First Person | Lull, Not Peace

We needs both imagination and large-heartedness to resolve Kashmir

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Finally when the kids came out on the streets of Kashmir in the last week of September they did not have stones in their hands. While it did not take much for the government of India to replace stones with school bags (a few members of all-party delegation breaking protocol did the trick), it will need much more to ensure that school bags are not replaced by stones once again. Being a volatile state, incidents do not always need a provocation there.

The biggest challenge today is to engage with the youth and remain engaged with them. At the moment, it seems that the government by asking the private sector to provide 20,000 jobs for the Kashmiri unemployed is shirking responsibility. A government that runs an airlines, several PSUs, number of hotels, television and radio channels, news agencies, hospitals, and so on cannot provide jobs to 20,000 people all over the country is slightly difficult to believe, especially when it is a matter of national security. 20,000 employed Kashmiris in various parts of India would imply that many less youngsters on the streets pelting stones. It would be criminal if yet another generation is lost to romanticism. And the responsibility for that will have to be shared by all: the people of J&K, the state and the Union government.

The biggest responsibility, however, is of the government of India, which has a tendency of dozing off whenever people get tired of protesting, mistaking lull for peace. The last few years when Kashmir seemed peaceful, it was actually waiting in anticipation as the government of India talked resolution with Pakistan. By the government’s own admission, substantial progress was made towards resolution, both through official interaction and back-channels. The opening of meeting points on the Line of Control, the cross LC bus service, arrival of the railway line and cross LC trade followed in a series of incremental steps towards resolution. With Separatist leaders openly travelling to Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s several pronouncements of a soft border and lasting peace, hope had sky-rocketed in Kashmir. Either deliberately or mistakenly, these signs were read as normalcy when it was only anticipation.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) contributed to the misinterpretation by claiming credit for everything that was going right in the Valley at that time. Attributing the sense of normalcy to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s healing touch policy it created the impression that governance could be a substitute to resolution, thereby broad-brushing the fact that because of the ongoing India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir at that time, the Hizbul Mujahideen, Jamaat-e-Islami and other such parties with the propensity and capacity for street-fighting had been sitting quietly.

Once the dialogue process collapsed and the hope of its reviving ended too, the lid on these elements was off. And because India called off the talks and even now has put the rider of terrorism before talking Kashmir, it is being viewed as reneging on its promise made a few years ago. Add to that the supposed un-kept promises since Independence and India comes out as a habitual offender.

In all this chaos, the current chief minister Omar Abdullah has been an all too obliging fall guy. He came to power with the unbearable burden of expectations and a vicious opposition which was determined to ensure that he falter and fail. And fail he did, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, when a series of incidents of human rights violations from the beginning of his tenure put him on a defensive. He could never seize the initiative again.

But now with a little break in the cycle of street protests and violence, the government has belatedly come up with an eight-point formula. Once again for peace, not resolution. And predictably enough, the Separatists, who the government wants to lure to the negotiating table, have rejected it. Unfortunately, the government remains blind to the dangerous truth that now stalks the streets of Kashmir: increased radicalisation of the people and marginalisation of Sufism-induced Kashmiriyat. Even among the Separatists, the voices of moderation have been out-shouted by the Islamist elements. The longer the government delays resolution, stronger the radical forces will become. But Islamic radicalisation is not the only worry. The Maoists also have sniffed an opportunity in Kashmir. How long before they initiate cooperation with them.

Another factor for urgency is the growing US interest in Kashmir. If one takes the leaks from Bob Woodward’s latest book, Obama’s War, seriously, then President Barack Obama sees himself hosting Manmohan Singh and Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani (or Gen. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, if you insist) at Camp David a la Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu.

And honestly, how much we may wring our hands in protest, to an outsider Kashmir does look like a dispute, with not two but three claimants now. Restrictive laws, presence of military in civilian areas, human rights violations, sustained insurgency and relentless street protests in which only civilians die is not reflective of a state of normalcy. The government is at liberty to drag its feet as much as it wants, however, not only global public opinion but justice demands that it needs to move from crisis management to resolution.


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