August 2001 News

Picking Up The Threads

6 August 2001

NEW DELHI: The Agra summit exposed the vast gap that exists between the way India and Pakistan perceive the Kashmir problem. Pakistan does not accept the legal validity of the Instrument of Accession and considers Kashmir a disputed territory. It's also unwilling to accept the Simla agreement as a starting point for a solution. India considers the legal issues settled and is adamant that the Simla agreement can't be brushed aside. What the summit did therefore was to remind New Delhi that the solution to the Kashmir issue doesn't lie in Islamabad but in the Valley. It also exposed, in pitiless relief, the fact that the government had no policy whatever for restoring peace and democracy in the state, except to continue giving blind support to a government whose unpopularity has scaled record heights in the Valley, if not the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. It was this lack of any worthwhile policy towards Kashmir that allowed a dictatorship in Pakistan to claim that it, and not India, was the true champion of freedom and democracy in Kashmir. The lack of a policy towards Kashmir has been painfully apparent during the past 14 months. The low turnout in Kashmir during the 1999 parliamentary elections had convinced the Vajpayee government that the National Conference had lost much of its support base in the previous three years. This had been underlined by the manner in which the Abdullah government had jailed the leaders of the Hurriyat for advocating a poll boycott and left them there long after the elections. In May 2000, the Central government, or to be more precise, the PM, decided that the policy of putting all of New Delhi's eggs in one basket bore too great a similarity to the policies followed between 1987 and 1989, which had led to the Kashmiri insurgency in 1990. Over the heads of various hawks in the home ministry, and in the teeth of covert opposition from Farooq Abdullah, the government released the Hurriyat leaders and announced that it would soon hold talks with them. The conflict this triggered, between the home ministry and the pmo, paralysed all policymaking till May this year. Kashmiri hopes of peace were raised skyhigh twice, in July and November 2000, by ceasefires announced by the Hizbul Mujahideen and Vajpayee respectively, only to be dashed. The meeting between the Hurriyat and New Delhi never took place. For good measure, a plan to let the Hurriyat leaders go to Pakistan first also came to a naught, partly because of the home ministry's misgivings and partly because of deep divisions within the Hurriyat itself. Meanwhile, every overture towards peace sent the jehadis into a frenzy of violence against Bihari labourers, against Kashmiri civilians, and against the police. The police and, in the later stages of the ceasefire, the army and the bsf, responded with 'crackdowns' and other operations that inevitably increased the hardship for the ordinary people. All this undermined respect for New Delhi in Kashmir and bred cynicism and despair, making a section of the youth look Pakistan-wards. When Vajpayee sent his invitation to Musharraf, Delhi had run out of options in Kashmir. The Hurriyat leaders were not prepared to talk to K.C. Pant, but they had sufficient credibility to tarnish the image of anyone else who did. It would have been surprising indeed if Pakistan's analysts had not known all this. Musharraf, therefore, faced a battery of opposition when he decided to come to Delhi. This was not so much for holding the talks as for granting any significant concession to India during their course.The failure of the Agra summit was therefore rooted, at least in part, in India's failure in Kashmir. Conversely, the success of a future round of talks will also depend upon the degree to which India has been able to restore peace and win back the trust of the people of Kashmir. An obvious starting point would have been to hold talks with the Hurriyat. But the rigid stand it took on going to Pakistan before it spoke to Pant, and its insistence on meeting Musharraf in Delhi, despite the Indian government's objections, have made any future dialogue between it and New Delhi well nigh impossible. The Hurriyat is in any case close to disintegration. The close financial and other links that its self-appointed spokesmen, Ali Shah Geelani and Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, have with the isi in Pakistan are an open secret in Kashmir. The jklf and its leader Yasin Malik have publicly dissociated themselves from its decision to meet Musharraf, and the representativeness of the Hurriyat's executive committee is being questioned within the organisation itself. In the 10 years since its inception, the Hurriyat has never held an election to fill the seats in the executive. In fact, the meeting of the general council, which was held to rubber-stamp the executive committee's decision to boycott Pant, was the first such meeting in 18 months. So, where should New Delhi begin from? The obvious goal should be to persuade as many Kashmiri political groups as possible to fight the elections next year. The one thing Delhi can't afford is another election like that of 1989 in which the turnout in the Valley was a paltry 2 per cent. But this requires a major change in the way that the security forces and the Kashmiris perceive each other. So far as the army and the bsf are concerned, the way forward has already been shown by 15 corps' 'Operation Sadbhavana' in Kargil, where, simply by delivering to the people the economic and social services that should be theirs by right, it has won their trust. In Kashmir a necessary prelude to such an operation would be to stop treating villagers, who get embroiled with the militants, as collaborators and start by assuming that they might be victims. Other steps in normalisation are the declaration of amnesty for all militants and the enforcement of higher standards of accountability on the police, in particular its Special Operations Group.


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