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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Kashmir: The way forward It's time for a review of the 'hard line' says Firdaus Ahmed. Also see
In an interview this month with BBC's Hard Talk, Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had no qualms in admitting that her party's election to the ruling coaltion government had come on the promise of addressing alienation, much of which has come about due to the excesses of the security forces. Whether merely checking atrocities committed by the security forces and ensuring their accountability will facilitate in retrieving a solution for the seemingly intractable Kashmir conflict, is anybody's guess at this point. But few advocates of liberal politics would disagree with the assessment that given the appalling record, more accountability for the security forces is a step in the right direction. And this, even as New Delhi steps up the public-speak about the double-standards of the West in not exerting enough pressure on Pakistan to stop support for cross-border terrorism.
Alert liberal opinion in mainland India has supported the courageous efforts of human rights activists in J&K in acting as the conscience of the nation. This has helped keep the state alive to the requirement of humane conduct of the counter militancy campaign. While security forces have been given the requisite autonomy to conduct operations, scope of the abuse of their powers has been relatively constrained. However, the accompanying report on India's Human Rights record in Kashmir points out how human rights violations have distressingly punctuated the last decade and more in J&K.
Taking necessary action against perpetrators will necessitate an exercise in determining culpability of hierarchical levels above that of the executive level. Higher echelons of government, not excluding the political level at Srinagar and New Delhi, have to bear the cross of neglect of their responsibility of supervision and control of security forces. The official disclaimer that violations were 'aberrations', and therefore an individual responsibility is only acceptable for covering crimes such as rape. The scale of the other violations are indication that their origin lay in a 'policy', one both disagreeable and counter-productive.
The magnitude of human rights abuses by security forces point to a 'hard line' policy operational in J&K. Such a policy alone can account for the pervasive impunity enjoyed by security forces elements in face of persistent accusations of violations. Clearly, policy of this nature is unlikely to have self-incriminating evidence in terms of documents spelling it out. It is more likely to have been the understanding of the situation that acquired the stature of a pervasive 'common sense', transmitting itself down to the soldiery not through formal orders but through 'wink and nudge' communication. Hence, making a case against those who perpetrated these criminal acts alone would not serve the purpose of a 'fuller accounting' for human rights abuses in J&K. Those occupying roles in the security establishment who were complicit in the excesses either through instigating or condoning these need also to be arraigned. However, the 'brass' is not the level at which the buck stops in our constitutional system. It requires to be determined how much of the existence of such a policy was known to the civilian dispensation - elected or in the form of the Governor - in Srinagar and the efforts, if any, taken by them to mellow it. Scrutiny may reveal that the policy may have originated with the blessings and input of security managers in Delhi.

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The justification of a 'hardline' can conceivably only be in a situation of the gravest security threat to the state. The suspension of fundamental rights is envisaged in the constitution in cases of promulgation of Emergency. This was not the case in J&K. Nevertheless, 'hard core' rights are inalienable, whatever the security situation. The fact is that the security situation did not warrant the extent of force used, or the indiscriminate imposition of the military instrument on innocent non-combatants. The policy in vogue in J&K over the past decade was therefore untenable. Adequate knowledge is available of the efficacy of alternative approaches that could have been adopted. The redoubtable Indian Army was surely capable of implementing the same. Furthermore the odds were not insurmountable, given that Pakistan was not about to provoke a war it could well lose by raising Indian costs beyond the threshold of tolerance. That these arguments were discounted in favor of the 'hard line' is indicative of a subjective mindset insensitive to the rational coordinates of the security situation as has obtained in J&K.
The effectiveness of the new government in 'healing the wounds' would primarily depend on the measure of control it manages to gain over the security apparatus.
- Firdaus AhmedAccountability for conjuring the policy, disseminating it and implementing it has to be shared by those in positions of authority at both Srinagar and New Delhi. Their responsibility for the sorry state of human rights in J&K is central since to it can be ascribed the permissive regime which rendered inert the self reflective faculty in lower ranks who physically committed human rights crimes.
Window of OpportunityIt is universally acknowledged that appropriate exploitation of the 'window of opportunity' opened by the electorate in J&K can make a beginning towards healing the deep physical and psychological wounds of the population in J&K. The Common Minimum Program released by the PDP-Congress combine that has ascended to power in Srinagar has the right ingredients in this direction. Expectedly, it is two-pronged - one directed at returning peace and normalcy and the other aiming at employment oriented development. The first is more relevant for the short term while the latter for stabilizing peace over the long term. The agenda promises peace with dignity and honour by securing justice and security for the young men caught in the vicious cycle of violence, the wellsprings of which were both internal and external. Its human rights relevant provisions include review of cases of detainees and of operation of laws lending themselves to abuse; investigate custodial deaths and cases of violations of human rights; strengthen the state human rights commission; institute rehabilitation measures and supportive measures for militancy effected families; police reforms to include reassignment of the SOG; and non-implementation of the POTA.
The effectiveness of the new government in delivering these promises would primarily depend on the measure of control it manages to gain over the security apparatus. While the security agencies may be willing to countenance a change in policy in keeping with the changed ground situation, they would be unwilling to let their past record be scrutinized. This would be the acid test that would call for assertion of political control on part of the state government. The proverbial 'window' will only last as long as the snows this winter. It is only ironical that Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the man who was at the helm as Union Minister for Home when the uprising started more than a decade ago, is the one called upon now to finally end it.
The foremost lesson for India is that of the two approaches available to the state in dealing with a security situation, the more effective one remains a humane, people centric one. The 'hard line' has revealed itself as vacuous in conception and in implementation and has contributed as much to the deterioration of the situation in J&K as one of the reasons for it's alleged legitimacy - the self-interested proxy-war by Pakistan. The prospect that this lesson will be revealed in its starkness is remote in the absence of an Indian Truth Commission. Nevertheless, a 'fuller accounting' calls for a holistic exercise revealing the power centers and personages implicated in supporting the misplaced 'hardline' in J&K. This will be the true service to both history and the future, and to the victims of conflict.

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