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The status of the last initiative towards conflict resolution in J&K – the report of the three interlocutors uploaded onto the Home Ministry’s website for public discussion – suggests that conflict management will instead remain to the fore over the foreseeable future. In other words: ‘more of the same’. Admittedly, conflict management is indispensable so long as conflict potential exists. Equally, conflict management efforts along the development and security axes have mitigated the conflict to a great extent, if violence indices are to be given credence. However, closure to conflict can only be through conflict resolution initiatives; essentially peace process in the political domain. While there has been no absence of initiatives in this direction over the past decade, these have never reached culmination point, leave alone carried the day. Why is India reluctant to go down this route whole heartedly?
India believes it is well placed strategically. Internally, it has a proven suppressive machinery in place. Its reluctance to review the AFSPA suggests as much. A couple of seasons of ‘negative peace’ or absence of violence would see India through. Externally, the sponsor of the problem, Pakistan, is likely to be introspective till at least the middle of the decade. The remarks of the US defence secretary, Panetta, during his recent visit indicate an emerging convergence on isolation of this regional rival. This will give India adequate breather to work round the issue through conflict management techniques, such as infrastructure development, employment generation, justice in cases as Pathribal etc, rather then address it politically in the hope of conflict resolution.
Kashmir, perhaps because of the absence of violence indicators, is now marginal to the national consciousness. This makes for little incentive for the civilian decision maker to ‘do something’. While different prime ministers have consistently indicated their interest in a resolution that their directions have not been taken to their logical conclusion indicates something more than just inattention. It reveals a structural imbalance in India’s security related decision making. Security institutions, having done a ‘good job’ of bringing a semblance of normality to Kashmir are now having their pound of flesh. Political India, comprising the political class at the state and central levels, does not have the political capital to arrive at an independent and contrary judgment. The political head at state level is handicapped by lack of authority over the security establishment. The political decision makers at the center have for some time now been, to put it indelicately, beleaguered. In effect, even if the spirit was willing, the flesh is not. Conflict resolution is therefore ruled out not only because there is no incentive but because there is an inability to bring this about.
At the organizational level, political possibilities are limited by the political strength at the center. While the center has a liberal core, it is constrained by the need for survival. It cannot offer the conservative opposition, itself coincidentally on life-support, a lifeline. Creating a consensus on Kashmir is not an issue political strength can be expended on. The Nagaland case provides analogy. The ceasefire in place amounts to, in sports terms, a penalty corner forced. But the incessant talks thereafter bespeak of an inability to convert the penalty corner. Political considerations, narrowly defined as regime perpetuation into the next term, dictate that tackling the less fraught Telangana issue may be better. The political angle resulting from the criticality of Andhra Pradesh to the ruling party’s political future places this issue as the issue after next, to be followed up after the presidential elections. Kashmir can wait. Lastly, the individual level needs factoring in. The home minister kept on the defensive by the opposition, can hardly be expected to innovate. His can at best be a holding job competently discharged.
Some would have it that there is no political ‘solution’ required. The Kashmiris are already at the outer limit of the autonomy a federal state can possibly award. It is for this reason that the interlocutor’s report too does not suggest anything more than a constitutional review of the post 1952 extensions to the state. Regional delegation of powers and empowerment of local bodies are generic. In effect, the Kashmiris need to settle for at best a slightly modified status quo. Till as long as they reconcile to this, conflict management needs precedence over conflict resolution. The latter can at best be when the ‘movement’ ‘gives in’.
There are problems with a ‘do nothing’, ‘do no harm’ or ‘more of the same’ approach. In Kashmir, because positive peace or peace based on strong foundations of public acceptance of the terms of settlement has proved elusive, it bears reminding that negative peace can prove illusive. The latest from the arms race on the subcontinent is the claim of the technologists that they can provide a ballistic shield to New Delhi and Mumbai. This bravado or attempt to boost public confidence obfuscates the possibility that a potential for spiral exists. Nuclear states have a duty to resolve problems with such potential.
Secondly, the imbalance averred to between the political component of government and the security officialdom detracts from the notion that democratic civil control holds in India. While in a way the government’s inability can be taken as being democratically responsive to the wider majority that is unwilling to see budging of the status quo, this is a majoritarian notion of democracy. Democracy is not about brute majorities. Unaffected by perennial problems, such as interminable ‘disturbed areas’ status, electorates elsewhere in India can afford to be indifferent. Democratic governance does not mean being responsive to their lack of concern, but accommodating to those who feel the pinch. India’s democratic credentials are thus suspect twice over – one over a shortfall in civil control over the security apparatus and secondly misreading democracy as will of a pan-Indian majority. Even if latter be the case, a liberal government owes a duty to create the consensus by expending political capital, sometimes, as the precedence of the Indo-US nuclear deal indicates, even at risk of its own survival.
Placing the report of the interlocutors’ report in the open domain has in effect killed the government’s last initiative. Placing it on the internet is hardly suggestive of the government or the ruling party taking on the onus for initiating and sustaining the debate. In case the report had actually required the government to do something such as remove AFSPA or, more expansively, trifurcate the province, it would not have seen the light of day. There is little time, attention span and energy left in the tenure for the UPA to apply itself. The epitaph to the report could well read: Mistaking crossed fingers for policy, a continuing security template as an exercise in civil control and the seeming quietude in Kashmir, for democracy, the report stands buried in files.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia)