J&K: Quest for normalcy amidst external machinations - II
by Kamal Davar on 15 Apr 2017 11 Comments

Major contentious issues plaguing normalcy in J&K 

 

Resolving the vexed J&K problem with its numerous complexities will require a well-conceived, consistent and determined approach. As India constantly factors in Pakistan’s persistent mischief to keep the pot boiling in the state, there is much to be done to douse the separatist emotions of some misguided Kashmiri youth. Prior to suggesting the way forward, it will be worthwhile to delve deeply into contentious issues which plague Kashmir’s full assimilation into the national mainstream. 

 

Article 370

 

Article 370 is a law in the Constitution of India which grants special status to J&K within the Union of India. This law ordains that except for foreign affairs, defence, finance and communications, the Indian Parliament will require the approval of the state government for introduction or application of any other laws on aspects other than mentioned. During its introduction at the time of the enactment of the Constitution, Article 370 fell under the Constitution of India’s Part XXI called “Temporary and Transitional Provisions”. On 27 November 1963, Pt. Nehru himself confirmed on the floor of Parliament that he had earlier made the statement that “Article 370 of the Constitution would be eroded progressively.” But as the years have passed, Article 370 appears to have become effectively permanent and for the local leaders of the Kashmir Valley an emotive issue.

 

The BJP government in the run-up to the general elections (2014) had unequivocally stated that it would dispense with it if voted to power. The reality of power and governance being vastly different to election rhetoric, the BJP has now gone lukewarm on its earlier reiteration on Article 370. Nevertheless, it is time to objectively review the provisions of the entire Article. Its legal ramifications, as interpreted even internationally, should be analyzed in detail.

 

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)

 

AFSPA was enacted by the Indian Parliament on 11 September 1958, which confers special powers to the armed forces in “disturbed areas.” The Act is central to the operations of the security forces who require legal immunity while operating in areas afflicted by insurgency and terrorism. However, some state governments, certain citizens and NGOs have been demanding withdrawal of this Act on the grounds that it is “draconian” in its implementation and some NGOs have dubbed it, unfairly, as a “license to kill.”

 

As regards J&K, the present CM and even previous ones, have advocated repealing AFSPA from J&K. An unbiased look at the current security situation does not recommend the withdrawal of the Act in the present security scenario. However, whenever the security situation normalises, the Army may re-visit the necessity of AFSPA in J&K’s hinterland and leave it to the state police and the Central police /para military forces to handle internal security while the Army concentrates on manning the Line of Control (LoC). 

 

Meanwhile, as the Army conducts counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations in the state, it must do so with a human face, ensuring minimum collateral damage, involve locals for local intelligence gathering and logistical support and further energise its people-friendly activities.

 

Rehabilitation of Kashmir Pandits (KPs)

 

The advent of heightened Pakistan-sponsored militancy in the early 1990s witnessed the phenomenon of nearly three lakh Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) fleeing their homes from the Kashmir region to outside the state or areas around Jammu. In a matter of months, KPs became refugees in their own homeland. For years, there has been much discussion on the return of the KPs to Kashmir. The present state government advocated the concept of establishing small townships for them (calling them composite camps) in Srinagar and some other towns in the Valley whilst the separatists suggested the KPs to return to their original abandoned homes. The KPs themselves, most of them now living in refugee colonies, in and around Jammu, are not sure about their security in case they return to the Valley - thus an impasse has resulted.

 

The rehabilitation of the KPs is one of the major challenges facing the current Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP coalition government.

 

Handling Separatist Leaders

 

Since Kashmir’s accession to India, Pakistan has assiduously endeavored to foment trouble in J&K, especially in the Valley, not only by violent methods but by encouraging separatist leaders to regularly drum up anti-India activities in diverse ways. Misusing the liberty of democracy and often India’s soft attitudes towards its errant citizens, these separatist leaders, supported ideologically and financially by Pakistan, have employed the pulpits of mosques and ‘madrassas’ to spread their message of hatred and communal disharmony. Each year, most of them are allowed by the Indian state to attend functions at the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi, where they get their annual financial doles and latest instructions from their ISI handlers.

 

The Government of India and the state government must come down with a heavy hand on separatists like Syed Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Begum Andrabi, Masrat Alam, etc., and any anti-national activities must be firmly curtailed. The state government’s putting them in comfortable “house arrests” hardly solves the problem - they should be housed, whenever they indulge in anti-national activities, in proper jails even outside the state and dealt with under the Indian law.

 

Ever Growing China-Pak Axis in the Region

 

For years, the “higher than the mountains” and “deeper than the oceans” friendship between China and its supplicant nation, Pakistan, has been on the ascendant. India has to factor in the strategic ramifications of this axis which is primarily targeted against India behind the façade of economic cooperation between Pakistan and China. This collusion will get further cemented by the so-called 46 billion dollar (now raised to $54 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from restive Kashgar in China to the Gwadar deep water port on the Arabian Sea, running through Gilgit-Baltistan-POK and thence through insurgency-hit Baluchistan. Gwadar port will give China round-the-year strategic access from Tibet to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and assist it to move its vital oil and other supplies to the Chinese mainland via the CPEC, reducing its dependence on the narrow Malacca Strait.

 

Over the past two years, Pakistan definitely appears emboldened in its nefarious activities in J&K and adopted a strident anti-India stance after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in March 2014. According to reports, including in the US media, China has stationed nearly 50,000 troops in GB-POK region, masquerading as a labour force and engineers, to build infrastructure along the Karakoram Highway whilst also having taken a 50-year lease for this region from Pakistan. The large and strong Chinese presence in the region has obviously ominous concerns for J&K and India. The Chinese building the CPEC through what is “disputed territory”, namely Gilgit-Baltistan region, clearly conveys China’s scoffing at Indian sensitivities in an area which was an integral part of the erstwhile princely state of J&K.

 

Current Security Situation in J&K

 

Kashmir is currently on the edge of a precipice, witnessing a new form of uprising not seen since the late 1980s/ early 1990s. The highly restive yet indigenously popular anti-establishment movement got sparked off with Indian security forces eliminating a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) commander, Burhan Wani, on July 8, 2016 in South Kashmir. Till date, over 90 Kashmiris, especially youth, and a few soldiers, have been killed in these near-daily clashes between the security forces and stone-pelting youth. The current unrest is a cause of greater concern to the Indian establishment than earlier, as most agitators are not only locals but have very young ones among them.

 

In addition, some of these stone-pelters and agitators are well educated and from middle class families. The separatist leadership in the Valley, with their old loyalties to their Pakistani mentors, continue to stoke the fires of unrest and continue issuing dates for ‘bandhs’ (disruptions to close shops, schools and establishments, etc.,) thus affecting the daily lives of the ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, terrorists (Pakistani and local) have upped the ante in the Valley targeting mostly security forces, installations and convoys. As part of a well-conceived strategy, Pakistan has intensified its nefarious activities along the LoC and international border (IB) in J&K.

 

Also of concern is the upsurge in religious radicalization in the Valley. In the past few years, Hanafi thought, which was greatly influenced by the tolerant Sufi way of life, is being overtaken by radical Wahhabi ideologues in mosques, the countryside and even in urban areas. Large numbers of ordinary Kashmiri folk are now according legitimacy to militants and terrorists - both Pakistanis and locals. Even the so-called moderate Hurriyat leaders are finding it difficult to influence the growing community of agitating youthful hordes.

 

What are the concerted measures India needs to take to achieve Reconciliation through Dialogue and Development to bring the restive Valley into the national mainstream? Does the Centre need to pump in greater resources in education, healthcare and infrastructure, generating additional employment for youth in J&K, which may wean them from militancy?

 

The issue of a large number of Rohingya Muslims, displaced from Myanmar and Bangladesh and settling in J&K, has the potential to become both a communal and security problem. While the Rohingyas have managed to get citizenship rights in J&K, poor refugees from West Pakistan, who have been living in Jammu region since 1947, remain stateless. Both the Centre and the state government need to resolve this issue with alacrity and fairness.

 

The Way Forward

 

J&K’s accession to India is irrevocable, but it is critical that its emotional integration with Mother India is speedily and comprehensively achieved. India, thus, needs to take unwavering steps in its J&K policies. Some further major steps include:

  

a)     We should make it clear to Pakistan that we will not brook any interference in J&K. The unfinished agenda of Partition is how to get Gilgit-Baltistan and POK back to India. If need be, we must raise the costs to Pakistan for exporting terror to the state by synergising our diplomatic, political, economic and military measures. We can remind them of their various fault lines - which India being a peace-loving neighbour has never exploited so far. 

b)    Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his next visit to Srinagar, must address locals and in his own inimitable style, convey to them that Pakistan’s mischief to create unrest will be dealt with strictly. Kashmiris should know and accept that their future lies in a secular, progressive India and not Pakistan which is a failing, terror-infested, economically starving state.

c)     The Centre must ensure economic resurgence of J&K. Generation of employment must be a top priority.

d)    Efforts to resolve differences between the three main regions of J&K be made with sincerity. J&K must never be divided into separate entities as that will be potentially dangerous from the security and communal point of view. 

e)     Any seditious/anti-national activities must be dealt with firmly and speedily to send out the right signal to all concerned.

f)      Perception management must be accorded its due significance to give a true picture to local Kashmiris about the state of affairs in economically-stressed and terror-infested Pakistan.

g)     India must open up channels of communication to the oppressed masses in Gilgit-Baltistan and POK. India must firmly convey that she can exploit Pakistan’s many fault-lines which she has avoided so far. India must educate Kashmiris on the pathetic state of people residing in POK/GB regions.  

h)    The Indian Army and Air Force must re-energise their reaching out to ‘welfare of the locals’ programmes. 

 

Conclusion

 

J&K is at the core of Indian nationalism and secularism on which the values of a multi-plural and inclusive Indian nationhood is based. Notwithstanding the mistakes and blunders of the past 69 years, successive governments at the Centre and State may have made in J&K, it is time for us to discard the baggage of history and take all suitable and firm measures, externally and internally, to fully integrate J&K into its parent nation. Thus, not only sagacious and strong leadership but determined implementation of measures to ameliorate the plight of the Kashmiri populace is the need of the hour. In its Kashmir policy, India needs to graduate from conflict management to conflict resolution. We cannot achieve this if we stick to currently meaningless anachronistic narratives. A holistic, multi-layered and coherent policy embracing the genius, resources and resolve of the Indian nation will assist J&K to rise to become a worthy constituent of its mother country and reap the dividends of peace and progress.

 

(Concluded)

Lt Gen Kamal Davar is a military veteran. The views expressed are personal

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