News / Views

New cycle of agitation in Kashmir

03 October 2010 |By Ershad Mahmud

SCORES of people have been killed in the Kashmir Valley in pitched street battles between angry protestors and Indian security forces during the last three months. It is said that each death creates new protestors who fearlessly battle with police and paramilitary forces.

Despite the heavy-handedness of the security forces and frequent impositions of curfews no end to current resistance is in sight. A couple of consecutive high profile incidents of human rights violation by the security forces and the lack of accountability at the state level forced the people to take to the streets which turned into a massive agitation. It is the third straight summer which have witnessed the massive street protests that have not only paralyzed the state apparatus but has also affected the daily life.

New Delhi made several attempts but could not succeed to reach out to the people and address their grievances and aspirations so far. The same old traditional and conservative methods are being applied to handle the problem such as most of the pro-Azadi leaders have been locked up in the jails while repressive measures are used to curb the agitation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared twice on television channels and made appeals to the people to calm down and help restore peace in the Valley but to no avail. The current cycle of agitation began when the security forces killed a protestor who was part of a march against a fake encounter that took place in the Machil, a town close to Line of Control.

The people urged the government to revoke draconian laws which provide immunity to forces to act without fear of accountability. The central government, along with armed forces, not only ignored the protestors’ genuine demand but also issued no reprimand to its local forces’ commanders to censure them to avoid such behaviour in future. Neither the vibrant media nor civil society picked up this issue to sympathise with the people of Kashmir.

On the contrary, top armed forces commanders declared that the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) was a holy book for his rank and file.The outcome of the 2008 state assembly elections and tragic Mumbai attacks followed by Pakistan’s indifferent attitude towards the plight of the Kashmiris has emboldened New Delhi to suspend any negotiations with Pakistan to find an acceptable solution for all stakeholders. During the last couple of years it seriously downplayed Kashmiri aspirations and overlooked political realities of Kashmir.

On the other hand, Indian armed forces have triumphantly declared that they have defeated militancy in Kashmir. Therefore, New Delhi diverted all energies to build state of the art infrastructure in the state and froze the negotiation process with Mirwaiz Omer Farooq led Hurriyat Conference and closed the chapter of composite dialogue process with Islamabad. Interestingly, pro-India Kashmiri leadership has persistently been calling for the political solution of the issue but Delhi never took them seriously.

Above all, the authorities have miserably failed to understand the depth of alienation and grievances of the people when the non-violent character of Kashmiri uprising appeared. The New York Times noted that the protests had led India to one of its most serious internal crises in recent memory. Not just because of their ferocity and persistence, but because they signal the failure of decades of efforts to win the assent of Kashmiris using just about any tool available: money, elections and overwhelming use of force.

Over a period of time Indian society has been told that whatever awful occurs in Kashmir, it is planned by Pakistan to destabilise India. The victim card worked well. Even liberal opinion makers and civil society activists hardly criticised their government’s disproportionate use of force because of Pakistan or radicals’ role in Kashmir. Now, when a peaceful mass movement has taken over the radical and violent forces New Delhi is yet not able to seize the opportunity and initiate unconditional dialogue.

It is largely perceived that if India gives any concessions to Srinagar it will be seen as its weakness in the face of the protests. Ironically, BJP which is deemed as an architect of peace process with Pakistan does not want to give any credit to Congress to solve the Kashmir issue. Therefore, BJP declared it would not let the government show even a mild gesture of flexibility. Only Communist Party of India (Marxist) publically acknowledged that the question of Jammu and Kashmir has to be treated as a special case and this requires a new political framework. It makes an uphill task for the Congress to offer symbolic compromise even to its own coalition partner in Srinagar — National Conference — to assuage people’s grievances.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also offered conditional talks with the separatist leadership which was declined. Though, it was hinted at the top level that internal autonomy can be granted to Jammu and Kashmir but it could not turn the table. Pro-Azadi groups have upped the ante and are no more asking for mere autonomy.

Additionally, autonomy has always been National Conference’s (NC) political mantra. Other mainstream parties such as People’s Democratic Party or Kashmir chapter of the Indian Congress never let NC take political mileage if Delhi grants further internal autonomy to Kashmir. The dissident voices too do not appreciate this sort of outcome to their 20-year long struggle.

This newly found mass resilience also indicates that Indian forces have limited options to contain Kashmiri upsurge too. In fact, the use of force and repressive measure have not only lost their effectiveness but also proved counterproductive. Several times curfews were violated by the citizens and they joined either funeral procession or agitation. The Economist of London has aptly encapsulated the challenge that New Delhi is facing in Kashmir. It says, “at some point they (cycle of protests) will become so big that they can only be contained by killing more of its citizens than a democracy can stand.”

In this context, finding a respectable way out is a gigantic task for New Delhi as well as for the people of Kashmir since unlimited agitations are not sustainable in the long run. It should be acknowledged at the level of policy-makers and political elite that Kashmir issue has internal as well as external dimensions to deal with. There is no denying the fact that during the last two decades Islamabad’s influence in the Kashmir Valley has increased tremendously. As long as Islamabad and New Delhi continue to follow hostile approaches towards each other and do not stop the zero-sum game, peace in Kashmir will remain a pipedream.

However, the state government led by Omer Abdullah can also play a vital role if it demonstrates political maturity. No matter what political cost it has to pay, the state government should not allow the security forces to use highhanded policies to curb the legitimate protests. It offers no solution to the current unrest. It, in fact, has aggravated the situation further.

The resumption of internal dialogue in Kashmir can be helpful if New Delhi makes it a tri-partite – Srinagar-Delhi, Srinagar-Islamabad and finally Delhi and Islamabad based exercise. However, a dialogue between various regions and hassle-free intra-Kashmir interaction at all levels of the society can always be useful to narrow down the extreme positions and to create a broader understanding of each others’ viewpoints. The dialogue should be backed by practical steps to improve the ground realities such as demilitarisation of the urban centres.

The writer is an Islamabad-based political analyst.


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