Kashmir’s unending tragedy

Talks and de-escalation must go together — it is not wise to make them sequential

The dreadful violence and low turnout in a by-election in Kashmir has again raised intense debate in New Delhi. Unfortunately this debate has been mainly abusive rather than productive, and as a result it has masked the real issues. Somehow we have created a binary in which there are only two opposing groups — those in mainland India who consider Kashmiris to be pro-Pakistan Wahhabis who support terrorism, and those in the Valley who consider Indians to be rabid communalists. Each has agrain of truth insofar as there are constituencies of extremists on both sides, but only a grain. The majority of Kashmiris want to live in freedom, peace and dignity, just as the majority of Indians do, andwe all look to our governments, atthe Centre and in Jammu and Kashmir, to provide us with these.

Towards the extremes

The growing influence of this ugly mutual propaganda, seen not only in social media but also on our television channels, will drive more people to extremism and that, surely, is a cause for concern to citizens as well as the government.There is no denying that the Islamic State-type perversion of Islam has gained ground amongst a few in the Valley, nor that stone-pelting has been organised in many instances. But there should equally be no denying that anger in the Valley is higher than it has been in two decades and has reached alarming proportions. Nor can we deny that at least one major cause of this anger is the lack of a peace and reconciliation process, which the Bharatiya Janata Party-Peoples Democratic Party (BJP-PDP) coalition promised, or that another major cause is the lack of an honest and accountable administration. We have allowed our security forces (Army, Central Reserve Police Force and State police) to be the only visible face of India in the Valley — our legislators and civil government are not to be seen. The security forces have had to bear the brunt of public anger, and after almost a decade of being stoned, it is not surprising that they commit human rights abuses. But that does not, and must not, mean that we justify abuse or add to it. We need rather to focus on the restoration of trust in administration so that our forces are no longer needed for internal security. We have done a gross injustice to our troops by keeping them in internal conflict situations for decades on end. The forces can at most contain internal violence and that too only if it is a short-term task; after that it is the responsibility of the administration and political representatives to step in. In the absence of a political and reconciliation process, asking security forces to show restraint in the face of constant stoning is not feasible.

Peace process and violence

Past experience shows that when there has been a peace process, incidents of violence, including stone-pelting, have died down. In 2010, when I was one of three interlocutors sent to the Valley, the government initiated a multi track process combining humanitarian and political dialogue with security reforms that ranged from tightening the anti-infiltration grid to distinguishing between first-time offenders and ringleaders, and tackling economic woes. It was the combination of these elements that worked then, and they created conditions for political talks that could have significantly improved relations between the Valley and the rest of India. I am often asked what happened to our report. All I know is that the United Progressive Alliance government, the parliamentary delegation that had recommended the creation of our group, as well as the State government failed to follow through on any of our political and constitutional recommendations, while the BJP rejected it in toto.That failure was a major setback, especially for the several thousand people who spoke to us. Another such opportunity was offered by the Agenda for Alliance.The BJP and the PDP had fought a bitterly divisive election campaign against each other, and their coming together held out a hope of reconciliation for the State. There are political commitments in the Agenda for Alliance that would go along way to alleviating anger in the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh and they could have been implemented without alienating any of the regions. They still can be, and it would be an important confidence booster if the leaders of the two parties sit down and choose which of the political commitments to honour. True, the failure to sustain a political process until resolution can be found is not new. It has been repeated for decades — indeed we could go back to the 1950s — but that only compounds the problem,it does not justify continuing inaction. It is more difficult to make peace today than it was five years ago, and it was more difficult than that in the previous five years. That means it will be even worse in another five years and soon it will be insuperable. What about the role of Pakistan? History shows us that they have tried to foster an anti-India jihad in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 but without much success until the late 1980s, by which time Article 370 of the Constitution had been rendered a dead letter. By 1988, repeated Indian interference in J&K’s internal political processes led thousands of young Kashmiris to an armed uprising. Since then we have struggled to put those years behind us, and succeeded insofar as free and fair elections are concerned. But our failure to seize windows for political reconciliation has played into Pakistani hands and it is doing so again, while we waste our time in futile debates about who is more nationalist amongst Indians and who is more traitorous amongst Kashmiris. As innumerable commentators have pointed out, the best way to prevent Pakistan from making hay is for talks with Kashmiri dissidents. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti recently said, on her discussion with Prime Minister NarendraModi, that there will be a political dialogue, but only after somepeace is restored. Talks and de-escalation, however, go together, and it is not wise to make them sequential. Nor is it clear whom the government will talk to. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court a few days ago that the government will not talk to people who demand independence or secession. Presumably he meant the Hurriyat, JKLF and allied groups. Such a position makes talks a nonstarter — to repeat a platitude, you do not make peace with your friends but with your opponents. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the then Home Minister L.K. Advani saw this point clearly, as did their successors, Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram. Mr. Vajpayee’s most brilliant strategy was to accept the Hurriyat’s offer to act as a bridge to Pakistan — the Pakistan government could not refuse to listen to Kashmiris. Of course, in their usual way, the Pakistan government did not wind up its training, arming and sanctuaries for Islamist guerrillas fighting India but they did get them to lie low, and as a result the lack of public support for militancy was able to make itself evident.

Address rights abuses

We should not also forget the Hurriyat and dissident leaders, including of armed groups, who gave their lives in the search for peace with India. Abdul Ghani Lone, the People’s Conference leader who said that the time for armed militancy was over, was assassinated in an Inter-Services Intelligence operation. Pro-Pakistan militants murdered Majid Dar, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who engaged in talks for a ceasefire with army representatives. More recently, Hurriyat leader Fazal HaqQureshi was shot by local militants for talks with Mr. Chidambaram, and almost died. There are many within the Hurriyat who would consider talks again, just as there are many in the Valley who are worried about the lumpenisation of Islam that the stone-pelters represent. None of them, however, will or can cooperate as long as we fail to offer them a political process and redress human rights abuses. If the government wants to restore peace to the Valley, it cannot do it by force — talks with dissidents is the only option. The demonisation of Kashmiris by ruling party spokespersons — all stone-pelters are traitors, really? — does not give much hope. Perhaps the Supreme Court will help.

1) Masked

Meaning: Wearing a mask.

Example: Suddenly two masked gunmen burst into the shop and demanded all the cash in the till.

Synonyms: Concealed, Covert

Antonyms: Unmasked

2) Rabid

Meaning: Having and expressing extreme and unreasonable feelings.

Example: Even the most rabid football fans probably wouldn’t know this.

Meaning: In an extreme and unreasonable way.

Example: They are rabidly partisan.

Synonyms: Very angry, Fanatical

Antonyms: Apathetic, Calm

3) Extremists

Meaning: Someone who has beliefs that most people think are unreasonable and unacceptable.

Example: A group of extremists.

Synonyms: Fanatic, Radical

Antonyms: Moderate, Conservative

4) Dignity

Meaning: Calm, serious, and controlled behavior that makes people respect you.

Example: He is a man of dignity and calm determination.

Meaning: The importance and value that a person has, that makes other people respect them or makes them respect themselves.

Example: In hospital, she felt stripped of all her dignity.

Synonyms: Excellence, Nobility

Antonyms: Dishonor, Immorality

5) Propaganda

Meaning: Information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people’s opinions.

Example: At school we were fed communist/right-wing propaganda.

Synonyms: Publicity, Advertising

Antonyms: Truth

6) Concern

Meaning: To cause worry to someone.

Example: His attitude concerns me.

Meaning: To be important to someone or to involve someone directly.

Example: Matters of pollution and the environment concern us all.

Synonyms: Burden, Responsibility

Antonyms: Entertainment, Unemployment

7) Perversion

Meaning: The changing of something so that it is not what it was or should be.

Example: His testimony was clearly a perversion of the truth.

Synonyms: Corruption

Antonyms: Regularity

8) Brunt

Meaning: The main force of something unpleasant.

Example: The infantry has taken/borne the brunt of the missile attacks.

Synonyms: Burden, Impact

Antonyms: Ease, Relaxation

9) Coalition

Meaning: The joining together of different political parties or groups for a particular purpose, usually for a limited time, or a government that is formed in this way.

Example: Government by coalition has its own peculiar set of problems.

Synonyms: Alliance, Combination

Antonyms: Disunion, Detachment

10) Reconciliation

Meaning: A situation in which two people or groups of people become friendly again after they have argued.

Example: It took hours of negotiations to bring about a reconciliation between the two sides.

Synonyms: Accord, Agreement

Antonyms: Dissension

11) Assassinate

Meaning: To kill someone famous or important.

Example: A plot to assassinate the president.

Synonyms: Execute, Eliminate

Antonyms: Create, Keep

12) Platitude

Meaning: A remark or statement that may be true but is boring and has no meaning because it has been said so many times before.

Example: He doesn’t mouth platitudes about it not mattering who scores as long as the team wins.

Synonyms: Banality, Dull

Antonyms: Nuance

13) Presume

Meaning: To believe something to be true because it is very likely, although you are not certain.

Example: In British law, you are presumed innocent until you are proved guilty.

Synonyms: Assume, Guess

Antonyms: Calculate, Disbelieve

14) Traitor

Meaning: A person who is not loyal or stops being loyal to their own country, social class, beliefs, etc.

Example: The leaders of the rebellion were hanged as traitors.

Synonyms: Disloyal, Recreant

15) Futile

Meaning: Having no effect or achieving nothing.

Example: All my attempts to cheer her up proved futile.

Synonyms: Hopeless, pointless

Antonyms: Effective, Productive

16) Insofar

Meaning: To the degree that.

Synonyms: Because

17) Uprising

Meaning: An act of opposition, sometimes using violence, by many people in one area of a country against those who are in power.

Example: Following a determined resistance in the east, there was eventually a popular uprising in the capital.

Synonyms: Disturbance, Insurrection

Antonyms: Calm

18) Restraint

Meaning: Calm and controlled behavior.

Example: He showed admirable restraint, and refused to be provoked.

Synonyms: Constraint, Caution

Antonyms: Assistance, Indulgence

19) Alienate

Meaning: To cause someone or a group of people to stop supporting and agreeing with you.

Example: All these changes to the newspaper have alienated its traditional readers.

Synonyms: Disaffect, Divide

Antonyms: Combine, Join

20) Interference

Meaning: An occasion when someone tries to interfere in a situation.

Example: The government’s interference in the strike has been widely criticized.

Synonyms: Meddling, Conflict

Antonyms: Help, Encouragement

21) Woe

Meaning: Big problems or troubles.

Example: Unusually poor harvests have added to the country’s woes.

Synonyms: Suffering, Burden

Antonyms: Benefiting, Blessing