SILENCE IS NOT GOLDEN

The subcontinent’s most persistent trouble spotis in turmoil once again. AS Dulat, the Indian government’s former point man in the region, makes an urgent call for dialogue

 

From time immemorial all the great sages have acknowledged that force and coercion do not work in Kashmir, which is a political and emotive issue, not a military, economic, or law and order problem. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee understood this better thanmost of India’s recent leaders.That is why he is still revered in the Valley.

MAN OF CONVICTION: India's former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
MAN OF CONVICTION: India’s former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee

Vajpayee was convincedthat India needed to end permanent confrontation with Pakistan andmove forward on Kashmir. That conviction took him to Lahore in February 1999 andmade him pursue engagement with Pakistan, despite the Kargil war andthe fiasco in Agra. He visited Islamabad for the SAARC summit inJanuary 2004, and received a public assurance from President Pervez Musharraf that he would not allow Pakistan’s territory to be used for terrorism againstIndia. Musharraf has since been denounced in Pakistan, but his four-point formula,for a virtual settlement on the Line of Control, isstill relevant as the most acceptable way for progress in Kashmir.

Musharraf,Vajpayee and his successor, Dr Manmohan Singh, combined to pave theway for the return of normality in Kashmir after more than 10 years ofbloodshed and destruction. That this window of opportunitywas closed in 2006-07 is a tragedy. That Singh said on leavingoffice in 2014 that an agreement had almost been reached with Pakistanon Kashmir is an even bigger tragedy, for which the Congress party is solely to blame. It did not support its Prime Minister at a crucialjuncture.


The fallout from Kashmir

Tension over Kashmir has led to the cancellation of the summit of South Asian leaders due to be hosted by Islamabad in November, a veiled threat by India to deprive Pakistan of water from the Indus River, and even a ban on Pakistani stars appearing in Bollywood movies.

 

The spur for such action was the September 18 attack on an Indian military base in Kashmir in which 18 soldiers died. Though Islamabad denied Delhi’s accusation that Pakistan-sponsored militants were responsible, India pulled out of the scheduled summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), followed by most of the other members of the eight-country organisation.

 

India’s Foreign Ministry also suggested that the country could revoke the 56-year-old Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), an agreement under which it co-operates with Pakistan on the Indus and its major tributaries, the Jhelum and the Chenab, all of which flow through Kashmir. Any such action would be an ‘act of war’, said Pakistan. Though a meeting of Indian officials held back from revocation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that ‘blood and water cannot flow together’.

The Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association banned Pakistani actors, singers and technicians from working on Indian films, while the far-right Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party demanded that they should leave India and their films should be banned. Films starring Pakistani heart-throbs Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar were among those which stood to be affected.

 


The present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had a huge opportunity to resolve Kashmir, given the majority heenjoyed in Parliament. He could do what neither Vajpayee nor Singh could achieve. As the separatist leader Prof GhaniButt once said, ‘Modi’s tenure could be epoch-making if he could carryeveryone with him, and sort out Kashmir.’ But, alas, it was not to be.Modi’s government has done little more than pay lip service toVajpayee’s great words of wisdom for Kashmir:‘Insaniyat,Jamhooriyat,Kashmiriyat’ (humanity, democracy, Kashmiri identity).

Kashmir has been put on the back burner by Delhi, which is apparently quitecontent with the status quo. But the status quo was never going to begood enough: it favoured Pakistan rather than India. A fragilepolitical process,that needed consolidation, is instead in chaos.

ThePDP/BJP coalition in the state – the obvious outcome of the 2014 Assembly elections– has just not gelled. In his second term in office the late Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had very few options, but hegrossly overrated his political skills, while underrating Modi. AndKashmiri Muslims have never forgiven Mufti for ‘bringing the RSS into theValley’. As a separatist leader put it, ‘Mufti Sahib, who scored acentury on his debut when he became Chief Minister in 2002, was outfirst ball for a duck in his second innings.’

And so Kashmir is in a mess again, in some ways worse than in the 1990s.It has never looked so bleak and depressing as it has in the lastthree months. Yet it all seemed so different in June, when Kashmir witnessedits first flush of tourists: flights full, hotels overbooked, trafficjams in Srinagar and glorious weather. But Kashmir can changeovernight, and there were ominous signs that something was waiting to happen.

TRIGGER: The July 8 shooting of Burhan Wani sparked a wave of violence in Kashmir
TRIGGER: The July 8 shooting of Burhan Wani sparked a wave of violence in Kashmir

The July 8 killing of the militant Burhan Wani, who had become something of anicon in South Kashmir, provided the spark that set theValley ablaze. It became Kashmir’s Bastille moment; poor ‘management’again provided Pakistan with a foothold.Now green flags are waved at the slightest provocation.More than 100 days on, violencecontinues unabated, with killings almost a daily occurrence. What isworse, militancy is on the increase, as is infiltration from Pakistan.Andthe security forces’ morale is low, particularly among the Jammu &Kashmir Police, whichis mostly on the receiving end. At least 30 weapons have beensnatched from the police in the last three months, and policemen are afraid tovisit their villages in case their families are targeted.

But over andabove that, ‘Azadi’ (liberation), which was hitherto just a sentiment, is in danger ofbecoming a conviction. The post-1990 generation, whether radicalised ornot, is much more combative, ready to fight to the finish, which makesKashmir so much scarier today. There are teenagers out in the streetswilling to do or die.Not just Pakistan, but the militant groups – Hizbul Mujahideen,Lashkar-e-Toiba andJaish-e-Mohammad – are again in the limelight. Thesituation in South Kashmir –Tral,Shopian and Pulwama –is so volatilethat even the Army does not feel comfortable carrying out operationsas whole villages come out in support of militants.

Vajpayee is sorely missed, because the need of thehour is statesmanship, which could still transform the setback intoopportunity. The first step towards putting things together, as HenryKissinger suggested in the context of the Brexit controversy inBritain,is to rediscover confidence. The former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, said it was Delhi’sinability to address the anger on the streets that was keeping italive.

And yet the vast majority of Kashmiris want peace more than anythingelse. India owes it to them to provide an opportunity, a way out.

Sometime ago, the former Union Home Minister, PC Chidambaram, whileadmitting that the centre had reneged on past assurances made to Kashmir, said that the country needed to go as far back asrealistically possible(1947-1953) to resolve the Kashmir issue. He isalso known to have said in the past that Kashmir is ‘a unique issue, and needs a unique solution’. His Congress party has not been happy with his views, butChidambaram was speaking the truth.

More recently, while pleading for talks between India andPakistan, Dr Farooq Abdullah – Kashmir’s most prominent leader and three times Chief Minister– said that whenever there was tension between the neighbours,militancy increased and Kashmiris suffered. He also called for adialogue with all stakeholders, including the separatists in Kashmir.

There is an erroneous belief that Kashmiris may not be prepared totalk, but they are always ready and willing to do so. OnAugust 20,the Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen DS Hooda,offeredto talk with everyone, including the separatists, to bring peace to theValley. The separatist leader, Mirwaiz Mohammad Umar Farooq, immediately responded positively, going to theextent of saying that Kashmiris were prepared to talk to the Army ifit could find a solution to Kashmir.

Engagement, as Vajpayee understood, is the only way forward. When Delhistops talking to Kashmiris, believing that they are under the influenceof Pakistan, it demonstrates a lack of confidence. The link ofseparatists with Pakistan is a result of India’s policies. EveryKashmiri leader knows and understands that Kashmir is going nowhere – it is with India, and will remain so. But Delhi needs to talk, andnever stop talking, to everyone in Kashmir. Not talking to Pakistan isfar from the best option; not talking to either Pakistan or Kashmirisspells trouble.

If ever there was an urgent need for dialogue between Srinagar andDelhi, it is now. It is often argued on both sides that talks haveachieved very little, so what more can Delhi give? Not true, but even ifit were, talks always provide hope, and hope is what Kashmir needsin this state of hopelessness.We need to go back to a Kashmir where hope triumphs over hatred.


AS Dulat joined the Indian Police Service in 1965, butserved most of his career in the intelligence agencies. After 30 years inthe Intelligence Bureau, he headed the Research and Analysis Wingunder PrimeMinister Vajpayee. He later joined Vajpayee’s Prime Minister’s Office to monitor, manage and direct the Governmentof India’s initiatives in Kashmir

 

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