Kashmir: Changing the Discourse in Summer

Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh visited Srinagar this week underlining commitment of the government at the Centre to sustain the healing touch in Jammu and Kashmir. Unrest in West Asia has raised concerns of similar trends in the State in the Summer of 2011. This is not unusual given transformation of conflict from violent terrorism to political violence and activism, trends of which were seen in the past three years or so in the Valley. The Jammu and Kashmir government is pre-warned and better prepared this time around to face the challenge. A number of factors denote how the summer situation which is likely to be volatile can be met and the cycle of the past few years broken.
The first factor is of awareness and acceptance of the nature of problem in Jammu and Kashmir in the country at large. Where as the despotic rulers in Egypt and Libya failed to even acknowledge they were unpopular, India’s noisy democracy recognizes the seriousness of the issue in the State. Responding to the debate on the President’s Speech in the Parliament, the Prime Minister highlighted the government policy on Jammu and Kashmir stand thus, “With regard to Jammu and Kashmir, we have passed through a difficult time, particularly the last summer.  But since then the situation has improved.  But we keep our fingers crossed.  Come this summer, I hope we will be vigilant enough to ensure that the unfortunate events that took place in the last summer in parts of Jammu and Kashmir do not take place.  Our approach to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir is that we will give no quarters to secessionist elements.”. 

The mass movement that has seen the departure of Mr Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was followed by turmoil in Libya, this would dampen those who plan to replicate the same in Kashmir. More over in Egypt it was the vertical division between the Mubarak regime and the Army along with a horizontal one with the people that was the key factor for success. There are no deep rooted serrations between executive institutions and the political class in Jammu and Kashmir, differences exist which are openly debated thereby facilitating resolution.
Separatists are also not likely to restrict themselves to the single track of mass protests. This was evident with the so called self styled commander of the UJC Syed Salahuddin clearly stating that there would be a militant or armed component that would be run by his organization through groups such as the LeT and the JeM in tandem with protests and bandhs that  are being organized by the Hurriyat Conference. The contradictions in this dual track will neutralize the advantage from protests if any that would have manifested. 

A trigger for violence is another key factor in the Valley. In many cases these are invented or hyped by the recalcitrant who are employing a group of trained and professional anti social elements as stone pelters and organized protestors. While incidents of violence cannot be obviated due to nature of the ongoing conflict, the key lies in post incident handling. There is some maturity shown now as was seen in the death of Manzoor Ahmad Magray, in Handwara allegedly in an army ambush. The Chief Minister as well as the Army top brass reacted very effectively to control the spread of anger by assuaging the relatives and preventing a conflagration.
The Chief Minister and the Corps Commander visited the spot and ordered a free and fair enquiry. The Chief Minister discussed the incident in the Unified Commanders Conference in Srinagar and sought a review of the SOP. Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, Corps Commander 15 Corps, accepted that the incident was regrettable and confirmed willingness to modify the rules of engagement as desired by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.“I want to clarify that Chief Minister has expressed his desire that rules of engagement should be changed and made as friendly as possible so that civilian causalities are avoided and I do promise that we will try and modify the rules of engagement,” Hasnain said.
Actively addressing the current core demands of virtually all parties including the ruling National Conference would also add to confidence building. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed identified four areas which were important release of political prisoners, reduction of presence of security forces in civilian areas, revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and withdrawal of Disturbed Areas Act (DAA). The Ministry of Home Affairs has already announced pull out of over 10,000 central police personnel which is likely to commence and may gather momentum with elections in Assam and West Bengal, both violence prone states. Though there is likely to be no reduction of the Army, troops are not in civilian areas but in outlying harsh terrain for counter infiltration and rural counter terrorism. Lieutenant General S A Hasnain said, “Not a single army soldier will be pulled out from the state. The decision of the centre to withdraw 10,000 troops is in no way applicable to the army. It is only applicable to the paramilitary forces.” Reduction of army troops will be linked with the infrastructure for terror across the Line of Control and therefore a change may not be practicable. The Army is also not in favour of removal of the AFSPA.  

The proposals likely to come up from the Government appointed Interlocutors who have held a sustained dialogue with all sections of the people in Jammu & Kashmir will be another factor which would influence the forthcoming situation. During their visits to J&K, the Group of Interlocutors have met various stakeholders including representatives of political parties, communities, students delegations, welfare associations, community organizations, professional bodies and civil society outfits etc. The Interlocutors have been able to change the discourse and have been able to persuade a number of stakeholders to offer suggestions for a political solution. The interlocutors have taken Kashmiri separatist leaders' proposals on confidence building measures into account in their report on a possible political solution to Kashmir issue. They however could not meet the separatists.  

Chief interlocutor Dilip Padgaonkar said efforts to reach out to separatists would continue after the report's submission. "We would submit the initial document to the Union government in two weeks after assessing the ground situation and meeting with various sections of the society," he said. This document is likely to be based on various reports on Kashmir, the National Conference's (NC) Autonomy report, People's Democratic Party's (PDP) 'self Rule' report Awami National League's, Sajjad Lone's and Justice Sageer Ahmed's reports. The four points of Mirwaiz Farooq and Yaseen Malik and five-point agenda of Syed Ali Shah Geelani based on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) is also supposedly being taken  into consideration. Harmonising these contending positions would not doubt be difficult but it is expected that some median line will come up. Never the less what is of concern is that the interlocutors have not directly engaged the separatists and this would dilute the impact of suggestions for the separatists may in the long run tend to oppose it. However possibly the initial report can be used as a framework document to work out a lasting solution. 

Finally at the ground level the Jammu and Kashmir police has inducted a large quantum of non lethal equipment and also practiced drills for tackling street violence, which will be able to control violence, but far more numbers would be required to meet this challenge than that have been trained so far. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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