Don't Gun For Solutions
6 August 2001
NEW DELHI: Kashmir is a problem that has to be dealt with politically, not with military might
General Musharraf made one serious mistake at the Agra Summit although in the media euphoria that inexplicably surrounded his visit it was not instantly obvious. By pronouncing that in Kashmir there were no terrorists-only "freedom fighters"-he has admitted before the world that he supports the killing of innocent people as long as this is for what he considers a higher cause. At the now famous breakfast meeting with Indian editors when Musharraf was asked if he condemned the killing of innocent children he said, "I would certainly say any casualties to civilians is deplorable but in a freedom struggle there is a lot of bloodshed. Look at Palestine, (there is) so much suffering of innocents." The solution, he added in his simplistic, military way, was to solve the Kashmir problem-as if it were no more than a child's jigsaw puzzle. Meanwhile, we are forced to watch in horror "freedom fighters" kill innocent villagers and pilgrims. The India Express keeps a death count and in the first week after the Agra Summit it reached 96, of whom 47 were ordinary people, including four women and a child.
A survivor from Chirji village, which lost 25 people, described how they were tied up and shot by killers who allegedly said they wanted Indian blood. The prime minister in his statement to the Lok Sabha rightly said, "The murder of innocent people can only be called terrorism not jehad or a political campaign."
India has long tried to convince the world that what we are dealing with is not a freedom struggle but an armed insurgency supported by the Pakistan Government. Despite our attempts to prove their direct involvement we have failed so far. We should have better luck now that General Musharraf has publicly stated he does not believe there is any cross-border terrorism in Kashmir-only an indigenous freedom struggle. There is an old cliché about how one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter but now that Pakistan's military dictator has clarified his views on terrorism he puts himself in the same category as Osama bin Laden. Worse, perhaps, since he heads the government of a country that is not yet considered a rogue state.
Having said this though, it is hard to absolve our own government of blame for the terrible violence in Kashmir. Our security forces often behave no better than terrorists and do enormous damage to India's image and their own. In an incident that happened while the Agra Summit was in progress they killed a nine-year-old schoolgirl. She was on some harmless errand when the "crossfire" began. A kindly shopkeeper dragged her into his shop and pulled the shutters down but the gunfire frightened the little girl who started crying. Our soldiers should have been able to recognise the sound of a child crying but did not and burst into the shop with their guns firing. The girl was dead before anyone could tell what was happening. This kind of thing happens too often in the Kashmir Valley for this incident to be considered an aberration. Every time this happens it serves the cause of General Musharraf's "freedom fighters".
What also serves their cause is the abject inability of the Vajpayee Government to articulate anything that could be described as a Kashmir policy. All that it has been able to come up with so far are desultory attempts to talk to militant groups and, as this column has pointed out before, when you appoint a Congress has-been like K.C. Pant as your chief interlocutor you virtually admit that attempts at dialogue are a farce.
The man who should be doing the talking-and coming up with a policy-is Home Minister L.K. Advani. Domestic political problems come directly under his ministry and they have been handled with astonishing ineptitude as we can see not just in Kashmir but also in Manipur. Advani had a real chance to show the average Kashmiri that he was ready to begin with a clean slate and look at what was happening with new eyes. For reasons that are impossible to understand he chose instead to continue to let Kashmir fester and burn without once acknowledging there are no military solutions to political problems. In Kashmir we have our most serious political problem ever and it has got steadily worse and more internationalised because we have a government that refuses to make any real attempt to tackle it politically.
We can only hope one of the fallouts of the summit will be that this will change. Or we are doomed to watching the General's "freedom fighters" increasingly perpetrate their evil deeds. We keep hearing that we are winning the war against terrorism. Officials in Delhi come up with impressively long lists of dead terrorists, lists which show that many more terrorists than security personnel are being killed now. But in Kashmir there are no signs of peace and innocent people continue to die. This is India's real Kashmir problem.