The government should not let absence of violence lull it into complacency
Does the government of India really want a resolution of the Kashmir conflict (given the number of deaths in the last 23 years and the size of the force deployed in the state, it is a conflict and not an issue)? I think not.
I feel that the government believes it can do without a resolution because for the last eight years, despite appointments of several committees, task forces, interlocutors etc, it has not moved forward on resolving the issue. Innumerable reports, suggesting various combinations of resolution, continue to line the bookshelves of the ministry of home affairs. Though to be fair, the MHA has uploaded the Kashmir interlocutors report on its website, after dithering for several months. Perhaps, it has decided to spark a public debate on the subject. But since the report has not been tabled in Parliament and no all-party consensus has been sought on it, it is unlikely that anything will come out of this exercise.
Looking at Kashmir from Centre’s perspective, I think there are four reasons why the government may be thinking that it can do without a resolution. One, from Delhi’s perspective, the current situation has reached a manageable level of conflict, which the army-police-CRPF combine can handle. There may be sporadic bursts of violence or protest in the streets as in 2008 and 2010, but everything eventually falls back to what one can call ‘Kashmiri normalcy’ which is different from what the word means in the rest of the country. Even brutal suppression of protests becomes part of the long-term Kashmiri narrative without really amounting to much.
Two, the growing Indian economy is helping dilute the so-called sentiment in Kashmir. An increasing number of people now believe that their future may be brighter with a rising India than a land-locked Azad Kashmir where ultra-Islamists run amuck. Besides, once there is better distribution of wealth or more partners in profit in the state, more people will get used to the good life. Merger with Pakistan is out of question.
Three, there is disunity in the Separatist camp. Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference has announced its decision to jump in electoral politics. He is likely to pull in more people from among the Separatists to his side. Individually, they may not amount to much, but collectively, they can form a third political party. More parties would mean more electoral chaos; and some among the Separatists may get tempted to join a coalition government in the state.
Four, even if Pakistan tries to stoke the fire again, a repeat of 1989 is unlikely to happen. The world has changed. There is less tolerance for violence and more importantly, Pakistan is too caught up in Afghanistan and its own internal problems. Moreover, Kashmiris will not rise to the bait.
Since Independence, the government of India’s eyes and ears in Kashmir have been the intelligence agencies. That is the only source it thinks reliable. Such is its faith in the shadowy sleuths that it refuses to pick up the sense of the streets and it refuses to listen to the intelligentsia, the students and even the local politicians. As a result, the intelligence agencies are not mere passive bodies picking up information; they are active — conspirational and competitive — trying to create different power centres, breaking-up groups, pitching one individual against another and so on. There is nothing unusual in this. Most intelligence agencies do indulge in these ‘unaccountable’ activities, but there wouldn’t be too many governments which allow intelligence agencies to determine national policy.
And this is the tragedy of our policy-making in Kashmir. In theory, probably all the arguments in favour of non-resolution make sense. But in reality they are nothing but a feel-good bubble. Absence of violence does not mean peace; just as co-existence does not mean integration.
So, here are my reasons why we need a resolution: One, unless Kashmir is resolved to the broad satisfaction of majority of stakeholders — people of J&K, India and Pakistan — there can be no real security. Both our land borders, on the west as well as the east will remain extremely vulnerable. Two, our distrust of Kashmiris will remain, and some people on the mainland will continue to do racial profiling. This will ensure that the pool of angry Kashmiris continues to brim. Three, continuous deployment of the army in internal security in Kashmir will entrench the vested interests even more leading to further erosion of its value system.
Four, relentless exposure to violence and daily humiliation dehumanises people. This is already happening in Kashmir, where killing an opponent is the first option and not the last. Five, without a resolution, the status of Kashmir will remain ambiguous and private industry will be chary of investing there. Without private enterprise, Kashmir cannot be part of India’s growth story. Its stakes in India will remain tenuous. Six, as a nation, confident in its skin, proud of its democratic institutions, we cannot be seen as holding people by brute military power. We have to listen to unhappy voices and heed them as far as possible; perhaps giving a little more than taking back.
And finally, we need a closure on this issue so that we can move forward.