This is not meant to be a detailed critique of the report of the three-member team of interlocutors headed by Shri Dileep Padgaonkar constituted by the Government of India in October 2010 to suggest ways forward in dealing with the various aspects of the alienation of the people of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) which led to an anti-Government of India insurgency there.
The insurgency was the result of accumulated grievances and anger over a long period of time. There were various factors responsible for this accumulation— perceptions of a dilution of the special status granted to the State when it acceded to India after the partition of the country, malgovernance, perceptions of a distortion of the democratic process by successive Governments of the National Conference without the Government of India doing anything to check such distortions etc.
Political and not economic factors were at the root of the insurgency. The Government of India and successive State Governments of the National Conference have to share the blame in equal measure for wittingly or unwittingly creating a negative political atmosphere marked by a growing alienation of the people that was exploited by the Pakistan Government for sowing the seeds of an anti-India insurgency in the State.
What started as an anti-Government insurgency due to our mishandling of the affairs of the State was turned into an anti-India insurgency by Pakistan with the collaboration of some elements in the State which gave a religious dimension to what started as an essentially political movement and took up the Pakistani cry of “Kashmir Banega Pakistan”.
The introduction of the religious dimension by these elements led to brutal attacks on the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits and their being ejected from their traditional homeland .Thus, what we faced in J&K was a three dimensional problem consisting of a political dimension due to our own mishandling, a religious dimension injected by Pakistan with the help of its supporters in the State and an operational dimension caused by the widespread outbreak of violence by elements instigated, trained, funded and armed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
After over 20 years, our security forces led by the Army have succeeded in bringing the operational dimension under control. There has been a significant decrease in violence and a steady movement towards normalcy on the ground. The successful holding of State and Panchayat elections and the resumption of the domestic tourist traffic to the State are indicators of this movement.
The successful handling of the operational aspects of the problem by the security forces so far should not be over-assessed to mean that the original causes of alienation in the hearts and minds of the people have disappeared and that the Pakistani machinations in the State have been defeated once and for all.
There has been an insurgency fatigue in the State caused by the skilful campaign of attrition waged by the security forces against the anti-Government and anti-India elements which had taken to violence with the support of Pakistan. This fatigue indicates that these elements have now been convinced that violence, with or without the support of Pakistan, has not taken them anywhere.
While there is insurgency fatigue, there is no political fatigue. The anti-Government and anti-India elements remain politically active and there are no irreversible signs of a dilution of the state of alienation of large sections of the people. Bringing the insurgency under control was only one aspect of the problem. An equally important aspect is to set in motion a process of dealienation through appropriate political and psychological measures.
It was to address this important second stage of dealienation that the Government of India set up the interlocutors’ team to interact with large sections of the population and political and non-governmental forces in the State in order to create a positive momentum towards political normalisation in the State. The constitution of the interlocutors’ team was indicative of a clear recognition by the Government of India that operational normalisation alone is not sufficient; it has to be followed by political normalisations so that the feelings of alienation wither away.
The setting-up of the interlocutors’ team was greeted with considerable scepticism by sections of the non-mainstream Kashmiris who tended to view the exercise as an eyewash by the Government of India to buy time. This scepticism ran the risk of being strengthened due to the delay in the release of the report of the interlocutors by the Government.
In this context, one has to welcome the belated release of the text of the report by the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India on May 24, 2012. The report is both comprehensive and complex. It is comprehensive in the sense of dealing with all aspects of the problem—political, operational, economic, humanitarian etc. There is a huge humanitarian aspect to the problem due to perceptions of unchecked and unaddressed violations of the human rights of the people by the security forces despite their better control of the ground situation now.
It is complex in the sense that the interlocutors have come out with ideas and concepts— the setting-up of the Constitutional Review Committee is one such idea—- which may not be acceptable to all sections of the people of the State and political forces in the rest of India. Now that the text of the report has been released for widespread public discussion, it is necessary for the Government of India to initiate steps to convince the people of the State of its sincerity and determination to persist with this process for achieving political normalisation in the State.
It needs to be admitted that some of the recommendations of the team could be controversial and might be opposed by those sections of the political forces who had always argued that the original sin in the State was committed by the founding fathers of independent India who agreed to grant a special constitutional status to the State. They are likely to oppose firmly any attempt to reverse the process of the dilution of the special status. There could be other issues relating to Jammu and Ladakh and the return of the Hindu Pandits to their original homeland which might face opposition to their implementation.
Fears of likely controversies should not be allowed to inhibit the implementation process. No sensitive report of this nature can be implemented in toto. Political compromises in the over-all State and national interest will be necessary. What is important is to create a positive momentum towards implementation.
The creation of such a momentum will be facilitated if the Government of India, in consultation with the State, identifies those recommendations that can be implemented quickly through executive orders without the need for time-consuming political consultations and takes time-bound action to implement them. Among such recommendations one could mention those relating to the re-deployment of the security forces, re-evaluation of the need for special powers for the Army and improving the human rights situation.
If this is done, it will restore the confidence of the people in the sincerity of the Government and pave the way for a more non-emotional examination of the other more complex and controversial recommendations.
We have a very short window of political opportunity in the State. The thinning down of the NATO forces in Afghanistan is likely to make available to the ISI surplus trained cadres and leaked arms and ammunition from the dumps left by the departing NATO forces for diversion to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir in an attempt to re-kindle the dying insurgency. The implicit Chinese recognition of Gilgit-Baltistan as Pakistani territory and the increasing Chinese interest and presence in the Kashmiri territory under the illegal occupation of Pakistan are likely to create new geostrategic dimensions of the problem and our relations with Pakistan.
In my assessment, we may have a window of not more than two years for creating a positive momentum towards political normalisation in the State. We must pay serious attention to the process for identifying the feasible follow-up action on the basis of the report and initiating that action. Any impression that we are dragging our feet and were never sincere in undertaking this exercise can be counter-productive. Don’t add substance to the campaign of the separatists that the whole exercise was an eyewash.