Withdrawing army from the valley

By Dr. K.N. Pandit

Army was deployed in the valley way back in 1990 to combat armed insurgency that is externally sponsored and internally abetted.

Deployment of army is ordered to maintain internal law and order and thwart external threat.

Army is deployed in any state of the union on the request of the elected government, which in turn, might need to seek the assent of its law –making body, viz. Legislative Assembly.

This process has been gone through in the case of J&K. The logic is that the army can be recalled to barracks only on the request and recommendation of he states government, which in turn shall have to seek the assent of the legislative assembly.    

In this background, the state assembly will recommend to its government the withdrawal of the army only when it feels that law and order and internal security face no threat from subversives. On that basis the government may or may not take the case to the Union Home and Defence Ministries for follow-up action.

The matter does not come to an end here. The Union Home Ministry has to convince itself that the withdrawal of the army poses no threat to the security of the country as a whole. The President of India, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, is not bound by the recommendations of a state legislature and a state government to order withdrawal of the army from an affected region of the union. The President has his own sources to bring him/her dependable intelligence about a situation that has developed. He/She will undoubtedly have consultations with relevant state institutions on a decision like that.

Therefore, to assume that army will be withdrawn from the valley on the basis of claptrap of some local political leaders is very unrealistic.

The first voice ever raised in Kashmir for withdrawing army came from the leadership of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when National Conference formed the government following 1996 assembly elections. Since the PDP has been nursing a soft corner towards the armed insurgents in the valley and also the religion-based separatist ideology, the slogan of withdrawing the army suited its constituency. Indirect method of serving religious feelings is the desk-book rule of uncommitted political class in the state.

This and related antics did serve the purpose of the PDP and in the elections of 2002, it managed to secure 22 assembly seats and then form the government in alliance with the Congress, which had about 17 seats mostly from Jammu region.

The irony is that Congress, the largest national level party with cast-iron political philosophy and thoroughly embedded in the history of freedom struggle of the country agreed to share power with a regional rather a local party whose credentials were and continue to be suspect in the eyes of staunch nationalists. This act of lust for power on the part of Congress will remain inexcusable.

During its stint (2002-2008) the PDP, though in the frontline of power for the first three years, did raise occasional cries for the withdrawal of army from the valley, but aware of the cumbersome process through which it had to go, it could not push it hard. After all in the legislative assembly PDP could not have succeeded in mustering majority vote in favour of a motion recommending the withdrawal of army. As such he matter rested in limbo.

Now that following the results of the election of 2009, PDP has been sidelined; its leadership has again raised the bogey of withdrawal of army from the valley. It has now adopted a more dubious and evidently aggressive stance. A few unfortunate incidents that have happened during past few weeks in the valley are fully exploited by this group to accuse Omar Abdullah government of inefficiency and incompetence to govern the state. A rape here or a murder there are no strong reasons to denigrate a government. Managing to give these minor incidents some media hype is a calculated step of creating law and order situation and thus shoring up embarrassment for the government. Incidentally the so-called Shupian rape case has been probed by Jan Committee and it reports that the culprits cannot be identified though at the same time the finger of suspicion is raised towards the local cops. With this the protestors have slipped into their hideouts.

That PDP leadership has been openly and brazenly protecting the interests of the separatists and insurgents in the valley is no more a hidden thing. The great hue and cry about the “healing touch” ultimately resulted in providing full support to the militants, their families and sympathisers. The PDP had no healing touch for three hundred thousand members of the minority community pushed out of their homes by the militants on the point of gun.

What will be the implications of withdrawal of army from the valley if at all that situation happens? This is a serious question.

I think that this question should first be posed to such separatist leaders in the valley, as are provided Z and other level security by the government. If they have faith in local police or in their beneficiaries among the armed insurgents, then the first thing for them to do is to refuse security umbrella from the government. Then they have the moral basis to ask for the withdrawal of the army from the valley. But no such move has been noticed on their part, particularly stalwarts like Ali Shah Geelani and Maulavi Mirwaiz, the Chief of Hurriyat.

Secondly, the ruling coalition should convince itself that they are able to run the government without he presence of the army in the valley. In other words it means that they should have the confidence that the police and local population will thwart any attempt of infiltration by the Pakistanis on our porous borders in the valley and in Jammu region.

In an event of withdrawal of army, the entire border will become vulnerable to large-scale infiltration not only by Pakistanis but also by all sorts of fundamentalists-terrorists groups now stalking the entire NWFP of Pakistan. Hard pressed by American drone bombers and ground assault may force, the retreating Taliban and al-Qaeda to head in droves towards Kashmir valley where the local population has been traditionally hospitable to guest mujahideen.  These mujahideen will receive unsolicited support from political class like PDP and its alliance partners in a bid to bring down the government, create conditions of chaos and hope for assuming the reins of power. The sense of nationalism on regional or national level is lacking abysmally with him or her and the reason they offer is that Islam knows no state or nation or patriotism.

As we know, during the recent demonstrations in the valley on flimsy pretexts, anti-India slogan has been forcefully raised by the mobs. The dictation is that India and everything Indian in Kashmir is to be maligned and castigated in order to create a deep sense of hatred against India. One would like to know if this is the reality, why then are hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Muslim students admitted to educational institutions of all sorts in different parts of the country?  Withdrawal of army from the valley also means endangering life and security of the local people including the minorities with the dangerous fallout in the rest of the country. In a prospect of withdrawal of army, there will be no mechanism to stop hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Muslim students from leaving their studies half way and returning to the sanctuary of a small political separatists group.

It needs to be reminded that actually the idea of demanding withdrawal of the army from the valley came from late Benazir Bhutto during her second stint as prime minister of Pakistan in 1990s. This demand has been among the main priorities of all regimes in Pakistan including the ISI. Interestingly, it was during his visit to Washington that Mufti Muhammad Saeed, the chief of PDP, uncovered his plan for the solution of Kashmir issue in which withdrawal of Indian army from the valley was given the first priority. His plan had takers in the US’ pro-Pak lobbies.

This then is the story of the slogan of withdrawal of Indian armed forces from the valley raised by separatists and fake secularists in one guise or the other. They are aware that as long as the army is in the valley, the separatists and secessionists find their schemes frustrated and foiled. Absence of army from the valley will turn it into another Swat where girls will be lashed for opting to go to schools. Can Mufti Saeed or anybody else stem that tide?
(The writer is he former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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