere. The propensity to interfere can be reduced in case Pakistan sees that India is taking action internally. It will also reduce any support base that Pakistan commands in Kashmir. By implementing the report, even if in part, Pakistan can be kept at bay. It can restrain its proxies by pointing out the gains of Kashmiris benefiting by Indian initiatives. The second round of talks due soon can be used to reinforce the message of India’s good intent and further distance Pakistan from its ‘core issue’, Kashmir.
Even if desirable, is this feasible?
The government has been under siege through the year. This hampers bold initiatives. The ruling party is looking to the hustings in UP in which the next generation leadership is to prove its worth. This priority will keep it from initiatives that could prove politically difficult. It would be shy of handing the opposition, currently in equal disarray, an issue to create and capitalise on a ‘nationalist’ high ground. However, the government has in its earlier tenure defied expectations in pushing through the Indo-US nuclear deal. An internal Kashmir settlement is an appropriate issue to display equal sense of conviction and despatch.
Next, the view that if the internal dimension of the problem is solved, the external becomes amenable to resolution is itself a contested one. The input of security forces would can be predicted to be that unless the terror infrastructure in Pakistan and its support base in the Valley is not dismantled, the problem will persist. The military for instance is wary of suggestions even on partial rolling back of the AFSPA. The commentary currently is on a ‘collusive threat’ from India’s neighbours that will obviously manifest in Kashmir, indicating that even if the problem is resolved, the need for troops in location remains. There is little call then in this version to let the guard down now. It would require political will and a grand strategic vision to prevail over objections.
Therefore, despite the desirability for resolution, India may well have to live with the twin Kashmir and Pakistan problems for longer. The understanding is that the costs have been affordable so far and can be paid up indefinitely. With India on the seeming upswing in the strategic trajectory, there is little reason to placate any adverse interests, either internal in the form of separatists or external in the form of ISI. G Parathasarathy, a formidable strategic mind, has opined, ‘Indian “intellectuals” and bleeding heart liberals have zealously believed that “dialogue” alone can address the animosity of the Taliban and its ISI mentors towards India…’. The subtext is that dialogue does not and cannot work. This suggests that India is headed for another lost opportunity, which, hopefully, will not end up as the last.
(The author is Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)