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 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
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
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
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:
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
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.
The Centre must ensure economic resurgence of J&K. Generation of
employment must be a top priority.
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.
Any seditious/anti-national activities must be dealt with firmly and
speedily to send out the right signal to all concerned.
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.
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.
The Indian Army and Air Force must re-energise their reaching out to ‘welfare
of the locals’ programmes.
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.
Lt Gen Kamal Davar is a military
veteran. The views expressed are personal
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