In the throes of violence - Kuldip Nayar - September 17, 2010

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I recently interacted with some Kashmiri young men in Delhi. There was no doubting their indignation and exasperation. The killings in the valley, almost 90 since June, were very much on my mind and I wanted to know what could be done.

“Why don’t you leave us?” one said. Another was more specific. “We want azadi.” What is the population of the valley? “Please include Muslim areas in Jammu and Ladakh.” This would come to about one crore or a little more. They said: “It is not a question of numbers but one of feelings. We just do not want to be part of India.” Yet another said, “We do not want to be part of Pakistan either.”

I vainly argued how a country with one crore population could sustain itself without any help from either India or Pakistan. “There is the entire Muslim world to help us,” they said.

I told them that this bothered me and that bringing religion into their protests showed that they wanted to establish another Muslim state on India’s border.

What would be the repercussions in India which was trying to stay above the waters of communalism and remain secular? Their reply: “We want azadi.”

I have not visited Kashmir for more than six months. Yet I have kept myself quite up to date by watching on television several incidents of stone-pelting, burning of government buildings and firing by security forces. (The Indian media has been covering the events in detail.)

It looks as if the whole valley has come on to the streets, the angry young men leading the mob. Maybe it is a particular group of people which is instigating them but whatever its number it is a determined lot. And it would be foolhardy not to take into account their anguish, particularly of those who have lost their dear ones in the firing.

New Delhi and Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah believe that anger could be assuaged if the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which gives extraordinary powers to the military in a disturbed area, is amended suitably or abolished.

The problem has been politicised and New Delhi has known it all along. That it should have been sorted out by this time goes without saying. The more a solution is delayed the more knotty the problem will become.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remark that there was need to address issues of trust deficit and government performance cannot remedy the situation.

By shifting the responsibility of its follies to the ruling National Conference, which with all its limitations has stood by New Delhi from day one, New Delhi is only proving that it has committed one mistake after another, without realising that it would have to pay for its lapses some day.

Each time an economic or employment package is considered a panacea for all troubles. The challenge from the days of Sheikh Abdullah is how New Delhi gives Srinagar a sense of identity without letting Kashmir translate that status into independence?

That there is no alternative to talks goes without saying. But the talks with the type of fundamentalists who are in the forefront will be difficult to conduct because they are the ones who incite people in the name of religion. They have pushed Kashmirayat, a pluralistic concept, to the back burner and brought fundamentalism to the fore.

Yet New Delhi has to separate these elements from those who want to rule democratically and in a pluralistic way. But this does not mean that India has all the time to sort out the fundamentalists. Ultimately, it depends on what New Delhi is willing to offer in terms of political power.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is the biggest impediment. It has politicised the issue and refurbished parochialism. At the back of its mind is the Hindutva philosophy which, it believes, cannot cope with a Muslim-majority territory.

Already Narendra Modi of the Gujarat carnage notoriety has started attacking New Delhi for not being tough on Kashmir. The world knows what his toughness means.

He is also preparing the Hindus for the verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute scheduled to be announced on Sept 24. Both communities are on the edge.

Some argue that the panacea is to concede the right of self-determination. Today’s world which is a witness to economic unions and common markets does not recognise any group of people or area which raises the standard of separation.

No state can accede to this principle because it gives sanction to centrifugal forces and fissiparous tendencies. Were the principle of self-determination to be applied in Southeast Asia, many states in the region would face the prospect of disintegration.

New Delhi’s mistake is that it has left the Kashmir problem unattended to for such a long period. It proves the charge that many elements have come to develop a vested interest in the status quo.

Manmohan Singh is quite right when he says that he is willing to talk to any party or group so long as it does not project or support violence. However, the hard-liners have spelled out certain demands. Talks have to be held without prior conditions.

Once New Delhi and Srinagar have come to terms, they should talk to Islamabad. Even otherwise, all three can sit across the table. The participation of Pakistan is necessary because all agreements, beginning from the one at Tashkent to that at Shimla, mention Pakistan as one of the important parties.

Moreover, not long ago, India and Pakistan had almost clinched the issue if former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and former Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri are to be believed.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

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