The whole story. And how can we build on it?
Lydia Polgreen has a story in the New York Times from Srinagar highlighting the fact that Kashmir has had a peaceful summer this year. While the broader narrative of the story is right, it glosses over a few essential facts which brought about this change.
The most important factor in the change is the fatigue among the average Kashmiri with the shutdown-protest-stonepelting tactics of the separatist leadership. Like anywhere else, people in Kashmir too long for a normal social and economic life while finding effective ways to express their political grievances, which does not take away their opportunity to earn a livelihood. Syed Geelani’s calls for shutdowns in the Valley had stopped evoking any meaningful response by end-September last year when he surreptitiously stopped issuing those calls. His unequivocal call for the boycott of local body elections in Kashmir earlier this summer was met with a voter turnout of over 80% in the region, which included nearly 90% turn-out in some of the separatist strongholds. Those stunned by the Kashmiris’ response can debate whether the vote was in the favour of the Indian state or not but even they cannot deny that it exposed the claim of separatists being the true representatives of the Kashmiris.
Moreover, the state government has been able to get its act right this summer. It has been proactive by not only keeping the top mob-leaders like Massrat Alam and Asiya Andrabi behind bars but also monitoring, and in certain cases arresting, ring-leaders of stone-pelters in sensitive locations. Intelligence from the ground has been better and timely. The police have handled the situation proficiently, borne by the fact that the sporadic protests have not developed into any prolonged, major crises and no fatal casualty reported this summer. The central government has also lent a helping hand to the state by tracking the funding of the separatist leadership from Pakistan via Hawala channels. With the FBI filing a chargesheet against Mr Fai for being an ISI operative in the US, the international support for the Kashmiri separatists has also taken a beating.
Has Pakistan changed its ways over Kashmir? No. Indian Home Ministry informed the parliament yesterday it “is aware that the Pakistani Intelligence Agency ISI has re-activated terrorist training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). A number of training camps and launching pads are reportedly active in PoK/Pakistan. As per assessment, there are around 2500 terrorists in PoK/Pak.” In reply to another question, the home ministry stated that 52 persons have attempted infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) till June this year. With the summers drawing to an end, the number of attempts at infiltration from across the LoC have risen significantly in recent weeks. Furthermore, up to July this year, 19 ceasefire violations by Pakistan have been reported along the LoC.
The two measures on cross-LoC trade announced during Pakistan foreign minister’s visit to India last month have no bearing on the security situation in the Valley. Even during her visit, Ms Hina Khar reaffirmed the old Pakistani policy over Kashmir by publicly meeting the separatist Kashmiri leadership in Delhi. As an interesting aside, Mr Geelani is supposed to have told Ms Khar that Pakistan should focus on setting its own house right before it can help the Kashmiris. This is both an indicator of Pakistan’s reduced attractiveness in Kashmir and an attempt by Syed Geelani to boost his own credibility in Kashmir.
While discussing Kashmir in 2011, a couple of other issues are worthy of a mention. The number of tourists visiting Kashmir has been an all-time high this year. However, these are mainly domestic tourists. With the revision of the German travel advisory, it can be expected that foreign tourist arrivals will soon reach the pre-1990 levels in Kashmir. The security forces can take credit for the absence of any major terror strike in the Valley since 2009 which has prompted this change in travel advisory by Germany. Meanwhile, central government has announced an employment generation scheme for the state which could see 40,000 educated Kashmiri youth being employed over the next five years.
But everything is not hunky-dory in Kashmir this year. The mainstream politics in the state continues to be badly fragmented between the two main political parties, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. The separatists continue to wait in the wings to incite public outrage at the flimsiest pretext of laxity by the state. Reports of custodial death in a police station, rape of a woman by soldiers (later proved false) and false encounter killing of an innocent civilian by the army provide the separatists with enough ammunition and place the state government on the defensive, in a damage-control mode. Infighting among the three interlocutors on J&K announced by the central government means that they unlikely to produce any cohesive and acceptable roadmap for the future.
Are there ways in which this change in Kashmir can be made permanent? Yes. Simple, small and credible steps will help. The essential, but not a sufficient condition for any future initiative on Kashmir has to be maintenance of peace, order and security. Political power needs to be devolved to the local bodies elected in the recent Panchayat elections and additional money for development received from the centre spent under their supervision. The state government must keep its promise of holding the municipal polls in the state after Ramazan and back it up by devolving real financial and administrative powers to those urban bodies. The Union Cabinet must decide on the long-pending issue of the review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act while upholding its plans to reduce the central forces in the Valley at the end of this summer. Time has also perhaps come for the Army and the Rashtriya Rifles to review their deployment and work out a plan to handover, in phases, the security to local police in relatively peaceful areas of the state.
These are sensible ideas which should not be difficult to implement. Alas, the discourse on Kashmir is littered like an old attic with the junk of many such good ideas.
If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottage princes’ palaces. ~Shakespeare