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Kashmir needs a political package

CONTINUING UNREST: Slogan-shouting youths march at the funeral of a youth who died in BSF firing at Ajas in Bandipore, 45 km from Srinagar. File photo  

The most significant implication of this week's visit by an all-party delegation to Jammu and Kashmir is this: the Indian political class has collectively accepted the essentially political nature of the Kashmir problem. However, the benefits of the beginning of this much-awaited transformation of Kashmir from a ‘securitised' narrative to a ‘politicised' one will be short-lived if those reassuring words are not translated into actions. The Hindu's editorial (September 14, 2010) accurately summed up the United Progressive Alliance government's current approach to the Kashmir issue and the urgent need to move beyond mere words: “By talking big while having little to offer, New Delhi has unwittingly fanned the flames in J&K.” Hence, the need now is to announce a clearly defined ‘political package' for the agitating Kashmiris.

The all-party delegation cannot decide on such a political package; the Government of India can. But the more than hundred Kashmiris killed in recent months by the security forces have failed to prompt the Central government to think beyond its usual pious platitudes of dialogues, engagements and delegations. If New Delhi is determined to live forever in ignorance and denial, why should Kashmiris respond with anything other than cynicism to its out-dated and bumbling efforts towards what it likes to call ‘finding a solution'? New Delhi's complete lack of vision, seriousness and sincerity in previous dialogues with Kashmiris has understandably meant that the proposal is simply seen as a short-term tactic aimed to calm the situation. Once national and international attention wanes, and the Kashmiri protesters go about their normal lives, the government might go back, as it has done in the past, to the business of conveniently ignoring that thorny little issue in northwestern India.

Beyond platitudes

What, then, can be done to bring peace to the Valley? Can we, under the prevailing circumstances, lay out a clear roadmap for a political resolution of the Kashmir issue? The very fact that a political package is being contemplated as opposed to an improvised military strategy in order to address a political problem is itself encouraging. But there is a need to flesh out what it really entails. A long and drawn-out process of political dialogue without any time-bound commitments is unlikely to be accepted by Kashmiris; so the first step is to articulate a timeframe. A political solution to the Kashmir issue can be imagined as a multi-phased one, with measures relating to it being implemented in the immediate term, the intermediate term, and the long term.

Immediate measures

In the immediate term, the government should put together a panel of senior Kashmir interlocutors. They should be asked to talk to a cross-section of Kashmiris, most importantly leaders of all dissident groups, in a sustained manner. The government should immediately review the status and consider releasing all political prisoners arrested under the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, and such other laws. The AFSPA should then be suitably amended or withdrawn. There also has to be a rethinking on the Disturbed Areas Act and the Public Safety Act. Thereafter, an empowered judicial commission should be tasked to probe all fake encounters and civilian deaths in J&K at the hands of the security forces. The commission must have a legal mandate to prosecute erring officers, both civilian and military.

Intermediate term

In the intermediate term, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) should be set up in the State to help Kashmiris come to terms with their past and to advance the cause of justice and reconciliation. Both India and Kashmir need to make peace with each other and with their complicated past. The TRC can consider bringing out a white paper on the commission and prosecution of human rights violations in J&K over the years. However, the most important aspect of this political package should be the adherence to Article 370 of the Constitution in letter and spirit. Article 370 has been chipped away by a succession of State governments with the collusion and at the behest of New Delhi. Most of the key features of the Article have been distorted or removed to such an extent that it is no longer recognisable. This is severely resented by Kashmiris. Indeed, the National Conference-appointed State Autonomy Committee had, in 1999, recommended that the President of India should strike down all orders that infringe on the 1950 Constitution (Application to J-K) Order, and the Delhi Agreement of 1952. This recommendation was not heeded by the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. It should be revisited at the earliest in conjunction with other recommendations from political parties such as the People's Democratic Party.

The BJP and many other weak-hearted nationalists have argued that giving special treatment to Kashmir will loosen India's control there, creating a domino effect. They argue that such actions would contravene the spirit of national integration. Yet multiple Indian States enjoy special provisions in varying measure and are still as much a part of the nation as any other. Moreover, as the Supreme Court clearly observed in its judgment in Khazan Chand vs the State of Jammu and Kashmir (1984), J&K “holds a special position in the constitutional set-up of our country.” The Supreme Court further stated that Article 370 is the basis for a constitutional relationship between the Indian Union and J&K State.

For the long term

A permanent solution to the Kashmir issue is unlikely to emerge without the involvement of Pakistan. In the longer term, therefore, there is a need to revisit the back-channel decisions reached by the two countries on Jammu and Kashmir that can be implemented in the State in consultation with the people of the State. Now that Pakistan has, at least theoretically, given up many of its puritanical and irredentist positions on Kashmir, India should capitalise on the opportunity to seek mutually agreeable positions on the issue. India should also encourage the establishment of enduring linkages across the Line of Control, consultative mechanisms, trade, and public interaction between the two sides of J&K. Various non-governmental initiatives must be encouraged to bring people from the two sides of the erstwhile princely state. People-to-people contact such as this should not be underrated: it can contribute immeasurably to resolving long-standing conflicts such as that in J&K.

Any further delay in addressing the situation politically will lead to increasing schisms within the Kashmiri body politic. For instance, over the last few years we have seen an encouraging and creative political debate and ideological shifts between the mainstream and the dissidents in Kashmir. The ongoing agitation could undo that process of finding the middle ground. More significantly, one of the major casualties of this ongoing agitation would be the mainstream political ideas and processes in Kashmir. The mainstream Kashmiri politicians are not ready to go to the people today because they are scared and unsure what their response would be. The danger in Kashmir today is that the more mainstream your politics, the more likely it is that you would be termed a gaddar (traitor) by the agitating Kashmiris. So even the moderate dissidents are forced to take extreme positions.

Engaging Kashmiris in a result-oriented and goal-driven manner as laid out here is indeed taking the road less travelled, a road that is not easy to take. And so, before New Delhi decides to discard suggestions such as this, it needs to ask itself what serves India's long-term national interests better: maintaining the violent, chaotic, ungovernable status quo in Kashmir through brute force and military might, or meeting the legitimate political aspirations of the Kashmiris and convincing them that they have a place in the idea of India?

(Happymon Jacob teaches at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 8:01:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/Kashmir-needs-a-political-package/article16044768.ece

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