The conflict in Kashmir seems to be unending and the way it is being handled by Indian armed forces, especially the CRPF, is further aggravating it. Unfortunately, it is still being addressed primarily as a law and order problem and the aspirations of the people of Kashmir and their problems hardly matter.
Our armed forces go on violating human rights and they know only how to kill. This way instead of solving the problem, we will reduce Kashmir to a vast cemetery. More and more young protestors are dying and death hardly deters these young protestors from demonstrating.
It is not that people of Kashmir are really anti-India and want to opt for Pakistan. A recent UK think tank survey concluded that not more than 4 per cent Kashmiris want to align with Pakistan. They have their own aspirations and problems which must be addressed but they are not being addressed and, to the contrary, bullets are fired at them. Now at the all-party meeting it was decided that lethal weapons will not be used and instead pepper gun will be used which does not kill but produces, psychological impact similar to real bullets.
Should it have taken so much time to take this decision after killing 15 young people resulting in angry protests? Even CRPF has suffered great casualties, more than 273 Jawans have been injured in last one month and 1980 over one year. This decision could have been taken earlier and young lives would have been saved and CRPF Jawans from injuries? Or was this technology of pepper gun invented only before the all-party meeting. Do we have to kill so many innocent civilians before using appropriate technology? Had this decision been taken in time it would have saved several lives and would not have pushed the valley on brink of such a serious crisis.
I was in Kashmir in June for a workshop on peace and conflict resolution and talked to several people there as to what they thought could be the solution. I talked to a cross section of people, including intelligentsia, activists and even common people in the bazaar. One thing which emerges is that Omar Abdullah has failed to deliver on every front and sentiments are overwhelmingly in favour of Mufti Saeed.
Mufti is considered more mature and capable of talking frankly with the Centre and could handle Kashmir problem more satisfactorily. Omar Abdullah has lost grip over the situation and, besides, lacks courage to talk boldly with the Centre. This is what I can conclude from my conversations with local residents. Also, the separatist sentiments are not as strong as it is thought to be from outside. They are very angry at the mess in which Kashmir finds itself today.
The youth is interested in employment and an improvement in economic situation. Most of the young people I met bitterly complained about lack of economic opportunities in the valley. Even highly qualified persons do not find satisfactory jobs. They are either unemployed or underemployed. The separatists exploit this anger and frustration. However, neither the state government nor the centre is serious about it and keep on condemning separatists for creating this situation.
Also, in case of Kashmir there is a serious political dimension that is of our constitutional commitment to ensure autonomy and Nehru-Abdullah pact of 1953 had further reinforced it but under political pressure from rightwing elements this promise of full autonomy to Kashmir was never fulfilled. Again after the militant movement in Kashmir during late eighties and nineties the then Prime Minister Mr Narsimha Rao promised Farooq Abdullah, whom I had met during my visit to valley in late nineties, that he would grant autonomy to Kashmir and when Abdullah asked him how much, he told him ‘sky is the limit’. These words ring in my ears even today.
However, nothing happened and then the BJP led Government came to power whose agenda was to remove Article 370 from the constitution itself instead of giving even a small element of autonomy to the people of Kashmir. Also, the way the Centre had been conducting elections in Kashmir since independence never inspired confidence among the people. In fact the militancy in Kashmir began after 1988 elections were rigged and Salahuddein, a school teacher and now head of Hizbul Mujadidin, was declared defeated though, most of the Kashmiris think, he had won.
It was only in 2004 that for the first time fair elections were held and when I visited the valley I found new confidence among a section of Kashmiri people and some of them told me that if fair elections were held in future too, things could qualitatively change in Kashmir and people there will align with India. The elections in 2009 too were more or less fair but unfortunately Omar Abdullah does not seem to be in control.
After long years of militancy and violence people of Kashmir have realised one thing, and I am saying this after interacting with a large number of people in the valley that violence does not pay and that peaceful solution is the only way out. But they want peaceful solution with honour and dignity and one which addresses a host of their problems including Kashmiriyat, their regional autonomy and pride in their culture and institutions.
We, in India, do have a problem with Pakistan; we do not want to internationalise the Kashmir problem and that we do not want to go for plebiscite. All this is fine but what is coming in the way of our winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people? The way our forces indulge in fake encounters and seriously violate human rights is not the way to win their hearts and minds. With such actions we are greatly alienating ourselves from them.
When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the valley in August 2006 for a roundtable conference with Kashmiri leaders he had asserted that there will be zero tolerance for violations of human rights. But then there were again fake encounters in the valley. Immediately thereafter I conducted a peace workshop and some participants taunted saying, is this the zero intolerance to violations of human rights?
Unfortunately, the situation is worsening in the valley rather than showing any signs of improvement. Day by day human rights violations are increasing. Few months ago two young women were raped but till today no suspect has been arrested. Even CBI did not hold proper inquiry, it is alleged and it is suspected that military and police officials are involved.
Again, my interaction with people in the valley showed that except a small section of Kashmiris, as also referred to in the survey by the UK think tank, no one is for joining Pakistan. All they want is peace and honourable existence. The government of India and the state government have to do everything possible to ensure this. People feel that Mufti had succeeded in seeking some concessions from the Centre which Omar Abdullah is unable to do either because of his inexperience or lack of courage. Whatever the reason, opinion is swinging in favour of Mufti.
Even Ghulam Nabi Azad is considered a better chief minister. The government of India, in order to stop bloodshed, will have to show political courage and determination to take bold steps and strictly discipline the army and not tolerate their violations on the pretext that any action could ‘demoralise’ them. Such an approach will play only in the hands of the terrorists and keep on aggravating the situation.
Fake encounters have absolutely no place in democracy and it is nothing but serious failure of governance if innocent citizens are killed by the police or army. Such unscrupulous officers must be rigorously punished. Such killings can lead to serious trouble even when there is no separatist or terrorist movement, much less in sensitive areas like Kashmir where issues of regional culture and identity are politically extra-sensitive.
Regional autonomy in many countries is a serious problem whether other countries are involved in it or not. For example, the question of Basque nationality in Spain is a serious question and only the other day the Basque nationalists organised a demonstration with 2.5 million people to press their demand. Basque nationalists also resorted to violence for long and exploded bombs. However, they too realised that violence will not enable them to achieve their goal.
We have to sort out Kashmir problem on two fronts, our own internal front and Pakistan front. Here I do not want to comment as far as Pakistan front is concerned. Here my main concern is our own internal front and ensuring peace in the valley and people of Kashmir, in my opinion, are ready for non-violent and honourable peace. Firstly, development will play a very important role. The youth must be won over through ensuring employment. Faisal Shah’s case is an important example. All Kashmiris felt proud that one of their own has been selected and stood first in IAS examination. Indian Muslims too felt very proud and organised a series of receptions for him throughout India.
Thus to solve Kashmir problem internally what is needed is a measure of negotiated autonomy, economic development, greater recruitment of Kashmiri youth in and outside Kashmir in the government sector which will give them greater sense of belonging to India, expeditious development of Railway network and ensuring non-violation of human rights and minimising presence of armed forces except in border areas can lead to internal peace.
The writer is an Indian scholar and chairman of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.