PUCL Bulletin, December 2002

A new beginning in Kashmir

-- By Asghar Ali Engineer

The election results in Kashmir have been welcomed by one and all. There were serious doubts about fairness of elections in the light of past experience. Election after election was rigged in Kashmir for years. The only fair election was said to have been held in 1977 during the Janata period when Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister. Since then the people of Kashmir were longing for fair election but it was not to be. This was also one of the contributing causes of insurgency in Kashmir, though not the only cause.

Every observer of the Kashmir scene feels that now is an opportunity to try and solve the Kashmir problem. It is important to talk to the elected representatives of the people of Kashmir, to begin with. Even the NDA Government at the Centre has welcomed the results of the election and called it victory of democracy and also victory for India. Honestly speaking if India had framed honest policy for Kashmir, there would have been no insurgency there.

Let us reflect seriously on Kashmir problem. This election result has given us a unique opportunity for this. To begin with we must admit that the Kashmir turmoil is not entirely of Pakistan's making. Our treatment of Kashmir and Kashmiri people has been less than fair. Not only that elections were rigged but also over the period of time we made serious inroads into Kashmir autonomy. The Article 370 in our Constitution was incorporated to assure the people of Kashmir that India was serious to guarantee full autonomy. The people of Kashmir had full faith in secular democracy of India than in theocratic dictatorship of Pakistan.

But the Article 370 though incorporated in the Constitution, it remained mere formality. To begin with, autonomy meant the Union Government to handle only three subjects i.e. defence, foreign policy and communication and residual subjects to be within the domain of the state of Kashmir. That is why the chief of the Government used to be called Prime Minister and the head of the Government as Sadr-e-Riyasat. Soon these were replaced by chief minister and governor respectively as in other states. And then application of all laws made by Parliament were also extended to Kashmir and also the jurisdiction of Election Commission and Supreme Court.

Not only this during the eighties when the BJP framed its Hindutva agenda it included abolition of Article 370 itself. All this impacted on the Kashmir situation. When the insurgency started in 1990 in Kashmir the then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao again promised autonomy to the Kashmiris and even said (as told to me by Farouq Abdullah during my visit to Srinagar in 1998) 'sky is the limit' for autonomy. However, Mr. Rao never fulfilled his promise and this promise was not made with any degree of seriousness.

The railway line, which could have solved many problems of transport and supply of essential goods, was never laid despite repeated promises. It was much better way of integrating the state with India. The railway ministers were more interested in running more trains in their own states rather than give attention to the woes of the Kashmiri people.

Thus it will be seen that we provided quite a fertile ground to Pakistan to sow the seeds of insurgency. The separatists became stronger and stronger because of these faulty and even dishonest policies. The Nehru family treated Kashmir as their pocket borough and never allowed independence of working to a pliable chief minister like Farouq Abdullah. Again, let alone the autonomy incorporated in the Article 370 was not honoured even the agreement entered into with Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi was never implemented sincerely. Mrs. Gandhi herself violated it in letter and spirit. She dismissed Farouq Abdullah's Government in 1981 only because he expressed his solidarity with the opposition and went along with opposition leaders.

This dismissal had very adverse impact on the people of Kashmir even though Farouq Abdullah was not very popular leader. It was the question of dignity of the people of Kashmir and also of democratic norms.
Indian Government thus has to over haul its Kashmir policy. After so much blood has been shed (more than 60,000 people, mostly Kashmiris, killed since insurgency began) we must become wiser and start negotiation with the newly elected representatives of Kashmiri people. The talk should not be merely bilateral (between India and Pakistan) but trilateral one including the representatives of Kashmiri people.

The euphoria expressed by the people of Kashmir on declaration of the election results has decisively proved, if any proof was required, that the people of Kashmir believe in democratic processes and peace and stability. They are certainly not for violence, much less for terrorism. Some of them who had supported armed insurgency also began to repent when hey saw such unparalleled bloodshed in the valley. But, they were despaired of democratic process too, in view of rigged elections. The 1998 elections were also rigged and they lost faith.

But they have regained their faith in democracy with this election and that is great achievement, to say the least. Of course much will depend on who forms the Government, who becomes the chief minister and what policies are crafted for future of Kashmir. The RSS is advocating trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. It will be a fatal mistake. The division will be on communal lines and will immensely complicate the issue rather than solving it. The RSS ultimately wants the valley to be gifted to Pakistan. The RSS, being a communal organisation, always thinks along communal lines. Such trifurcation will be negation of our secular and democratic values.

There are some difficult decisions to make. Should Union Government talk to terrorists and separatists or not? There is likelihood of Congress and PDP (People's Democratic Party) of Mufti Sayeed coming together. Needless to say they have different approach to the Kashmir problem. Also, despite this coalition (which is much needed in the present situation) there are likely to be differences of approach between the two parties. The PDP believes one should talk to separatists and withdraw special forces posted to tackle terrorism. People of Kashmir have greatly suffered at the hands of army and these special forces.

A large number of people in Kashmir do talk of azadi i.e. cessation from India but would anytime settle for genuine autonomy. Now it seems people of Kashmir have left the agreement between Sheikh Abdullah and Mrs. Indira Gandhi behind them. They may not fall for it. Thus a process should start in Kashmir which may end with autonomy. The Congress may not be averse to it after all that has happened in Kashmir. A sizeable number of people in Kashmir valley sincerely support accession with India. We must build on them. They stand for secular democratic values. I met many of them in the valley during my last visit in 1998.

Once autonomy is granted it would be responsibility of the Government of J &K to look after development. Today the Kashmiris bitterly complain about lack of development and lack of electric supply. There is lot of educated unemployment and most of the youth who took to guns in 1990 belonged to this category. Today entire blame goes to the Central Government as funds are controlled by it.

If an autonomous government takes over in J&K the entire responsibility will be its own. The Valley today depends almost entirely on tourism and tourism has been badly affected by secessionist violence. People's economic difficulties have multiplied several fold. Any Government worth its salt will have to sincerely address the problem of economic development and create jobs for the educated unemployed youth.

The railway project connecting valley to Jammu via Udhampur should be given top priority as it will help integrate Kashmir valley with rest of India and would greatly benefit supply lines during harsh winter. Along-with political solution, economic problem also needs to be addressed urgently. In fact economic development is as important as political solution of the Kashmir problem, if not more.
It may not be easy to begin talk with Pakistan. But dialogue with Pakistan cannot be underrated in any case. Even if perfect solution for Kashmir problem is found internally Pakistan factor will continue to dog the ultimate solution. Thus dialogue with Pakistan is a must. The present position of the Central Government is that Pakistan must end cross border terrorism first. This may be all right as a maximal demand but should not be pressed too far literally.

It is well known that Musharraf by himself cannot end cross border terrorism as these terrorists are far more powerful than one thinks. At best Musharraf can checkmate them to some extent. Violence from across the border will continue for quite some time to come. The successful elections would bring further desperation and they may even intensify violence. If army is withdrawn and gradually dialogue started with Pakistan it will help ease tensions on one hand, and create greater confidence among the people of Kashmir, on the other.

All this requires lot of wisdom, statesmanship and democratic commitment. That alone can help.

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