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Monday, September 16, 2013

Vanzara gets it right: The meaning for J&K
By Firdaus Ahmed
Vanzara has blown the lid on the fallacious argument usually put out to explain away encounter cases. The killers are taken to be afflicted with a Rambo mentality and seekers of medals, out of turn promotions and bounty. The problem gets reduced to the individuallevel at the expense of the systemic. This enables exaction of a price, when and if ever the push of accountability comes to the shove of action, by incarceration of the culpable individuals to the legal system, quite like Vanzara. Attention gets deflected from the culpability at higher levels and the subversion of law and institutions that makes encounters possible. The lesson for J&K is that it needs redefining normalcy away from violence indicators but in the retrieving of ground lost to departures from the straight and narrow. But, the critical Vanzara message, liable to be missed, is that it is not enough to blame the tools alone.

Take the recent killings by BSF troopers at Shopian, reminiscent of those at Gool earlier this year. The killings can only partially be attributed to a trigger-happy outfit or a scared set of isolated paramilitary men holding out against a mob. An investigation will only establish individual culpability, screening out the larger picture. The people died because they were part of an agitated crowd. The crowd gathered because the presence of the picket enabled them to vent their anger at an egregious provocation of having a misconceived concert for the elite in Srinagar to advertise the return of 'normalcy'. The problem therefore was not entirely in triggers being pressed in hate or panic, but more in the non-removal of operating bases in the midst of people despite removal being the best indicator of normalcy.

To this inability to recognise what needs doing in returning normalcy must be attributed the deaths of protesting civilians. The onus is not at the door of soldiers in camouflage reacting in situations they have little control over, but to those who have allowed the environment of insecurity to persist. Vanzara has got it right: those in control owe a greater responsibility and need being arraigned, at a maximum in the court of law under the doctrine of responsibility of the chain of command, and at a minimum in the court of public opinion.

By no means does this exonerate the troopers who have belittled themselves, for it is in crunch situations and not on the parade ground where discipline and self control are to count. If fire discipline is absent then they are undeserving of their uniform. That said, their officers cannot be exonerated. They are largely happy with feudal services their men furnish in order that a happy relationship develops in which they in return do not hold men responsible for occupational standards. This is a particular malady in the central police forces, which to begin with are of questionable quality and secondly are officered at the upper echelons with the IPS, who have acquired the trappings of power too early in life and service.

However, if the deaths are to have a meaning for India outside of Kashmir, then the Neros in Srinagar and Delhi need questioning alongside. The chief minister has mastered the fine art of passing the buck on to Delhi. It is apparent that concentrating as he is on delivery of routine governance, rocking the boat by tendering his resignation does not figure in his sight. Awaiting a worse day implies that the chief minister expects worse, a prospect none too appetising.

Srinagar also has Delhi's representative, a Governor into his second tenure. Clearly, he too has exhausted his breath on Delhi. He was the right man to do spring cleaning after the previous NDA appointee leaving his ideological debris behind. Had Delhi had not lost its nerve after 26/11 on the road to patching up with Islamabad, he could have well have delivered Kashmir to normalcy as part of the internal dimension of repair. Now it is apparent that his utility is in his success in keeping the lid on the Valley, a feat he can be credited with over the past four years.

As for Delhi, the Kashmiri saying 'Delhi is distant' captures it all. How so ever much it might remonstrate that Kashmir is an internal issue of India, it is unable to unravel the internal from the external. Vajpayee had created the conditions for doing so that UPA I had taken further, only to be derailed as mentioned at Mumbai 26/11: so much for the relative power of Delhi and the Jihad Inc., across. Internally, UPA II has been a lost tenure, with the output of the last committee of interlocutors being trashed. With sights set further than Srinagar on Kabul and a national elections looming, movement on Kashmir awaits the next incumbent of 7 Race Course Road.

That Kashmir does not count is thus self-evident. Consequently, the message for people is that agitating for an end to insecurity is the only way they can be heard. Recognising that it has left people with no other recourse, Delhi has left armed minders in place, empowered with AFSPA and similar laws covering the paramilitary and the police. Responsibility for what then transpires on the barbed wire and concertina is clearly not only of those facing each other on the frontline, but those who have contrived thus to put them in such a position. So if there is an accounting, as Vanzara seeks to remind us if only to save his own skin, he has got it right in saying that powers higher than his level, the supervisory one, should also be in the dock, if not in cells; for inaction, if not for mala-fide action.

The upshot of the analysis is that there is more to come. Delhi has indicated that Islamabad has upped the infiltration this year. This is no doubt to set the stage for next year. While earlier in the nineties the period of mass action preceded that of insurgency, which in turn was displaced by proxy war, this time round the worst case could be simultaneity of the three. The last time round the downing of the Berlin Wall set the context for Kashmir. This time there is the untidy aftermath of Arab Spring supplying the spark for the tinder. Pakistan's excuse will be that it gave peace a chance and India squandered the opportunity by its inability and unwillingness to make a distinction between the state and its bearded proxies. The time for political action having past, regrettably violence appears the lone recourse for all sides. Perversely, the bright side is that thereafter it would be very difficult to play Nero.

(The author is a blogger at Think South Asia:
17 Sep 13

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