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August 7, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Kuldip Nayar

'India has had no policy on Kashmir and it has committed mistake after mistake'

It is stating the obvious. Peace cannot be secure in Kashmir without the support of the people living there. The armed forces have defended the state four times against foreign aggression. The Kargil incursion was the last wild card that Pakistan played.

Having taken care of the military aspect, how we tackle the political side of the problem is the question. More specifically, how do we retrieve the Kashmiris who are generally sullen and distant? This is the political aspect which has not received proper attention, although several Indian army commanders have said that Kashmir is not a military problem.

True, Islamabad's proxy war in the shape of mercenaries, the ISI saboteurs and even the armed forces - Pakistan describes all this as 'its moral and diplomatic support' to the militants - has not allowed the state of settle down to normalcy for years. In the last one decade, the interference from across the border has been colossal. Still, frankly speaking, India has had no policy on Kashmir and it has committed mistake after mistake.

One can go back to the time when Sheikh Abdullah, then Kashmir's sole leader, was detained in 1952 because he wanted India to live up to its promise of autonomy. That meant transferring all powers to Srinagar except those relating to foreign affairs, defence and communications. Or to 1989, when the state assembly elections were rigged to force the Kashmir youth infer that the ballot box would not bring them power, the bullet might.

Pakistan was only looking for an opportunity when the angry young Kashmiris would cross the border to get training and arms. That it smuggled in some of the its own armed men to guide them was natural because it had waited for nearly four decades to build an uprising in the valley. In the militancy and the state's response that followed, a large number of Kashmiris and members of security forces lost their lives.

No doubt, these things come between the two whenever there is a suggestion that Srinagar and Delhi should have a dialogue. Also examples of violation of human rights are innumerable. More than that is the estrangement of Kashmiris and the rulers' lack of trust in them. The wind of fundamentalism blowing in the land of Sufis too is creating difficulties.

Yet, the Kashmiris need to be brought back to the mainstream. They too have realised by this time that the insurgency, which is practically over, does not provide a solution. The first militant, Yasin Malik, who raised his gun at a public meeting in the heart of Srinagar, has turned nonviolent and vegetarian. Now he is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Another defiant leader, Shabir Shah, who spent two decades in jail, has come to believe that conciliation is the only way to end the Kashmiris' trials and tribulations. Former Congress leader Mehbooba Mufti and her father, former Home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, have blown a fuse by insisting on unconditional talks with the militants. They should know that the militants of yesterday are already part of one or the other political formation in the valley today. As for the separatists, they too seem to have realised that secession may not be the answer to all their questions. No separation movement in India has succeeded.

The demand of the Muftis is not so important as the autonomy promised to the state. When Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Indian Union, Maharaja Hari Singh parted with only three subjects: foreign affairs, defence and communications. Article 370 in the Constitution institutionalised the arrangement and gave the state a special status. This special status to Kashmir appears to have wide acceptance in the country. The BJP had to drop its demand for the deletion of Article 370 before getting support for forming the government at the Centre. Even the manifesto that the ruling National Democratic Alliance is presenting to the nation in the forthcoming election has raised no objection against Article 370. So it may be presumed that the BJP accepts Kashmir's special status in the Indian Union.

The ball is, therefore, in the Kashmiri leaders' court. Some of the them are unnecessarily trying to touch Srinagar, Delhi and Islamabad at the same time. This is not going to be possible unless the ruling Muslim League and some others in Pakistan give up the fiction that the accession of the Muslim-majority valley to Pakistan is the 'unfinished agenda of Partition'. None in India will be willing to accept this thesis. And the way in which New Delhi's armed forces have fought to capture the Kargil heights should make it clear to all that India will go to any extent to defend the Line of Control.

The Kashmiri leaders, particularly the younger lot, have to face the realities. An opportunity has now come their way in the shape of the Lok Sabha election. If they are in the same House, they can demand from the nation what has been denied to them even after the 1952 Delhi Agreement, that is, their special status. They can insist on all precautions for a fair election. But they cannot afford to miss the opportunity.

Instead of harping on UN supervision, they should ask for human rights activists or some others in whom they have confidence in India to be poll observers in the state. By getting elected to Parliament, the Kashmiri leaders will have an opportunity for disproving the government allegation that their support was primarily because of fear and fundamentalism they have spread in the valley.

They should understand that because of the uncertain situation in Kashmir, New Delhi has denied the state the liberal economic assistance which it should get. Many packages have been announced in the past one decade. It was first Rajiv Gandhi who promised an allocation of Rs 2,000 crore. The successive prime ministers after him have been raising the figure, but never allocating even a fraction of it. Delhi has also misread to some extent the reason for people's sulkiness there. Had there been economic development in the state, the Kashmiri focus of attention would have been different. One has only to think of the days when they would look forward to the arrival of tourists. To peace. Political struggle had a different meaning then.

Today, people are sick of violence. The security forces and the terrorists from across the border have made them live on edge. Poor living conditions have deteriorated further. They want development, not politics, which the Farooq Abdullah government has been lately selling to them vigorously. A responsive, clean and purposeful administration in the state would have lessened their and Delhi's headaches.

The inquiry committee, which the government has instituted to go into the failures of Kargil, does not generate much optimism. The government should not have selected the members of the National Security Advisory Board. They will now be wearing two hats, one that of NSAB, which is an extension of the government's defence preparations and the other of the committee to find out where the defence preparations failed and how. The two roles are contradictory.

One has a sneaking feeling that the report and its recommendations may have the same fate as the one submitted by the National Police Commission. It made some good recommendations but they were not implemented simply because the commission was appointed during the Emergency. Who knows who will be in power when the Kargil report is submitted?

Kuldip Nayar

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