First Person | Summer’s Hope

The government must not allow another opportunity go waste in Kashmir

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab 

Another summer is upon us. Hopefully, it will not be very different from the summer of 2011 in Kashmir. The army, police and the CRPF will run a series of events to keep the Kashmiri youth busy and beyond the reach of stones till the harvest season commences in the middle of August; when all hands are needed in the orchards.Then autumn would set in and people will get busy preparing for the long winter. Yet another year would go by and nothing would change.

For decades now, people in Kashmir have been living their lives piecemeal, from one season to another, from one round of talks to another and from one promise to another. Having hitched their future to an illusive dream, which may never be realised, people treat the current reality as transitory. Forever waiting to reach, what they hope would be their destination. Like the protagonist in the Walt Disney animation film Tangled, you can’t really fault a Kashmiri when he/she asks, “When will my life begin?”

This state of mind (as opposed to the state of affairs) makes a Kashmiri different from the rest of us. In this transitory phase of life, survival is of paramount importance — though often for the so-called larger goal it is put on the line — making people lead conflicting and contradictory lives. They live astride the political divide, balancing themselves precariously between the law-makers and the law-breakers, between the police and the Separatists, between the army and the terrorists, earning for themselves the sobriquet of opportunists and fence-sitters. But what choice do they have; when they are in transition, they have to preserve their body and soul for the destination.

The government of India does not see Kashmir like this. Or even if it does, it fears to admit it. Rubbishing the transition argument, it believes that Kashmir needs to be managed on a day to day basis, sometimes by dangling a carrot, sometimes by wielding a stick, sometimes by a fanciful promise and sometimes by humouring the local people by indulging them in conversations about their future. From the government’s perspective, the good thing about this approach is that even though you give the impression of moving forward, you always end up at the same spot from where you start. Your holding position is never compromised. The trouble is when the government talks of moving forward, some gullible Kashmiris actually start walking. So, then they have to return to the starting point and the rage boils over.

Since this strategy has seen the government through the worst phase of violence, there is no great compulsion for it to abandon it. Hence, there is very little possibility that any action would be taken on the report submitted by the three interlocutors last year. There is even less possibility of any review happening on the AFSPA, forget about its revocation, partial or total. Even the employment generation measures like Project Himayat and Project Udaan for which the government has allocated Rs 2,000 crore over the next five years are likely to lose steam once the initial fervour subsides because the government and the Kashmiris view the future differently. Kashmiris will grab jobs, go as far as to Bangalore to work in business process outsourcing units and then return to ask for azadi.

While the government is contend to stay where it is, with a manageable level of conflict, which it believes the army, state police and the CRPF can handle without much loss, the people want to move. They may not want to move as far as they once did, but they do want to move. Move to a position which shows that violence, deaths and uncertainty of decades meant something, that from the transitory they are now at a permanent place; that their lives have begun.

Two peaceful summers in a row is as good as it will get. If the opportunity thrown by this long window does not move the government, it may move the Kashmiri once again. And let’s not forget the external handle in Kashmir. The quietude on the west signifies neither change of heart nor weakness. At best its tactical retreat. But even that’s good enough to push through some heavy-duty domestic measures. Economics is not the answer to political problems. Political initiatives are. Greater autonomy, AFSPA and reforms on cross-LC trade etc are all on the table. A sincere action on any of these would suggest that two summers have not gone waste. To think that the Kashmir issue will continue to simmer but not boil over is fool-hardy.

President Zardari’s spiritual quest in India will mean little for the Kashmir issue. That is not his brief. The businessman President can only talk trade with the economist Prime Minister. Only Musharraf’s successor can hold court on Kashmir, whether we like it or not. So keeping Zardari’s health in mind we must give him food that he can digest without external aid. And while we wait out the transition period in Pakistan, let’s make our own moves to reclaim the people of Kashmir. The weather looks promising, let’s make it better.


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