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
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
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
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.