(As always, people from every side are trying to “manage” the problem in Kashmir rather than resolve it once for and all!)
The authorities in Delhi and Kashmir are these days announcing a number of measures to somehow engage the “rebellious” youth all over Kashmir. Firstly, harsh measures are being taken to trace and liquidate militants. In fact, the Army Chief has declared that these operations will continue as long as militants are around. From his point of view, it is a war which has to be fought till the end. However, the moot point is why these militants have taken up arms? Why even after liquidating some, others are ready to replace them. It is here that the real political aspect of the problems comes to the fore!
The basic political problem of Kashmir has now been there for almost 70 years and it continues to be on the agenda of the UN Security Council. It has been there since India approached the UN in late forties regarding Pakistan’s aggression to grab Kashmir which had, as claimed by India, duly acceded to the Indian Union under the instrument of accession signed between the then Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh and the Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten. As a result of the signing of the instrument of accession, the Indian Army had been air-lifted to Kashmir to halt the Tribal Raid supposedly engineered by Pakistan to forcibly annex Kashmir to Pakistan. India had claimed that the people of Kashmir had supported the accession through their leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The story after that is well known and documented event wise in dozens of books. The two parts of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir remain under the administrative control of the two neighboring countries. Although both countries claim these to be their parts yet the UN does not recognize the arrangement as the final settlement of the dispute regarding the owner ship of the State. A UN military Observer Group tasked with keeping an eye on the status of the ceasefire line now called the line of actual control is a living proof of the existence of the basic political dispute recognized by the world body.
On the Pakistani side, the administration has been virtually run from Islamabad by their Minister for Kashmir Affairs and the most powerful person in that part of the state has always been the Chief Secretary, a senior Civil Service of Pakistan officer. In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, it used to be the Commissioner for Northern Areas. In the recent past, they have got their own elected Executive Council which has given them some semblance of autonomy. On this side the system has been better with an elected government notwithstanding allegedly the fact of the disputed fairness of the elections. The State did enjoy some sort of autonomy till Sheikh Abdullah was dethroned and imprisoned in 1953. Since that time there has been gradual erosion of autonomy and at present only the hollow shell is left!
Unfortunately, some over eager members of the present ruling set up are bent upon removing this empty shell of so called autonomy. They want to demolish the special status of the state by totally merging the Indian part of the state into the Union of India. They have declared that they are determined to remove all special privileges including the state subject law which guarantees Kashmiris’ individuality in the vast ocean of the Union of India! The two initiatives cannot go together. You cannot claim to be embracing the youth of Kashmir on one hand and then on the other take measures to destroy his individuality. The right approach would be to accept the existence of the basic problem and take measures in earnest to resolve it by approaching all the stakeholders.
The present unrest which the government has totally failed to curb has actually originated in the election debacle of 1987 when people were denied the right to choose their own representatives under the Indian Constitution. That story too is well documented. The result of that denial was the outbreak of militancy in 1990. According to government figures more than 50,000 people died in that uprising over a period of few years. Unofficial figures put the casualties much higher. About 10,000 people are supposed to have disappeared without a trace. Some of the relatives of the disappeared are still waiting for their return! After those events of the nineties the real peace has never returned to Kashmir in the true sense. A fall out of the uprising of the nineties has been the continuous harassment of the youth by the security forces and the Police. The Burhan Tsunami which was generated by the killing of this popular militant leader was the bursting out of that pent up anger which is still simmering among the youth of the valley. Now, instead of facing the reality, the authorities are once again trying to manage the situation by using the proverbial stick andcarrot! It is a crude attempt at firefighting without bothering about the cause of the fire. Well, they may be able to subdue the youth temporarily by using the stick of the security forces and at the same time by dangling the carrot of jobs and so on but the embers of the fire will continue to simmer for another flare up sooner than later! The alienation of the youth is now at the extreme.
Incidentally, during the rule of Congress which lasted almost 70 years since independence, there was always an excuse given by them that they will not be able to take a decisive stand on Kashmir because of the fear of the Hindu backlash. It was opined by many that only a strong Government supported by the major Hindutva parties would alone be able to take a final decisive step in resolving Kashmir as they will not have any fear of the backlash! It is true that with such a decisive majority and the support of the Hindu masses they could easily take a decision to sort out Kashmir once and for all as they would be able to sell any solution to the bulk of the Indian masses without any backlash. Unfortunately, they seem to be more concerned with their vote banks rather than ridding the whole sub-continent of this festering problem. It is a pity that the people do not realize that all efforts to develop the sub-continent in every way will go up in smoke if the spark of Kashmir lights the nuclear fuse!
There is still time to revive a real peace process by active and unconditional dialogue not only with the people of all the regions and with all alienated parties including the youth but even across the border. The only catch is for the process to be for a real and practical resolution of the basic problem and not for its temporary management! Can the present government in Delhi rise to the occasion? If not, the alternative is unthinkable as it would be a disaster not only for Kashmir but for the whole sub-continent as well as South Asia.
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir