Kashmir Valley Politics: Alignments and Re-alignments

By K.N. Pandit (from July 2, 2019)

Three districts of South Kashmir, Shupian, Pulwama and Anantnag have become the centre of ongoing armed insurgency in Kashmir.

Previously, Sopor town and its hinterland Rafiabad were the main operational areas of the insurgents. Rafiabad’s pre-Islamic name is Hamal, which is the corrupted form of Sanskrit Shamala. In Rajatarangini, Kalhan Pandit has described the strategic importance of the region of Shamala for its connectivity with the Shamsbari mountain range beyond which lies the Kishanganga valley. The incoming routes over these ranges were first used by the tribal lashkars and Pakistani regulars in the winter of 1947 when they launched the second phase of Operation Topac via Nastachin Gali after they were repulsed in the valley by the gallant jawans of Sikh LI commanded by Col. Roy who was martyred in the action. Traditional routes and passages over this mountain range were used by men and beasts in ancient times to reach the western regions of Kashmir Hindu Kingdom with military establishment at Arusha, modern Hazara, close to Balakot from where Queen Kota Rani had recalled her late husband’s brother to resume the reins of the kingdom after Zulchu’s ravages. The destruction caused by this Turkic predator is epitomized in the memory of Kashmiris by the proverb that Kashmir was left with only eleven houses (Kashmiri rood Kah game).

Had our policy planners cared to read and understand why King Lalitaditya (8th century) had ordered that only the commanders descending from the royal line would be made Commanders of the Passes (drangapati) they would not have agreed to the signing of the ceasefire on the midnight of December 31, 1948. General Thimayya, the 19 Division Commander had not only protested but even threatened to revolt if he was forced to stop the advance of his victorious troops at Uri. What treatment was meted out to the great commander, the less said the better? However, notwithstanding the course of events, the question remaining unanswered is why Nehru agreed to a ceasefire without the Indian army at least capturing Muzaffarabad. The history of Kashmir would have been quite different if Muzaffarabad had been retaken. We had justification to do so. The toll of the genocide of the Hindus and Sikhs in the town of Muzaffarabad on the night of October 22, 1947 computes to nearly five thousand souls, Hindus and Sikhs. At the least 1800 young Hindu and Sikh women and girls were abducted, raped and then sold in the bazaars of Peshawar, Rawalpindi etc. Years later some of them were repatriated by the Red Cross.

Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir

It took ISI many years to plan the shifting of the operational headquarters of Kashmir armed insurgency from Rafiabad to present sites in South Kashmir, particularly the Shupian district.

The Jamat-e-Islami (JeI) of Kashmir originated in Shupian district in 1950s under the leadership of Sadud Din. Its Islamic ideology in place, it aimed at the secession of Kashmir from the Indian Union. Shupian district has connectivity over the Pir Panchal with Rajouri district and this route is not only less frequented by travelers but is also far away from the reach of the border pickets of Indian troops. Clandestine trans-shipment of arms and ammunition along this route makes supplies to Shupian and Doda-Kashtwar based insurgents easier and better assured. More importantly, the JeI cadres in the three South Kashmir districts had received a boost in their fundamentalist and anti-India ideology by several boosters. One was the raising of an al-Fath terrorist organization in early 1960s prompted by more than a year-long screening of Algerian freedom fighting film Omar Khalid in the Regal Cinema of Srinagar. This film played a significant role in arousing the sentiment of insurgency in the name of faith among the Muslim youth of the valley. Al Fath was raised in South Kashmir out of JeI cadres. The second incentive for raising the banner of insurgency in South Kashmir was the founding of Plebiscite Front in 1954-55 by Afzal Beg, the deposed Law Minister and the then right-hand man of Sheikh Abdullah. Plebiscite Front was actually the brainchild of Sheikh Abdullah but since he was languishing in the jail after being removed from power in 1953, his lieutenant Afzal Beg, more rabid, more communal and more anti-India than the Sheikh, assumed the charge of this organization. Its cadres were mostly drawn from the JeI as they made a common cause of secession from the Indian Union. Lastly, no less a wicked role was played by Mufti Saeed and later on his daughter Mahbooba Mufti in fomenting anti-India sentiments among the people of these districts as the Mufti House wielded much influence among the local people. Mufti Saeed’s party PDP was born from the womb of JeI and its armed wing Hizbul Mujahedeen in South Kashmir. This is how JeI and its military wings turned South Kashmir into a bastion of insurgency under directions and guidance of ISI. The local civilian population, deeply brainwashed over several decades by internal and external forces is fully cooperating with the insurgents, providing them information about routes, hideouts, food supplies, ammunition, intelligence and shelter whenever needed. This enormous logistic support has sustained an insurgency in the South Kashmir so far.
Change in tactics.

The syndrome of the masses of people coming out in large numbers to obstruct the security forces when engaged in an encounter with the insurgents has changed. Stone pelting is no more the tactics just because undaunted retaliatory action by the security forces has broken the jinx. The new tactics adopted by the locals, and of course, under instructions from across the border, is to come out in thousands and join the funeral rites of a slain insurgent. They know that the security forces will not open fire on them because they pose as mourners, which undoubtedly is only the mask to hide their real intentions.

The ground situation in three districts of South Kashmir is precisely what we find in a war-stricken region of Afghanistan like Kunduz or Kunar. The region is facing twin-control, the civilian government functioning nominally. The only function of the government functionaries of these districts is to make sure that their monthly salary is regularly credited to their bank account, promotion orders are issued without any hassle and postings are made according to their choice. The privileged class is extracting the fullest advantage of the presence of armed insurgents around. The administration is not paralyzed but seen to be fully functional with the difference that orders come from the state authorities but diktats come from the insurgents. Violation of the formal orders from superior authorities ends up in a court of law whereas the violation of the diktat of the jihadis means death warrant for the functionary. Intelligence sources among the people and the police cadres are fast drying up.

Local leadership was all agog on aligning itself with the mahagathbandan during the election campaign for the 2019 Parliament. The landslide victory of the BJP dampened their spirits. At one point of time it seemed as if NC and PDP had sunk their differences and shed their animus, and were joining hands on the basis of common opposition to the demand for abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A of the Indian Constitution. The return of the NDA with a massive mandate has sent the shock down the spine of separatists and secessionists that the threat of constitutional amendment leading to the abrogation of the said provisos was real and not imaginary. The latest thinking in the rank and file of the mainstream regional parties and the separatists is how to steer the ship of Kashmir valley Muslim majority dissent through the great commotion in the aftermath of abrogation of Art. 370. The true narrative about what lies beneath the protest against abrogation of Art 370 is that (a) if Muslims come and settle down in Kashmir clandestinely, it is all right and has not to be given any publicity. (b) If Hindus, Hindu organizations or Hindu entrepreneurs want to have a foothold in Kashmir it is to be opposed tooth and nail. Thousands of Muslim youth skilled and unskilled labourers have been coming and many among them settled in Kashmir valley during the three decades of insurgency. They have replaced local Kashmiri farm, orchard, agricultural and domestic labour force to the extent that entire Kashmir agriculture, orchard and construction industry are run by this labour force imported from Muslim community centers in UP, Bihar, MP, West Bengal (indigenous as well as migrants from Bangladesh). In the downtown of Srinagar city, many of these migrants have opened small shops or have become hawkers, cooks, sponsors of eateries earning the daily bread through hard labour. Some of them are reported to have married local Muslim girls and settled down in Kashmir for many years. Never was any voice raised against this violation of Article 370. More than ten thousand (officially 4-5 thousand) Rohingyas, meaning Muslim migrants from Myanmar) have settled down in Jammu region. Why in the Jammu region and not in Kashmir is not difficult to explain. It is to reduce the Hindu strength of Jammu city. This is not a violation of Art 370. But when any Hindu entrepreneur from outside the Stat wants to establish a factory or a production unit in Jammu or Kashmir, a hundred hurdles are created in his path till he becomes frustrated and gives up the entire project. A number of projects owned by entrepreneurs from outside the state, met with hurdles and finally had to be wound up.

Industrialization of Kashmir is stoutly obstructed because of the fear of Hindu population settling in Kashmir. Several hundred thousand Hindu and Sikh refugees from PoJK still remain without Permanent Resident certificates. They do not have the right to vote for State Assembly elections nor are they given the share from 24 assembly seats reserved for the people of PoJK now under the illegal occupation of Pakistan. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth who spent two or three decades in PoK, even married women from PoK and returned to Kashmir along with their wives and children have become beneficiaries of special package from the State government like jobs, scholarships, loans on easy terms for building houses, permits and licenses, support for residential quarters and free admission of their wards in schools etc. Law has been passed stating that a Kashmiri woman marrying a non-Kashmiri man loses her citizenship of J&K. Though there are some Muslim girls who are married to non-state subject husbands, their number is negligible. On the other hand, the number of Kashmiri Hindu girls whose husbands are non –state subject is fairly large. The marriage bill is actually meant to deprive them and their progeny from statehood. This is the narrative of Article 370 and related laws.

Yet there is one more force to augment the negative impact of Article 370. Hundreds of Muslim clergymen (mullah) have been imported from UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan who speak Urdu. They are functioning as Imams (conductors of congregational prayers) in most of the urban and rural mosques. Their sermons are stuffed with venomous communalism and jihadist ideology. And, note that they are paid monthly salary from the funds provided by the public exchequer under a specific head. They bring up the tail-end of anti-India vitriolic and add to the vitiating of peoples’ mind. Watching Pakistan TV channels has become an addiction for many and an article of faith to some. They consider Pakistan a nation above all other nations in the world.

Third Party

A gossip is making rounds these days in the valley that a third political party different from the two major regional parties, namely NC and PDP, is stealthily waiting in the wings. Two names are prominently mentioned, Engineer Rashid (ex-MLA) and Shah Faisal.(ex-IAS ). Known for his anti-India and anti-Kashmiri Pandit bias, Rashid was twice elected as an independent member to the legislature from district Kupwara. A rabble-rouser, he steadfastly declined to join NC, PDP or Congress. Shah Faisal, a former IAS topper, has jumped into the political fray after resigning from the IAS cadre and he is said to be planning to float a political party. So far he has not given any indication about his plans and ideology but the rumour from his close associates is that both he and Rashid are having the blessings of New Delhi. The grapevine has it that Rashid is the find of the Army intelligence and a blue-eyed person of the Congress. He cast his crucial vote in favour of Congress candidate Azad for Rajya Sabha membership and is reported to have made a fortune out of it.

When Congress was in power at the centre, it welcomed a political leader aspiring to throw a challenge to NC leadership. The Congress, though not less disliked for the dynastic rule, was strangely supporting any movement in Kashmir that would de-popularize dynastic rule of NC. The Congress made a gravely harmful choice of Mufti Saeed as State Congress President in 1980s, and the consequences are known to all of us. Successive governments in New Delhi, somehow, stick to this line of thinking. As such, maybe policy planners are hoping that people like Rashid and Shah Faisal could deliver the goods. However, if that is the case, New Delhi, under the present dispensation, will be opting to ride a tiger. It shall have to make very cautious moves. This will be explained in what follows.

The reckless Coalition

A landslide victory for the BJP (NDA) in the recent election has forced re-alignment of forces in the country as well as J&K. PDP is already down owing essentially to the dubious role of its leader and former chief minister. Who does not know that PDP is born from the womb of Kashmir militancy? Jamaat-i-Islami (JeI) of South Kashmir was instrumental in the success of PDP in the last two assembly elections. It is this organization that has managed regular recruitment of local youth to the terrorist organizations working in tandem with the ISI moles, seditious political leaders and bureaucrats with close affinity to JeI. It is a travesty that BJP, having 25 seats in its hand in last assembly election should have naively and with myopic vision agreed to form a coalition with PDP and then play not even the second fiddle. Jammu region will never see a more depressing sight of non-development than the five years of coalition rule with PDP. Why did BJP advertently overlook the role which Mufti Saeed, then Congress chief, had played in fuelling communal upheaval in Anantnag in 1986, which resulted in the first exodus of the Pandits from South Kashmir? The bitter truth is that the Delhi Sultans never took local Kashmiri Pandits or their leadership into confidence and deliberately declined to give credence to their story. This malaise has not left even the BJP.

Looking in retrospect, one can say that NDA government left the handling of Kashmir in most inexperienced and imbecile hands during its first stint in power beginning 2014. It is amusing that when BJP High Command removed its nominated Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh from office, it was the Chief Minister Mahbooba who protested but not his voters. Some of Mahbooba’s senior colleagues like Muzaffar Baig (former MP) know what it means to facilitate Pakistan gaining a strong foothold in a part of Kashmir, particularly South Kashmir, and the home constituencies of Mufti House. BJP’s massive return has undone all divisive forces in the country including J&K. The imagined camaraderie among NC, PDP, Congress and the lumpen (Rashid and Shah Faisal et al), as well as the Hurriyat, stands shattered and each entity is trying to mend the fence with BJP. Mahbooba met the Governor and Farooq will disappear by stealth from the mahagathbandan in the near future. Omar, once commenting on exit poll said that one cannot disprove a large number of predicted success stories of BJP. Both NC and PDP have realized that their hue and cry of Modi an anti-Muslim political heavyweight has backfired because a sizable percentage of Indian Muslim vote has gone to BJP particularly in UP and Bihar with big Muslim vote bank.

Delimitation of constituencies

In BJP’s calculus, rescinding the delimitation law, which otherwise would remain in force till 2026, and re-visiting Jammu constituencies as per ground situation would increase Jammu assembly seats by 6 or 7, which means to be at par with 44 seats from the valley. In addition to it, if one third-seats out of reserved 24 seats for POJK are shifted to the POJK refugees migrated to Jammu that would add 8 more seats to Jammu quota making it around 52 seats, a formidable number.

The question is how much time all this will take because the case is to pass through the judicial and legal labyrinth. Regrettably, at no level does the BJP entertain the idea of demanding constituencies in exile for the four hundred thousand strong exiled Kashmir Pandit community members who are the citizens of the State. If that could become a possibility, it would be a feather in the cap of BJP. However, one fails to understand the logic behind BJP’s step-motherly treatment of the Kashmiri Hindu internally displaced persons, the diehard nationalist segment of J&K State. We know that whenever any national mainstream party talks of the nationalist segment in Kashmir they never take the Pandits and the Sikhs into their count. What type of statesmanship is this?

Ground situation

It is important to understand and analyze how an ordinary Kashmiri, say a daily wager, a hawker, a housewife and a milkman looks at the current social and economic scenario in Kashmir. It is not correct to infer that there is no visible impact of thirty years of armed insurgency on the life and economy of ordinary Kashmiris. No ordinary Kashmiri wants fighting, killing, turmoil and breakdown of law and order as like any sensible and futuristic society in any part of the world. Two things have contributed enormously to spreading fear among the ordinary people, the proletariat. One is the deep religious extremist indoctrination by a host of internal and external elements, the JeI of Kashmir, ISI, madrasahs, terrorist training camps in PoK, mosque-based propaganda etc. The second element is of highly ambivalent Kashmir political leadership which has been hunting with the hound and running with the hare. The doublespeak among Kashmir leadership is rooted in their inability to stand up to the Islamic conservatism and the pressures of modernism. The struggle between the orthodoxy and liberal and progressive forces in the Islamic society is at least a thousand years old. Radical Islam has become much more aggressive and militant in our times because of devastating impact of greatly advanced scientific and technological progress made in recent years and its potential of demolishing the myths that have become articles of faith for an Islamic puritan (momin). It is now posing a direct challenge to many myths and inscrutable inherited and followed by the Muslims from the Quran, hadith (tradition) and the over-estimated Islamic history. A mullah while delivering a sermon in the mosque with his audience drawn from the elite segment of intellectuals of society — doctors, engineer, scientists, professors, judges, lawyers, bureaucrats, journalists etc. — says with firm conviction that the landing of Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon is a false and fabricated story and so is the theory of moon making rotations. He asserts that the Prophet showed his finger to the moon and it parted into two parts. His audience is silent, speechless and ultimately begins to believe in the hypocrisy. It proves the axiom that a hypocrite is one who begins to believe in his own lies.

We have cited just one example to show what blind faith and incessant propaganda can do with the dispassionate and reasoned thinking of rational humans. ISI, through its massive propaganda machinery, has built a thousand and one falsehoods to help bring to full circle the alienation of Kashmiri Muslim from rational thinking as well as from the national mainstream. Incidentally, Islam emphasizes ummah (Islamic community) and not nation.

Ordinary Kashmiri man or woman is fed up with the vast plethora of falsehood raised around him and his or her personality. They are fed up with the gun, with strikes, with violence, rape and mayhem, with false propaganda, with lies and canard. However, an air of intense fear has been created for those who would like to raise their voice against the jihadists and extremists and challenge their fake freedom movement.

The question is how the syndrome of fear can be removed from their minds. In his election campaigns in the UP and Bihar Muslim belts, Prime Minister Modi touched on a very subtle but crucial point. He told Muslims that he wanted to pull them out of the fear instilled in them by the Congress party that only they (Congress) could provide them with safety and security. This created in them a false and baseless sense of fear and isolation. He was right. During its long tenure in power the Congress retained the Muslim constituencies on false and baseless presumptions which kept them distanced from the national mainstream. The Muslims craved for reservations, special packages and privileges which were given to them but with results injurious to their long term interests. How ironic? Maulana Azad, the top rationalist among the Muslims of India, wrote that he was with Gandhi Ji on the previous night and there was absolutely no mention of Congress accepting the partition of India formula. But in the morning, the news was brought to him that Gandhi had agreed to the partition of India. The stunned and shocked Maulana rushed to Gandhi to find out whether he had visualized the consequences of his agreement to partition. Were Gandhi and his Congress really friendly to the Muslims and their well-wisher? This question needs to be answered.

For seven long decades, Indian Muslims have been pushed to the chambers of fear and illusion created by the Congress and its ally the Indian Left. It will require a tremendous effort for the sensible and nationalist Muslim thinkers of India to cleanse the Muslim mind of falsely created syndrome of fear. Modi has put his finger on the right pulse and among his other historical contributions to a change for progress in the Indian society one will be his effort to deliver the Muslim mind from fear and isolation.

The road forward

The people in the valley stand alienated. Kashmiri Muslims have largely gravitated to radical Islamist ideology more for satisfying their anti-India sentiment than for real conviction in fundamentalism. Kashmir leadership is largely opportunistic and can overnight change its stance if that serves personal interests. There is hardly any stalwart among Kashmir leaders who can play politics without taking the crutches of communal politics and its attendant chicanery. A statesman with a vision of the future is not in sight among Kashmir political lot. The valley is conditioned by religious zeal and not by secular dispensation. Its politicos look up to regressive forces in the country for support at the cost of their own survival. They cannot realize the strength they could receive from progressive and forward-looking forces in the country. Above all, Pakistan has chalked out a vicious plan of sensitizing Kashmiris to religious euphoria that instills hatred of India in them. Pakistani intelligence agencies have made an excellent study of Kashmirian psychology and have made them believe that Indian presence in Kashmir is tantamount to the subjugation of the Muslims by a non-Muslim ruling majority. They are told that Islam tells them to fight to finish against the subjugator, and hence the Islamic jihad in Kashmir. They find a similarity between Palestine and Kashmir, arguing that both are under “illegal” occupation. Kashmir valley Muslims have never fraternized with the vast Muslim community of India, which enjoys reasonable secular credentials.

Secondly, most Kashmiris consider that the dynastic rule of the Abdullah House for nearly seven decades has led to the creation of vested interest in Kashmir society which is denying opportunities to other meritorious and aspiring segments of society. They have a firm conviction that New Delhi is deliberately supporting dynastic rule in the State as the dynasty serves as a proxy. There have been two crude attempts to disarm the hegemonic Abdullah family — one through Gula Shah and the other through Mufti Saeed — but both attempts proved futile and rather counter-productive.

Thus we see that the task of retrieving pro-Indian tendency among the Valley Muslims population has to be a priority with the managers of home affairs in the country. Two-pronged strategy needs to be adopted: (a) isolating and de-operationalizing anti-India elements whether in the administration, bureaucracy, civil society, media, commercial segment or other institutions (b) promoting nationalist and rational elements and placing the necessary wherewithal at their disposal for disseminating the long term benefits of democratic and secular dispensation of our country. No doubt this is an uphill task but a sovereign state faces the challenge with grit and determination.

As far as part (a) is concerned, a fundamental change in the policy needs to be brought about. For thirty years of armed insurgency in Kashmir, Congress, NC or PDP governments have soft paddled with anti-national and anti-democratic elements. These governments have compromised the security of the country and the good administration of the State by adopting the policy of appeasement and by scuttling the laws and practices meant to curb and contain insurgency. These laws were subverted under the fake and cunning slogans like “healing touch” or “insaniyat ke nate” or by freeing about 70 hardcore terrorists from jail while their case was still under process in a court of law. The law of the land governing sedition and armed insurgency has been brazenly subverted. It should be allowed to take its course when we claim that terrorism is to be wiped out lock, stock and barrel. A close study of the history of terrorism in Kashmir will reveal that all governments have tried to find a shortcut to success and to them the shortcut was of appeasement of the separatist and secessionists and their military wings. Democracy has been abused and that must stop. No leader, no institution and no organization should be allowed to hoodwink the authority of the State. The concept that the law cannot grab us inculcated among the people by their leadership must come to an end. In that sense, some steps taken by the Centre in six months in the past have been fruitful.

In regard to (b) above, the key to the promotion of nationalist and rational elements lies in offering good governance to the State. It has to be remembered that the reason why successive governments in J&K have been corrupt, imbecile and by and large anti-India is that the people believe New Delhi has been giving full support to a dynastic rule in Kashmir which amounts to ruling over them by proxy. There has been a widespread resentment among the people against the rule of Abdullah dynasty ever since the time of accession. The dynastic rule has created deeply entrenched bureaucracy and a creamy crust of elitistist segment of society that is enjoying all the imaginable privileges in the State, viz. political and money power, influence, control over sources of the economy and above all the ability to mobilize unsuspecting masses for anti-India and pro-Pakistan demonstrations. Double-speak is the characteristic of current Kashmir leadership because it has found that Kashmiris are an emotional lot on whom religious propaganda works like fuel to the fire. Kashmir and Chenab valley politicians are the primary instigators of unrest in the shape of stone throwing, mass congregations, and obstructing the flow of the rule of law. State governments have been intentionally obstructing or paralyzing implementation of various Central governments’ development projects so that people do not shift their allegiance to outside entrepreneurship. Good governance must embody the industrial development of the State. Outside investors are reluctant to invest for two main reasons one is Article 370 which prevents them from purchasing land for setting up industries. The few public industries have failed miserably owing to political interference and induction of regionalism or parochialism.

We would suggest that in view of thirty-year-old armed insurgency in the State that has rent the social fabric asunder and in view of Article 370 governing the State, the Centre should contemplate taking directly in its hands the mega programme of infrastructural development of the State. This will necessitate creation at the Centre of something like a Joint Development Monitoring Authority for Jammu and Kashmir which will function as the nodal authority for approving mega projects of development, their financial layout, time frame for completion, identification of agencies that would undertake implementation of projects and also maintain close monitoring of the progress of the projects. This body shall comprise one or two members from the Niti Ayog, Ministries of Home, Industries, Finance and Social Development, representative of PMO and MHA plus the representatives from State Planning Department. This authority would be holding two monthly meetings alternately at Srinagar, Leh and Jammu and would be presenting a three monthly progress report to the MHA or PMO which must endorse the progress indicated. It is essential that Jammu and Ladakh regions are delinked from the valley in regard to infrastructural development, allocation and utilization of funds. Even implementation of Article 370 should be oln regional and not state basis.

If a centrally controlled authority or agency is set up, its immediate repercussion would be that the masses of people will understand that India does not rely on her proxies in Kashmir but is directly involved in the development and progress of the state. What the people want is direct involvement of the Central agencies in the developmental enterprises in the State. I am sure this step is going to win back large segments of alienated Kashmirian society.

A mechanism should be evolved through which recruitment of Kashmiri youth to vacancies in various national organizations is undertaken without the intervention of the State government. Middleman agencies have to be eschewed. This may not be a permanent arrangement but at least for one decade, the process should be in place. It is a misnomer to say that if the Central government interferes in the administrative matters people will resent it. That is not the reality. People are angry not because the Union government is interfering but because the union government is not interfering. Let me cite an example. If the Union Home Ministry had intervened in the row over the neutrality and fairness of assembly election in 1986 after it learnt that MUF was on the warpath, and had taken remedial measure, militancy would never have sprung so suddenly. The Governor’s administration intervened and rounded up scores of Jamat-e-Islami activists alleged to be instrumental in disrupting law and order, the masses of the people in Kashmir did not protest. Separatist leaders like Shabir Shah, Masarat Alam and Yasin are put behind bars. Nobody gave two hoots to it. This shows that when the government acts and implements the law of the land, people will respond favourably. It is the lack of action on the part of the Central government that has distanced the ordinary Kashmiris. The nationalists are for effective intervention by the central government and not just lip service because lip services confirm their doubt that the Centre is governing through the proxies which hurt the pride of Kashmiri.

Theoretically speaking, the narrative is that the special status has been given on the basis that J&K being a hilly state needs special treatment to recover from economic backwardness. This is apart from the argument that the State’s identity needs to be protected and preserved. The argument when stretched will mean that a special administrative system needs to be evolved for lifting the state from its backward status. Hence, the need is for the modification of Article 370 to make space for the direct benign intervention of the Centre in the developmental works and monitoring of the progress in concert with the State administration.

It should also be possible to use Article 370 by piecemeal. Another constitutional amendment can be brought in that gives the two regions of Jammu and Ladakh financial, operational and juridical autonomy. The basis for this special measure is the long discrimination which the two regions have suffered under the hegemonic rule of Valley-centric administration.

An important theoretical point that should not be lost sight of is the much needed special treatment to Jammu and Ladakh regions. By Ladakh, we mean Kargil as well. The practical and pragmatic mechanism needs to be evolved to free the regions of Ladakh and Jammu from the stranglehold of Srinagar administration. Granting of a full dose of autonomy is an option and by full-dose we mean financial and administrative autonomy. The Centre can contemplate (a) amendment to the clause of Article 370 with the purpose of prohibiting anti-national propaganda (b) non-discriminatory and equitable treatment of the other two regions namely Jammu and Ladakh. (c) political empowerment of Pandit community after they are resettled in concentration in Srinagar area. The amendment to Article 370 should also declare that armed forces will be immune from accountability when deployed in an officially declared disturbed area. The prestige of the army has to be restored at all costs.

Indian State is within its right to consider shifting of one-third of the 24 assembly seats reserved in the constitution of J&K for the voters of PoJK. However, the pre-requisite to that step is of empowering the refugees from PoJK with permanent residence status. In the same vein, the Centre must consider granting constituencies in exile to the internally displaced people from the valley. These steps are not to be seen as diluting the status of the valley electorate but in the light of granting political, civic and human rights of the suffering populace from the State.

Peace talks

And finally, the question of holding peace talks with Pakistan. The question that needs to be tackled first is whether Pakistan sincerely wants peace in the region? Pakistan and precisely Pakistan army find sustenance in keeping the Kashmir pot boiling. It is clear to us in the Indian part of Kashmir that Pakistan does not sincerely want peace to prevail and all of its disruptive engines are at work in disrupting regional peace. Whom should India talk to in Pakistan, army or the puppet governments that are dismissed whenever the army wants? This is a dilemma with New Delhi. China came down to talk even to Jaish chief Masud Azhar in order to secure guarantee from him that he would not receive and train Uighur rebels of Xinjiang. India does not subscribe to that culture.

However, since a lot of hue and cry is raised by valley leadership, the Government of India should allow a delegation of Kashmiri leaders who are beating their breast for talks, to travel to Islamabad and talk to the Pakistani civilian and military leaders and come back with a roadmap for peace talks. In 1964, days before his death, Nehru had sent Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan with the proposal of a confederation of three states. Field Marshal Ayub Khan turned it down point blank and the crestfallen Sheikh came to Muzaffarabad to entreat the PoK leadership to launch a movement for the 3-nation federation. With Nehru’s death, it ended up in a fiasco. Therefore, let the Kashmir valley leadership take the initiative and probe the possibility of a dialogue based on ground realities. We understand an NC leader, the former MP, had been making regular jaunts to Islamabad to negotiate an understanding between his party and the rulers in Islamabad. NC leaders should tell the people of Kashmir the end result of those talks.

In final analysis, terrorism is to be fought tooth and nail in Kashmir till it is uprooted. That no doubt is a long process. We should be prepared for it. The developmental activity should not stop in the State but democracy cannot be allowed to be bused. The Centre has to be empowered to have the prerogative of planning, financing, implementing and monitoring developmental projects in the State. Out of the box packages for Jammu and Ladakh regions are called for to mitigate the discrimination to which these have been subjected during the past seven decades. Devolution of partial or piecemeal autonomy should not be considered something like sacrilege and Article 370 of the Constitution should be considered for amendment and applicable in segments and not necessarily in one whole. A sub-autonomous region within an autonomous region is not something unknown to political theorists.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

Comments are closed.