Kashmir - An Analysis of Recent Developments
C D Sahay, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

In a series of swift and surprise moves, on June 19, 2018, the BJP leadership in New Delhi decided to withdraw from the ruling coalition with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); Chief Minister Mahbooba Mufti submitted her resignation to the Governor; National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah declined to stake claim, and the Governor, as expected, recommended to the Centre, imposition of Governor’s rule in the state which was formalised on June 20. The Governor moved-in quickly to appoint two Advisors and a new Chief Secretary.

Reactions to these developments have been on expected lines. PDP was entirely taken by surprise and tried to retrieve some ground by re-asserting its pro-people approach, with Mufti putting up a brave front, stating, “I am not shocked as this alliance was never for power...” (ToI 20/6/18). Omar Abdullah however felt that Mufti erred by not leaving the coalition on her own terms and time, with dignity, “instead of having the rug pulled from under her feet”. (ToI 20/6). Congress president Rahul Gandhi, as expected, was more forthright in targeting BJP stating, “The opportunistic BJP-PDP alliance set fire to J&K, killing many innocent people, including our brave soldiers. It cost India strategically and destroyed years of UPA’s hard work..”. Reactions of other political parties too have been on expected lines, giving greater weightage to their short term political interests. Clearly, even an issue of such serious national concern could not garner a bipartisan political response! However, their general approach was for early elections and restoration of democratic process.

Justifying the decision, BJP leaders stressed that they had to withdraw from the coalition in national interest since PDP’s demands and actions were seriously detrimental to the overall priority of restoration of peace and order which was basic pre-requisites of any policy initiative in the state. BJP leader Ram Madhav explained to the media that, “It had become untenable for the BJP to continue with the alliance with PDP. Terrorism, violence and fundamental rights of citizen are under danger....” (Times of India 20/6/18).

The moot point here is to try to understand where does Kashmir go from here? However, before coming to that, it is important to briefly look at some of the recent developments that led to the demise of the coalition. According to Kashmir watchers, the breakup had to happen since the basic political philosophies and approaches of the two parties were so widely divergent. They came together to form a coalition government in March 2015, over two months after the declaration of the results, as no other coalition combination was working out and also because PDP and BJP largely represented the will of the people of the state’s two major regions.

The arrangement worked fairly well for a year under Mufti Sahib’s leadership, despite some controversial statements crediting “Hurriyat, Pakistan and militant outfits” for the smooth conduct of assembly polls. However, after his sad demise on January 7, 2016, the alliance seemed to have hit the first hurdle with his daughter Mahbooba taking nearly 3 months to work out a new deal with the BJP before assuming the charge of Chief Minister on April 4, 2016.

She too started off well, doing all the ‘right’ things and making all the ‘right’ statements. However, this did not last long. Her government hit the next major hurdle in July 2016 in the aftermath of the encounter death of Hizb-ul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani, the extended agitation, pellet gun injuries and all that followed. Since then the relations between the alliance partners developed differences on virtually every aspect management of internal security.

The alliance was wobbling but continued. The Government of India did initiate some important measures including appointment of Special Representative or observance of operational restraint post the pellet-gun controversy or mass release of first time offenders (stone-pelters) etc. There was something in each of these that could have been positively responded to by all the stakeholders, including the mainstream political parties, the media, strategic analysts and commentators. But they did not. Of course, there was no such expectation ever from the separatists, moderates or otherwise, and they did not disappoint anyone with their pathological negativity, maintaining their irrational opposition to any move aimed at restoration of peace and initiation of a process of engagement with the people of Kashmir. This was in a way understandable from their perspective since their vested interest has never been aligned with those of the common people.

Undeterred, the Government of India came up with three more significant initiatives, announced separately but in quick succession. These related to: (1) suspension of pro-active operations in Kashmir during the Holy month of Ramzan; (2) revival of the 2003 cease-fire arrangements with Pakistan; and, (3) appeal to the separatists to join talks. The first and third related to the internal situation while the second directly involved Indo-Pakistan border management that did not directly impact the overall security situation in the Valley in a big way since it had to be negotiated with the authorities in Pakistan. The two Directors General Military Operations (DGMO) agreed but border violations continued unabated.

Announcement of suspension of operations during Ramzan had come after an appeal by Chief Minister Mahbooba Mufti urging the Central Government to do so as a positive gesture towards the people of Kashmir, to enable them to observe Ramzan in a peaceful atmosphere. Despite initial reservations of the security forces and even in the face of deliberate provocative acts by the militants/trouble makers, the Government did announce and implement the measures in letter and spirit. And after initial attempt to derail the process, the Valley did experience a largely peaceful atmosphere, perhaps not so much in terms of the number of incident but more importantly in perception.

According to Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (May 30, 2018 Swarajya), there was reduction in the number of stone-throwing incidents in Kashmir and tourism picked up. Writing in the Hindustan Times (June 6, 2018), Rajesh Ahuja supported the assessment of Gen. Hasnain, stating that the data available with security agencies showed that in the first 16 days of Ramzan in 2017, there were 195 incidents of stone pelting in the Valley whereas in the first 16 days of Ramzan this year, the incidents came down to 39.

The overall positive impact led to suggestions that the idea of ‘non-initiation of operations’ should continue even after Ramzan. CPI (M) member of the J&K assembly, MY Tarigami, said, “The Ramzan ceasefire has provided some relief to the common man. Despite provocations this initiative has generated a ray of hope which should not in no way be clouded even if some risk is involved.”

According to media reports, (Hindustan Times, June 9) the Government might have agreed to extend it, but for this to have the desired impact in the long term perspective, the larger responsibility was on the militants not to indulge in provocative actions that would force the security forces to react decisively. But in all probability that’s what the militants were planning since continued state of peace and order is contrary to their agenda, as laid down by their controllers across the borders to keep Kashmir on the boil.

In this context, one is reminded of the fate of the ‘unilateral ceasefire’ announced by Hizbul Mujahideen leader late Majid Dar in 2001 that created a huge euphoria in the Valley. Kashimris, after a long time, felt that peace was an option, peace was what they wanted and that peace was possible. This feeling was so strong, and I was personally a witness to it, that HM leader Syed Sallahuddin, sitting in Islamabad/Muzaffarabad, got unnerved and withdrew the ceasefire within 10 days! It was then not in Pakistan’s/ISI’s interest to let peace prevail. Even today Pakistan and its proxies do not want peace to prevail.

As regards the proposed revival of the 2003 cross border ceasefire, this too can be doable and would contribute significantly to the confidence building process. Without debating how and why it was done in 2003, its importance cannot be ignored since infiltration and exfiltration are intrinsically linked to sustaining trans-border militancy. It must however, be mentioned that the 2003 Ceasefire was part of a larger packet of initiatives that came after considerable amount of background work.

We have already discussed two aspects of the package, namely, cessation of operations in the Valley and ceasefire along the International Boundary (IB) or the Line of Control (LoC). The other two components of any Kashmir initiative should necessarily comprise dialogue with the separatists and resumption of talks with Pakistan. For the latter to happen, let there be no ambiguity that termination of terrorist violence has to a non-negotiable pre-condition. This is where the real obstacle comes in. Pakistani establishment has been in the recent past, continually suggesting resumption of dialogue but refusing to terminate violence. Besides, who does the Government talk to? Till the elections are completed in Pakistan, there is no government to take decisions of this nature and magnitude. And by the time they get an elected government, India will go into the election mode. So, realistically speaking, the two countries will have to wait for a while for resumption of structured talks.

That should not mean that nothing can or should be done for the next nearly a year. Now that Jammu & Kashmir has been brought under Governor’s rule, the prime focus should once again shift to restoration of peace and order in the state. The security forces must quickly resume their intelligence based operations to seek and destroy the armed militants, as they had been doing before Ramzan. The local police and intelligence apparatus, both local and central, have their role cut out. There is also a requirement of re-initiation of well targeted Cordon-and-Search operations in the intensely affected areas while ensuring against excesses and HR violations. While so doing, Army and BSF will have to maintain their pro-active stance along the IB and LoC - difficult but inescapable.

In addition, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) cases should be vigorously pursued, pressure and persuasive approach should continue on the separatists to get them to engage with the Special Representative. Government agencies and elements in the political establishments could play an enabling role, it is presumed. Most importantly, the youth need special attention in the government’s public out-reach efforts. Through these initiatives it should also be possible to build a counter strategy and narrative to ongoing anti-India campaign going on in the social media. Could at least a section of the local print media be encouraged to join the national effort in restoring peace and order in the state as a priority?

And lastly, the state’s administrative machinery must be quickly re-energised to address the day-to-day problems of the people. This should form an important component of out-reach programme. Fortunately, the state has a Governor who knows it all, having been involved with the affairs of the state for nearly two decades now, first as Interlocutor and then as Governor. His knowledge and administrative skills are incomparable. He also has the advantage of personally knowing all the important political and community leaders. It is imperative that he brings all his experience into play at this crucial moment to turn the situation is turned around as fast as feasible so that the democratic processes are restored early. It’s not the time for us to wait for Pakistan or the world community to do things for us. It is now the time for us to do what we can and must do for the people of J&K.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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