The ongoing agitation is slowly spilling over to some of the areas south of the Pir Panjal Range in the Jammu division.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has realised that it is time to deliver in Kashmir and has come out strongly in favour of a healing touch. He has spoken of feeling the people’s ‘dard aur mayusi’ and has expressed his anguish over the recent killings in the Kashmir Valley. Though it came a bit late in the day, the prime minister held an all-party meeting to discuss the emerging situation and decided to send an all-party delegation to Kashmir. The delegation had a fruitful visit and even met some separatist Kashmiri leaders.
The prime minister approved an eight-point package for Kashmir. While this was welcomed by the beleaguered chief minister, it was dubbed ‘too little, too late’ by Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP and some other political parties. The prime minister also appointed an expert group headed by Dr C Rangarajan, with N R Narayana Murthy, Tarun Das, P Nanda Kumar, Shaqueel Qalander and an official representative of the J&K government as members, to formulate a plan for creating new jobs in the state. There is speculation now that Singh will also appoint a political interlocutor to unconditionally resume the stalled dialogue with Kashmiri political parties representing all shades of opinion.
If the Kashmiri people come out on the streets of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Anantnag and half a dozen other towns like they did in 1988-89, in today’s mega-media age, it will be well nigh impossible to keep Kashmir by force. The situation in the Kashmir Valley is far more critical than ministers of the Central government are ready to admit at least in public.
A new generation of students born in the early 1990s has taken to the streets and they are not going to go back home empty-handed. An overwhelming majority among the youth in the Valley is in favour of ‘azadi’. Of course, the consensus in the Jammu and Ladakh divisions of J&K is for the state remaining within the Indian Union.
Brought up during two decades of violence under the shadow of the guns of the security forces as well as terrorists, the hopes of these students remain unfulfilled. They are educated, but jobless. And, they are angry. While some of them are no doubt being paid to shout slogans demanding ‘azadi’ and hurl stones at security forces, most of them appear to be genuinely concerned about the lack of resolution of the core issues and the government’s inability to resolve the socio-economic challenges facing the state.
The successful resolution of insurgencies requires a three-pronged approach: governance, development and security, along with perception management. While the security situation has improved considerably over the last few years, poor governance and the lack of adequate socio-economic development continue to hamper efforts to put an end to the insurgency being sponsored by the Pakistan army and the ISI. No insurgency anywhere in the world has ever been solved by the security forces alone.
Sense of alienation
Another major cause for concern is the palpable sense of alienation of the Kashmiri people from the national mainstream. While successive prime ministers have taken several laudable initiatives in the past, there has been marked slackness in following through and most of the promises made to the people of J&K have not been kept.
Except for a very small minority that has been deeply influenced by radical extremism, the Kashmiri people do not wish to either join Pakistan or opt for independence from India, despite the slogans being shouted in recent months. Creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan goes against the grain of Kashmiriyat and Sufi culture and it has not gone unnoticed.
After very hard and acrimonious bargaining, the Kashmiri people will ultimately settle for unadulterated autonomy, which will allow them the right to rule themselves, within the Indian Union. They will accept that the Central government continues to deal with defence, foreign affairs, currency and communications while the J&K Assembly is left free to legislate on everything else.
This should not be viewed as an out of the way concession as federalism forms the basis of the Indian Constitution. If some sections of the Indian polity think that is too much to concede, they need to consider the alternatives — each of which is too horrible to contemplate.
All-party talks must be held to evolve a national consensus on resolving the problem. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and political leaders belonging to all political parties at the Centre and in the state must rise to the occasion and provide the leadership that the situation requires. As for the security forces, they must be allowed to conduct their counter-insurgency operations against Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in accordance with the well established rules of engagement, but must do so with a sense of utmost restraint. It is time to stop inflaming passions on vote-bank based party lines of the past and to act in a statesman-like manner in the national interest. The integrity of India as a nation-state must remain inviolable.
(The writer is the director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies)