First Person | Talk, Not Hector

Threats don’t work, nor does silence

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

You know not much good can happen when even without an election in sight, policy-making is replaced by rhetoric by the government of the day. Add to that a persecution complex which is internalised by all ministers, who at the first sign of criticism either abuse the messenger or accuse him/ her of criticising the great Indian nation. This is at the heart of near violent protestations against anyone crying intolerance. Either deliberately or because it is no longer able to see the difference, the government is denouncing all contrarian views as ideologically or politically motivated. Hence, there is no reason to heed that viewpoint.

The most recent victim of this misplaced assumption of nationalism is former Union minister and chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Farooq Abdullah. He made two consecutive comments to earn this opprobrium. In the first comment, made on 27 November 2015, he said: “POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) is in Pakistan and will remain; Jammu and Kashmir is in India and will remain. We need to understand this.”

Members of the ruling party, including the deputy chief minister of J&K dismissed the remark scornfully, reminding Abdullah about the 1994 Parliament resolution, passed unanimously, which declared the entire J&K, including the portions that Pakistan has ceded to China, as part of India.

Two days later, journalists again got a taste of Abdullah. Speaking at a seminar in Jammu on India-Pakistan, he said “Even if the entire Indian Army comes, they cannot defend people against militants and terrorists,” while making the larger point of talking with Pakistan for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The protests have only increased since, with some suggesting that Abdullah be tried for treason, for running down the Indian Army and for dishonouring the Parliamentary resolution. Thankfully, the government has only tut-tutted Abdullah and not heeded the advice of the breast-beaters.

On both the issues, Abdullah is absolutely correct. To begin with, the Parliamentary resolution of 1994 itself is a reflection of our collective immaturity. It was conceptualised and passed without any thought to what it means and implies; and whether India, as a country has the power or even inclination to realise it. As Pakistan was raising the issue of human rights violations by the Indian security forces in Kashmir at the United Nations General Assembly, the best that the Indian government could think of was to get the entire House to assert that J&K is an inalienable part of India. By getting the Parliament to pass a resolution which was impossible to realise, the government actually made a mockery of the Legislature.

The first Prime Minister to throw it out of the window was BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee, who declared upon reaching Lahore in 1999 that, “India welcomes sustained discussions (with Pakistan) on all outstanding issues, including on Jammu and Kashmir…”

Was he planning to request Pakistan to return POK to India and use its good offices with China to persuade it to return Aksai Chin and Shaksgam Valley to us? Was this what he meant when he declared that he was willing to discuss J&K with Pakistan?

Abdullah’s second statement holds even greater truism. Hardly any insurgencies have been defeated in the world without a political process and by military force alone; especially those insurgencies which are abetted from outside the country. Kashmiri insurgency has both physical and psychological support from Pakistan. It is registered as a dispute in the United Nations, which still has observer’s office in Srinagar. Many countries, including several European countries, are ambivalent about India’s periodic assertions on Kashmir; they believe that the issue needs resolution. They frequently encourage India and Pakistan to talk. More than two dozen track II processes between India-Pakistan are being funded by various western countries. Even when Kashmir is not on the agenda, it is always in the background.

And most importantly, in 2004-2007, government of India was following a two-track mechanism for resolving the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. At one level, back channel talks were going on between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf’s representatives; and on the other level, government was engaging with a cross-section of the Kashmiri society. The talks were premised on the understanding that borders will not be altered (so no question of India annexing POK), but will be made irrelevant over a period of time.

Today, the government has deployed nearly 500,000 military and paramilitary personnel in the state, in addition to the state police to fish out about 100 or less armed militants. Yet, it is not able to do so, because these 100 insurgents have the support of the local people. As long as this support remains, the army will only do fire-fighting. Theoretical phrases like conflict management and conflict stabilisation, notwithstanding. Both of these are in the domain of a political process, military being just one of the tools. Besides, the moment military becomes the face of the government it further alienates the already alienated populace.

Instead of trashing the statements made by Abdullah, the government must lift its head from the sands of arrogance where it was buried when it came to power announcing to the Indian neighbourhood that times have changed. Since no one has heeded the announcement, the government might as well sit up and talk; especially, with Pakistan; instead of issuing periodic threats. Perhaps, then something good may start.


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