'Govt should announce ceasefire in Kashmir'

Sushobha Barve

Sushobha Barve, executive secretary of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, has been working in Kashmir for a long time and is presently part of the Concerned Citizens Group led by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha that advocates talks with all stakeholders in Kashmir. Sushobha spoke to Shemin Joy of DH.

Kashmir is on the boil once again. How do you see the situation now?

The government's policy of targeting just the militants and killing them is not a viable option. Will it actually help?  Because we know after each funeral of dead militants, another five or six are joining them. So the numbers in that sense are becoming a zero-sum game. Along with the militants, sometimes the civilians are also getting killed. I think this strategy is not helping. It is making even those Kashmiris who do not support militants very unhappy because their own young people are dying. They want the bloodshed to stop on both sides. They ask how long it will go on. They say this is not viable, they cannot move around, they cannot lead a normal life. They want a way out.

Do you think the government could not anticipate the turn of events, particularly the latest spell of violence?

It is common sense that disaffection in any society will erupt eventually into violence. The dialogue process was moving forward till 2013 and there was relative peace on the Line of Control (LoC). For the first time, people on the border areas began to experience the fruits of peace between 2003-2012. Separatist leaders were also part of the engagement process. So many Confidence Building Measures were introduced - the cross-LoC travel and trade started. I will not say we have gone back but we have not gone forward. In the last four years, the LoC violence has escalated to a level that even artillery guns were used by both sides. This caused huge collateral damage on both sides. There is resentment and anger against the government in the communities along the International Border and LoC. They want the government to give 'karara jawab from Delhi and Mumbai and not from their areas'. I have been a frequent visitor to the LoC areas but I have never heard such vocal anger and resentment against the government as I did during the visit of Concerned Citizens Group to the border areas in February 2018. The government did not use those opportunities to open new windows to move forward. There was a failure to move forward and there lies a tragedy. So the widespread disillusionment and hopelessness seen in Kashmir today or the border communities is because they see future where the quality of their lives would become better.

Kashmiris have their own frustration with their leaders too and feel they have not done enough to ensure that things did not slip. The rebellion of young people today is not just against India but also against their own elder separatist leadership. The young people who have grown up during the past two decades have seen nothing but violence.

We need to know why certain pockets continue to produce militants in Kashmir. I know the army and police are also keen to understand reasons for this phenomenon. In recent weeks from the ranks of police and the army, some have joined militancy. It’s a worrying trend. I would be happy if the leaders of the security establishment do some serious thinking. Are these young people mad to join militancy? What is agitating them?

What should the government do?

They should announce a ceasefire and give time and space to everybody to take a step back and reflect on what next. There is no alternative than to open channels for a long-term engagement with Kashmiri leaders, perhaps even with some of the present militants. Who knows, sometime in the future they may come around? No, I have not met any militants. But I believe not everybody is going to turn their back if there is a serious intention and offer for a political engagement. They have to be convinced. For that also, somebody has to do the spade work.

Are you suggesting that there is a need for sustained dialogue?

Yes, there is a need for sustained dialogue which got interrupted after 2004-2008 period. We are talking to Nagas for almost 25 years from the time of P V Narasimha Rao government. Did the Naga leaders give up the demand for independence when they entered into the dialogue? Or did the government announce that it will make an agreement outside the ambit of Constitution with them? I don't know the content of the framework agreement with the Nagas but we have come a long way. The government should agree to unconditional dialogue also with the Kashmiris. Unless the political leadership agrees to this, we are not going to see change on the ground or move forward in Kashmir.

When Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor, the Kashmiri leaders did not immediately reject it. They took several days. You have to see what happened after the appointment. The home minister publicly said at the time that Sharma was free to meet whoever he wants. Immediately after Singh's announcement, Minister of State in PMO Jitender Singh said in a statement, “Sharma is a government representative and there will be no dialogue with separatists.” So are we to believe the statement of the senior minister in the government (a home minister who has the charge of Kashmir affairs) or the junior minister, an MoS in the PMO, to publicly announce what Dineshwar Sharma was meant to do contradicting the home minister. What is being conveyed by the government to the public? Do we take the senior minister’s statement seriously or that of the junior minister? Therefore, against this background, if the Kashmiri leaders decided against talks with Dineshwar Sharma. Why should we all be complaining about that?

So, the only way out is talks?

In every conflict or insurgencies parties eventually, have to sit down and talk. That applies to New Delhi and Kashmir as well. Talks with Pakistan will also have to take place at some point. There are enough sensible people across the political spectrum and civil society in Kashmir.  Where are we right now? Look around the world - North Korea and South Korea are talking and settling their issues, decades-old conflict in Mindanao has seen a settlement. In the Republic of Colombia, the government and the leaders of an insurgent group after years of conflict have signed a peace agreement. We are the only country, a mighty country, a big democracy that has not been able to settle our internal conflicts - the issue of Kashmir. In all the conflicts mentioned above, opposing parties have eventually talked and settled their conflict but in our case, the government is saying “no talks with Kashmiris”. I consider it very uncivilised and undemocratic to continue to say no talks with our own people.

Do you think there is a gulf between Kashmiri people and the government in Delhi?

Obviously, it has grown in the past few years. Majority of the Kashmiris are not anti-India. They don't want to see flare-ups every two years for whatever reason. See, they are upset by the use of pellets that are only used in Kashmir and nowhere else in the country for crowd control. The young Kashmiris look at this as discriminatory and point out to the Jat agitation in Haryana or the Cauvery agitation in the south where crores worth of property was destroyed and yet no bullets or pellets were used by the police. Why only in Kashmir they ask. I agree with them. To explain away the use of pellets by terming Kashmiris as anti-national or terrorists is wrong but also dangerous. It also further alienates them. Many Kashmiris also feel that the present dispensation looks at them differently because they are Muslims. We need to think and reflect when a large number of the population nurses a feeling that they are subjected to harsh treatment because they are Muslims, does that strengthen or weaken our national fabric?

Do you mean to say, after 2014, there was a change in approach towards Kashmir?

Why did it take so long for the Centre to release funds for rehabilitation of victims of 2014 Kashmir floods, the worst floods of the century? Is it only the Kashmir government which was responsible? Why was money not disbursed to the affected traders and others? It is this piling of grievances that led to the outburst in 2016.

Isn't it worrying that more youth and young professionals are joining militancy?

In the 1990s, too, there were young professionals who were among the militant ranks. But the numbers of militants were in hundreds and thousands. They crossed the LoC for training in Pakistan and returned with guns. We do not have such large numbers in the militant ranks nor are the guns and weapons available to the militants as in the 1990s. The crowds that turn up at the encounter sites between militants and government forces go there because these militants are from their village. Nor are all those who pelt stones at security forces militants. Even the security forces are not calling all stone pelters as militants but the media is doing this. When something is happening, the public always goes out to see what is going on.

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