Concentrate on the present in Kashmir

Indian government had appointed a team of three interlocutors —Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari — after the public unrest in Kashmir in the summer of 2010 to recommend a future course of action for Jammu & Kashmir. Although the panel had submitted its report in October 2011, the report was released by the government only last week.

Kashmiri separatists and the Bharatiya Janata Party have, as expected, rejected the report while the union government and the state government have not commented on it so far. In any case, not much was expected from the report as it was a holding operation by the union government to deflect the criticism of political inaction. Expectations were further reduced when the panel was boycotted by Kashmiri separatists. Bereft of new ideas, the panel has mostly recycled old suggestions on Kashmir.

Only way forward: J&K needs to focus on ensuring the rule of law, maintaining public order and providing a peaceful environment for people to lead a routine social and economic life

The report focuses on the historical grievances of the Kashmiris and looks at the solution to the ‘Kashmir problem’ through that prism. This fallacy of grievances creating the conflict has been perpetuated over the years and is reinforced by the report. History is important to draw the right lessons but we can’t hold our present captive to the past. The past in Kashmir is complicated and there are as many versions of history as there are people. Their narratives of historical grievances are fuelled by a mix of geopolitics, religion, nationalism, jehadi terrorism and malgovernance. Just because some people are more vocal about their grievances doesn’t mean that others don’t have any grievances.

It can’t be only about Muslims of the Kashmir Valley being victims of the high-handedness of the Indian state in the last two decades. Their grievances can’t be neglected but history has a longer arc. Where does one start from — 1948, when Pakistan sent its army along with tribals into Kashmir or 1965, when it launched Operation Gibraltar? What about the grievances of those suffering in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan? Are those Kashmiri Muslims who suffered at the hands of Pakistan-backed terrorists also allowed to air their grievances? And let us not even go into the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits who were systematically thrown out of their native land in 1990.

All sides suffer in a conflict and Kashmir has been no different. Like wires of a short-circuited electric cable, these grievances have all fused together. Separating these individual wires to recreate that cable is an impossibility now. Everyone will need to confront their past in Kashmir but it doesn’t have to happen today. Time is the best healer for wounds. The haste to ‘solve the Kashmir problem’ will worsen the situation by opening partially healed wounds. In the quarrel between the past and the present, Kashmir will lose its future.

But it doesn’t mean that there is nothing that can be done to ensure that the healing process stays on track. The state needs to focus on ensuring the rule of law, maintaining public order and providing a peaceful environment for people to lead a routine social and economic life. Gradual removal of AFSPA from selected areas of Kashmir would signal the change in government’s approach. The state must also provide an enabling environment for rapid economic growth by investing heavily in infrastructure — roads, railways, airports and power supply — and complete these projects on time. People of the state will then be invested in the stability of the system. J&K government has traversed on this path in the last two years but it needs to move with greater vigour and purpose.

All this is essential but not sufficient for sustainable normalcy in Kashmir. The mainstream political parties have to engage the Kashmiri youth. Beyond the slogan of Azadi, the Kashmiri youth is rejecting politics and is attracted to other causes, be it puritanical religion or sectarianism or in extreme cases, terrorism. The state government’s reluctance to devolve powers to the elected Panchs and Sarpanchs is liable to further increase the disillusionment. While these grassroot leaders must generate capacity to perform their role, the government needs to overcome the vested political and bureaucratic interests blocking their empowerment.

Finally, it isn’t an India versus Kashmir bout. India only wins if Kashmir wins. Kashmiris need a present to work with and a future to look forward to. Then only will they stop looking towards the past.

Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review 

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