Wednesday, May 22, 2019
 News Details
When will peace process in Kashmir succeed?
Straight Talk

K B Jandial

Amidst a mild political crisis of the sort created by Kashmir based two major mainstream parties- NC & PDP- by their boycott of Municipal and Panchayat elections after initially hailing these as “empowering people”, on the belated pretext of lack of clarity of Govt of India’s stand on Article 35A of Constitution of India in and outside Supreme Court hearing petitions challenging it, IIPA had organised an illuminating lecture on “Peace Process in Jammu & Kashmir” (only Kashmir). The lecture linked peace process, inter alia, to democratic processes in Kashmir since 1996 Lok Sabha Poll which incidentally was also boycotted by the NC but it joined the subsequent Assembly election held in the same year.

State’s two outstanding former civil servants- Dr. Ashok Bhan, former DGP & Khursheed Ahmad Ganai, presently Advisor to Governor, brought out important aspects of this critical issue; the former marshaled security related data, events and developments that had bearing on peace processes from time to time while the latter restricted his discourse on good governance, strengthening of credible democratic processes and cementing inter regional bonds which are integral to any peace process. Both dealt with the sensitive subject with clarity and objectively without entering into the domain of politics.

They dwelt on factors that led to peace processes that, inter alia, included continuous democratic process, harmonizing conflicting regional aspirations, keeping terrorist violence to a reasonable level, political initiatives, development process & stepped up economic activities, consensus on political issues, regular dialogue with key stakeholders including separatists, willingness of all players to negotiate, inflicting increasing cost on Pakistan for engineering violence, good governance and respecting regional aspirations.

No single factor alone could contribute success to peace process and these with some more issues have to be addressed. Pakistan’s involvement in repeated mayhems on the border and violence in the hinterland is a major factor that impinges on peace process. Leave aside the separatists whose anti-India views are well known, what about the mainstream leaders who took oath of J&K and Indian constitutions, enjoyed the fruits of government and amassed huge wealth in last seventy years but didn’t miss any opportunity to bash India and tow pro separatists and even militants’ line. They are responsible for not allowing the issues to be settled, paving way for lasting peace in Kashmir and help removing the strong and growing feelings of mistrust, regional discrimination & political disempowerment. For example, NC insists that J&K’s accession is conditional. Many parties now talk of “collapsing” of accession if Article 35 A is fiddled with, as if accession is a commercial agreement revocable by either side on non-fulfillment of certain conditions. It is they who change their narratives if that benefit them politically, even at the cost of peace, communal amity and development of the State. It is not to say that the national parties and successive Governments at the Centre are absolved of their blunders in Kashmir, one after another, right from the day of State’s accession with India.

Dr. Farooq Abdullah has succeeded in inducting a narrative that unless Govt. of India comes clean on Article 35A, NC would not participate in the elections with exception on his own by-election from Srinagar LS constituency last year & elections for Kargil Hill Development Council. How could he forget that after All Party meeting convened by him on Article 35A, he had demanded fresh Assembly poll and adjournment of hearing on Article 35A in SC till a new political Govt is installed? Didn’t that amounts to linking hearing with elections? It is his selective boycott that forced wavering Mehbooba to join the bandwagon.

There is no excitement on elections in Kashmir, conversely there exists strong resentment, albeit, fear in many places including rural areas which are no longer free from the “command” of militants. The Governor administration and Modi sarkar, as expected, went ahead with the election and announced the schedule, thereby calling their bluff. But mere announcement of election schedule and even holding free, fair and credible election may not add to the glory of Indian democracy, if it is without reasonable people’s participation.

Credible democratic process, no doubt, is essential for Kashmir’s peace process that could promote faith and confidence of the people especially the vulnerable Kashmiri youth in world acclaimed India’s electoral process, burying the past monumental Khaliq model of elections. Post 1987 elections have been reasonably credible that saw periodical change of Govt with no party ‘monopolizing’ voters. Losing election by the veterans like Dr. Farooq Abdullah (2014 L S Poll) and Omar Abdullah (debut election from Ganderbal in 2003 & again in 2014 from Sonawar) was never imagined. It was possible only due to fair & credible poll. All these elections had respectable voter turnout in Kashmir that changed the mood of the people but it, remained short lived with eruption of violent unrest in 2008, 2010 and 2016, neutralizing the gains of the democratic processes.

The ground situation has taken a serious turn after Burhan Wani’s elimination in an encounter that left the administration crippled. Then Govt. could not hold long overdue Municipal and Panchayat elections, and withdraw poll schedule for Anantnag L S seat after poor show in Srinagar LS by-poll. Its poll percentage has nosedived to 7.1% in April 2017 from 26 % in 2014, 24 % in 2009, 21% in 2004 and 12%in 1999. So, the decision to hold Municipal & Panchayat election in October- December, 2018 is landmark. But the ‘taste of pudding’ would be in the participation of voters and safety of contesting candidates.

Dr. Bhan supported his thesis with data that every successive election year since 1996 saw decline in overall causalities. In first election year during militancy in 1996, highest ever civilian causalities of 1424 took place which went down to 1050 in 2002, 147 in 2008 and just 41 in 2014, indicating that the pressure on civilians including political workers had substantially gone down election after election in Kashmir. Against total causalities of 2822 (1209 militants. 189 SF & 1424 civilians) in 1996, it had come down to just 198 (110 militants, 41 civilians & 47 SF) in 2014. However, 2002 saw the maximum bloodshed with overall causalities shooting up to 3296 (1707 militants, 1050 civilians & 539 SF), second highest killings after 2001 (3731 causalities) in during post 2000 militancy.

While “Operations All Out”, elimination of local militants & at times killing of stone pelters in outer ring of encounters are said to be reasons for swelling militants’ ranks but there is hardly any other option, if SF had to have upper hand. While these factors are contributing somewhat but indoctrination for Islamic jihad is the major factor. It also explains rejection of Govt.’s Ramzan ceasefire initiative by militants and poor response by Pak Army on the border. They had not done it even during Vajpayee’s time. Their intention is obvious- bleed India by “thousands cuts” and grab Kashmir at any cost. Since Pakistan couldn’t realize her dream so this proxy war is going on for nearly 30 years and no light is visible across the tunnel. SF can’t lower the guard but should prevent collateral damage. They are, indeed, caught in the web. So, all discourses on security operations remain academic.

Parroting uninterruptable dialogue with Pakistan and Hurriyat notwithstanding, no dialogue can succeed if parties on the table don’t have the desire to negotiate. Remember, skills for negotiation and creation of congenial atmosphere are integral to any peace process. Is Pakistan & its proxies, Hurriyat really want to stop bloodshed in Kashmir? Pakistan’s journalist, Shahzad Raza could not be more empathetic when he wrote in one of his columns that General Headquarters (Army) is the major internal stumbling block in resolving critical issues between Pakistan & India and unless there is consensus between Islamabad & Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s relations with India (and US) could not be positive and durable. That explains frequent failure (& backstabbing) of all peace initiatives that had kindled glimmer of hope of durable peace in the past.

Recent ‘miscarriage’ of revival of dialogue appears to be properly scripted by GHQ taking advantage of election of its protégé, Imran Khan. Amidst exchange of letters between Modi and Imran expressing desire for bilateral peace, Pak Rangers mutilated the body of BSF’s Head Constable Narinder Kumar that created national outrage on expected lines with Opposition gunning for Modi Govt, more ferociously when India accepted the meeting of two Foreign Ministers at New York. On one hand, Imran by proposing Foreign Ministers’ meeting earned brownie PR points for world opinion for trying to break the frozen Indo-Pak relation and on the other, cornered Modi & BJP on their stand of “terrorism & dialogue can’t go hand in hand” after BJP took ‘U-turn’ by agreeing to Foreign Ministers’ meeting overlooking Pakistan’s unsoldering act with BSF man. But Pakistan didn’t end its game there only as it outraged India’s patience on terrorism by martyring three J&K Police cops in Shopian next day of India’s announcement of FM meeting. Sidhu’s controversial “juppy” with the Gen Bajwa, Pak’s killer army Chief, and his foolishly painting him as a “nice man” for telling him to open Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara corridor, could not check this outraged, forcing India to call off the meeting. All diplomatic options for revival of dialogue are closed for the time being. Thus, peace process in Kashmir is held ransom to these brutal acts.

Peace process is also linked with ‘Good Governance’. But does it affect the peace process? While ‘Good Governance’ is sine quo non for all democratic dispensations, misgovernance is, indeed, terrible slur for them, regretfully, most of the Governments are known for it (or for policy paralysis). But the real issue is whether good governance can do ‘ghar vapsi’ of alienated sections of population? Or lack of it is a ground for extremism or militancy? Poor governance, nepotism, discrimination, disempowerment, electoral malpractices etc in the context of J&K are talked about and even linked to alienation but how come these are contributory factors for militancy only in one of the three regions?

During the last three months of Governor’s Rule, a slew of far reaching decisions have been taken that have bearing on economic, administrative, development and electoral processes have been taken, some of these were pending during earlier PDP-BJP dispensation. During weekly Public hearings of the Advisors, lot many people, even in Srinagar, are meeting them for redressal of their problems. It would be inappropriate to say that earlier dispensations had shut their doors to people. No, the actual problems are that the people with almost same sets of problems are meeting them today. The issue is whether the problems are redressed after immediate directions of top authorities? Mere hearing problems is not redressal, delivery is important. However, these exercises are good for maintaining public contacts that helps in peace process.

Widening gap between all the three regions of the State, especially Kashmir & Jammu, is a matter of serious concern which Khursheed Ganai referred to differently. He made a case for bridging the gap without which no peace process can succeed. The fact is that politicians of all hues have literally polarized J&K on religious lines. Trifurcation of J&K is increasingly becoming a part of the solution. It remains a serious challenge to remove mistrust and suspicion, cement regional amity and reconnect people. There is practically no initiative for it, neither from the civil society nor from activists having some credibility across the regions and religions. There are fundamental issues between two regions on which consensus has to be built. Late dear Shujaat Bukhari did initiate a process to bring both regions closer but after his brutal killing by militants its present status is not known. It is important, not only for containing militancy but to counter efforts to derail peace process in Kashmir. With all these challenges, the question remains, will peace process in Kashmir ever succeed? If yes, then when? Nobody could answer it straight forward.

(The writer is former Secretary Information, health, transport, CAPD departments and a member of Public Service Commission, feedback: [email protected])

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