Uneasy times in Kashmir

Poor Governance, coupled with rampant corruption, by the Jammu and Kashmir administration spread over decades are accepted as the main reasons for the militancy in the valley. Added to this, the near fraud of the parliamentary elections in 1999 in J&K has shaken the confidence of the people in the state about its commitment to democracy. This was clear during the author's recent visit to Srinagar. These developments are unfortunate because from 1996 onwards, it looked as if, given honest administration, greater recognition of human rights and letting people exercise their democratic right to chose their own representatives, normalcy may be restored. But alas, the rulers in Delhi, of whatever hue, have refused to learn. So, sadly J&K seems to he slipping back. An objective appreciation of the situation, though, may still retrieve the situation.

Many militants who even the at the risk of being misunderstood had been advocating peaceful methods have, because of human rights violations compounded by an insensitive and corrupt local administration, begun to wonder whether their avoidance of gun culture was the correct policy. They are still not advocating a return to the gun. They realize that in these days, no armed movement can succeed against a modern state like India. But even momentary rethinking by them shows the extent of disillusionment even amongst the moderate sections.

An impression is being given by the government circles that militancy is now almost dead and that it is only a couple of thousand of foreign mercenaries, mainly Pakistanis, who are keeping it alive. The authors interaction with various sections of the population and political leaders and officials shows that this assessment is unrealistic. The failure of the foreign militants to cause much damage does not mean that militancy has lost its appeal. Instead, desperate actions by them are creating a favorable atmosphere for them in the villages. Because of the changed strategy by Pakistan, the militants behaviour and their interaction with the people have not led to complaints of extortion or mis-behaviour as in the past. Rather, the foreign militants guest a sympathetic reception. The local militants are being paid much more than before to cross over the Line of Control. With unemployed youth numbering over a lakh, there is a ready field for local recruitment.

The security forces are going to be under still greater stress in ·view, of the reports of the Pakistan's support to infiltrators and General Musharraf publicly proclaiming that there can be no peace with India so long as the Kashmir question remains unresolved. It is because of these stresses that the search and cordon exercises routinely done by security forces at odd hours lead to excess and consequent resentment. The son of an advocate related one such incident to us when we went to the High Court (where layers were on strike on December 6). His father had been picked up in the morning, taken to the police station and beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized. His uncle of 75 years had received similar treatment. Unless the guilty in such cases are punished, bitterness will only increase.

As it is, High Court Bar complained of making a mockery of habeas corpus petitions against detention. Out of 19,000 such petitions, which were filed, only 2,000 were heard and the rest became infractus because of the expiry of the period of detention. This is a matter of grave concern because as Justice Brennan of the US Supreme Court warned "Nothing rankles more in the human heart than a brooding sense of injustice. Illness we can put up with but injustice makes us went to pull things down". Allegations against army excesses are seldom heard, though its part in the recently held elections is a matter of adverse comment.

The role of surrendered militants however is a cause for alarm. Allegations are made of their misdeeds under the protective shield of the special task force (under the Jammu and Kashmir police) and Rashtriya Rifles.

We found, however, that if somehow the bona fides of the government for a respectable settlement can ne established there may be a response from the various groups in J&K. Though in the past various militant groups always emphasized the holding of tripartite talks including Pakistan, there are now agreeable to holding the initial talks bilaterally with the Government of India. There is sufficient recognition by these groups that geopolitical considerations and internal compulsions in the country can nor permit by Government to arrive at a solution which permits Jammu and Kashmir to opt out of India. It appears to me that a broad agreement can be arrived at on the basis of the LoC becoming an international border, coupled with grant of the pre-1953 status to J&K. But, this is subject to the holding of fresh elections to the J&K Assembly under the supervision of body of non-political personnel.

-- Rajindar Sachar

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