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Sunday, July 19, 2009

2677, 14 September 2008
A Roadmap for Kashmir Firdaus AhmedFreelancere-mail:
The crisis having blown over, Kashmir is currently simmering. With the Hurriyat having tasted blood it is looking to exercise a spoilers' influence on the forthcoming elections to the state assembly. Both political parties, the PDP and the NC, are angling to represent their core constituency comprising the Valley, with Jammu written off to the BJP after the right wing led agitation there. The Congress having scored a self-goal is out for the count. With the situation delicately poised to return to business as usual, it is appropriate to take stock of the unusual summer in Kashmir.
The foremost change has been in the manner the Indian state has permitted the Valley to let off steam. The Governor, recalling his earlier experience in the Defence and Home ministries in the early Nineties when similar agitations rocked the Valley, decided on a novel course of action. On his direction space was created for the agitations to vent their angst through a policy of calculated temporary relocation of security forces pickets. This prevented confrontations resulting in Gao Kadal like situations. The restraint can only be attributed to wisdom and exercise of moral courage on part of the Governor. As was the case with sympathetic handling of the Hazrat Bal incident, this demonstration of empathy with the Kashmiris could prove a turning point if capitalised on adequately.
NN Vohra, having earlier been the latest of the line of central interlocutors with the political forces in Kashmir, has placed himself in a position of moral strength. With his intimate knowledge of India's position, its limits and possibilities , he could now convert the situation to India's advantage by engaging the separatists. The success of this would maximally be the extent the separatists participate in the democratic process and minimally to the extent they manage to disrupt it. Towards this end, the concept of 'azadi' requires to be reframed to mean that the constitutional freedoms permitted all Indian citizens also reach the Kashmiri in full measure without the coercive apparatus of the state . The happy conjuncture of restraint from the opposite camp with the UJC also requiring restraint of its cadres, even if for tactical reasons, should be capitalised on to broach the idea of a ceasefire. The month of fasting had once earlier in 2000 served as a time for 'non-initiation of combat operations', Indian euphemism for ceasefire.
The UJC on its part requires to approach the potentially historic juncture strategically and philosophically. It should partake of the democracy on offer and challenge Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his promise that within constitutional four corners the 'sky is the limit'. Otherwise sympathetic commentators have pointed out the lack of viability of any future rump Kashmiri state; lack of justification in international law to persist with the demand for self-determination; shortcomings of the movement in terms of protection of human and minority rights and democratic credentials; and lack of effectiveness in face of Indian power. The preoccupation of Pakistan in its return to democracy and pacification of frontier tracts leaves the onus of decision on Kashmiris. Alertness of Indian troops on the Line of Control fence is evident from increase in number of ceasefire violations that have taken place along the line this summer. Interception of a major group resulting in death of an Indian Colonel also proves Indian determination to dominate the interior. The dip in violence levels is irreversible.
The energy of the latest generation of youth to come of age in the Valley, albeit entirely in the shadow of the gun, should not be permitted to be squandered after the mirage of an 'azadi' defined as independence. The Valley cannot afford a second lost generation. There is therefore a case for joining in the electoral fray, with elections likely to be both free and fair: if the past experience of strict control by firm Election Commissioners is a valid yardstick.
The situation thus cries out for political ministration, even if it means postponing elections from the autumn to next spring to gain time. Since people have taken over the leadership role, this would require to be taken directly to them in a bipartisan initiative of national leadership comprising Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi. Follow up engagement of the separatist leadership through an eminent persons group comprising respected Kashmir hands as Wajahat Habibullah, Balraj Puri, Amitabh Matoo and MA Zaki and other personages as Rajmohan Gandhi, Asghar Ali Engineer and AG Noorani, among others.
The events over the summer have unambiguously demonstrated that an election by itself as contemplated is not the answer in Kashmir. It would only result in more of the same, with the future vulnerable to similar surprises that could turn out nasty depending on the way the GWOT plays itself out in the near vicinity. Instead India requires staking the moral worth of its democratic credentials in Kashmir and emerging stronger for it

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