Steps that can make a difference in Kashmir
For a long-term solution, there is no substitute to opening a mass debate with representatives of all regions
of the state and not just the valley, says Anil Athale
Twenty years and counting, that is the time one has been involved in the ‘Kashmir issue’, and there is a sinking feeling that like Alice in
Wonderland, ‘it takes all the running you can do, to
keep in the same place.’ The phrase ‘the more things
change, the more they remain the same’, applies to the
Kashmir situation, specially the valley.
The present bout of violence is almost a repeat of the
Amarnath controversy that took place two years ago
almost to the exact date. Elections were then in the offing and the two young Turks of Kashmiri politics
indulged in a competition to whip up xenophobia.
Grant of permission to erect temporary structures
for pilgrims was painted as an attempt at demographic change or worse, as if the thousands of pilgrims who
visit the Amarnath cave would stay permanently on the
barren icy slopes of the Himalayas!
But such is the level of self-delusion in the valley that
this was widely believed. But then, much to the grief of
the mainstream parties, the separatists and Pakistan’s
supporters hijacked the issue. There was a reaction in
Jammu, counter-reaction in the valley; it seemed as if
Kashmir was back to the bad old days of the 1990s.
Come this July, despite peaceful elections and with a
National Conference government well in the saddle,
we are in the midst of what can only be called a stone-pelting crisis. Even to a seasoned observer like this one,
the origins of this are obscure.
What one knows is that in Srinagar it had become a
Friday ritual to pelt stones at the police. Some allege
that the stone-pelters were paid wages and supplies
were arranged. This is not very unlikely as in the early
1990s, it is now well known that ammunition and arms
for the separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation
Front were transported in government vehicles.
While all this was happening, the harangue from the
mosques and separatists to whip up anti-national feelings continue unabated. Like with the Amarnath crisis,
the honorable governor was missing in action.
Incidentally, do we still have a governor there?
Stone-pelting then led to action by the local police
and the Central Reserve Police Force in self defense
that caused casualties. The funeral of the dead is then
turned into another occasion for mass demonstrations,
more stone pelting, use of force by the police, more casualties, more funerals and so on and on.
On a long visit there in September 2008, I traveled the
length and breadth of the valley. One striking thing was the
relative prosperity and absence of the kind of poverty one
sees elsewhere in India.
The national economic survey this year has confirmed
that along with Nagaland (another state where an anti-Indian agitation is on), Jammu and Kashmir has just 6 percent of its population below the poverty line. Places like
Rajouri that barely had a college or two, now has a full-fledged university.
Today 62 goodwill schools and countless community centers established by the army are functioning in the state.
One felt proud to see the girls’s school in Kamalkote village
(devastated during the 2006 earthquake) rebuilt by my
battalion and equipped with computers.
It was amusing to read a statement by an august woman
member of India’s planning commission who had a simple
solution to the Kashmir crisis: ‘Give them computer keyboards instead of stones,’ said the great lady. Does she know
that this is a reality already even in the remote corners of
Unfortunately, there are enough people in the valley who
use these very computers and mobiles to coordinate the
Friday stone-throwing rituals.
It was a tiny effort that did act as a catalyst, and later
the army successfully launched a much bigger
Operation Sadbhavana or Goodwill. Every year, youth
from the state are taken on a tour of India to acquaint
them with the other parts of the country. Post the
Kargil clash of 1999, it seemed that insurgency was
brought under control with a carrots-and-stick
When General V K Singh recently showed his
anguish at lost opportunities, he was pointing out that
the army has not only brought the insurgency under
control but has done a huge amount of social work and
earned the goodwill of the general population.
On the back of it, the state and the central governments ought to have gone on the offensive against the
separatists on the ideological and political front. But
instead, the forces that organized stone-pelting on a
regular basis were handled with kid gloves. The result
is that emboldened elements have now derailed peace
in the valley.
The reason is that the average Kashmiri does not
believe that the government has the will to fight.
How else do we explain the fact that on the one hand
we shout from rooftops that Kashmir is an integral part
of India and on the other accept a role for Pakistan in
the affairs of Kashmir?
Most of this analysis is, of course, old hat but one
thing that has changed in Kashmir is the fact that
today, socio-economic deprivation or poverty is not the
prime motivation, it is a religious-political issue now.
One can propose seven steps that can make or mar
peace in that area.
; Stop giving undue importance to the valley. Jammu
and Kashmir is not just a few cities in the valley but
also consists of Jammu, Kargil, Rajouri-Poonch and
Ladakh. Please disabuse the gulli mohalla leaders of
; Identify people who spread disaffection and incite
violence and send them to jails outside the state,
; Do not ban Pakistan television. Let the average
Kashmiri see what awaits him on the other side of the
;Take on the separatists on an ideological
ground. Kashmiri separatism is bogus and a creation of
post-independence politics. Kashmir was very much a part
of India in ancient times, the middle ages, and the modern
How was it different from 400-odd princely states except
that it had a Muslim majority? But do we in India discriminate on the basis of religion? If not, what is the rationale
for the so-called ‘uniqueness’ of Kashmir? This ideological
battle is far more important than all other measures like
economic goodies et al. Let us face it: It is not Kashmiri
separatism but Islamic separatism that we face in the valley.
; Establish a dialogue with non-politicized religious leaders. Urge them to work for peace. The church played this
role and helped bring peace in the Northeast. Point out the
travails of the people of Pakistan. Do they want Kashmiri
Muslims to suffer the same fate?
; Ask internal supporters whether the 20 percent Shias,
40 percent Hindus and 5 percent Buddhists of the state
have any future in a Sharia-based entity?
; Establish institutional mechanisms like an independent
commission for police oversight and an armed forces independent office of civil complaints to make sure that the
A Kashmiri woman crosses a concertina during a curfew in Srinagar, July 30
DANISH ISMAIL/ REUTERS