The situation in Jammu and Kashmir: Beginning the Dialogue-Part One

New Delhi, Sept.13 (ANI): The Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, has talked about finding the elusive starting point for beginning talks in Kashmir. The starting point is, no doubt, elusive, but it will be found, sooner or later. However, finding the starting point cannot be the end in itself. The government must know what it wants to talk about and with whom. If there is one lesson to be learnt from the past 63 years, it is that talks for the sake of talks only makes things worse.

Unfortunately, at present, the window for talks is rather limited. When the window was wide open, like after the elections, no substantive initiative was undertaken. At that stage, basking under the 'election dividend', the dialogue would have been at the government's initiative. Today, seeking the elusive starting point is at gun-point or rather stone-point. And, after 60-odd deaths, the government will go into the dialogue with minimal credibility.

There obviously is a big disconnect here. More has been done for Jammu and Kashmir than for any other state in per capita terms. On almost all indicators, Jammu and Kashmir would be among the top 10 percent states in India. Except for 1962, all the wars, semi-wars, proxy wars India has fought with Pakistan have had a Kashmir dimension. Three generations of India's finest have given the ultimate sacrifice to protect India's sovereignty for the past six decades.

Equally, an entire generation of Kashmiris have also paid a heavy price and tragically, the next generation seems to be queuing up to do the same.

Based on Kashmir's blighted history of the past six decades, here are a few pointers that the government should consider when they actually start talking.

The government must, first of all, realise that as far as the valley is concerned, the talks will begin from rock bottom. The alienation of a vocal section of valley Muslims is as complete as it can ever get. Without this recognition of the ground realities, the ground situation is unlikely to change.

Equally, not everyone in the valley is alienated, and neither, is the valley representative of Jammu and Kashmir. Any dialogue has to take into consideration the desires of all the regions - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladhakh-and all the broad groups living in the state. For too long has the Valley dominated the political discourse and hogged the media limelight to the detriment of other parts of the state.

Consequently, given the complexity of the state, the population mix and dispersal and the conflicting political aspirations, no 'solution' will satisfy every stakeholder.

The current protests will ebb, sooner or later. Sheer fatigue, concern about children's education, end of the Amarnath Yatra, the onset of winter etc will ensure it. However, it will be the endeavour of the separatists to continue with the calendar of protests till at least the Commonwealth Games in October and the visit of President Obama in November. The intention is to garner enough international attention so as to force support from the US for a change in the status quo.

The ebbing of the protests should be seen as an opportunity to catch the bull by the horns rather than waiting for the next summer of discontent. The hallmark of Indian tactics has been to keep the issue pending but delaying tactics are no longer advantageous. The longer the protests lasts, the greater would be the international dismay and it would act as a force multiplier for human rights violations.

To continue to use only force to put a lid on the complex problem is no longer adequate policy. It just brings India a bad name.

To continue to buy out political leaders is no policy either. The protests have gone beyond traditional leaders and are now dominated by an as-yet-leaderless GenNext. It is widely recognised that mobilising civil society on such a large scale is beyond the reach of any separatist leader. Who will you buy out today? And this generation is far more educated, tech savvy and thrives in the age of 24x7 media.

There are many causes for Kashmiri alienation - a regular diet of an amorphous concept of Azadi, erosion of autonomy, rigged elections, overbearing presence of the security forces, massive corruption, unemployment, no real economic development despite transfusion of huge funds, poor governance by successive state governments. Each of these issues would have to be addressed.

Announcing packages even before a dialogue has begun is not only to give away negotiating levers but would be seen as desperate attempts to buy peace at any cost. For precisely that reason they will be rejected and the clamour will be for more and more concessions.

To restore some measure of credibility, the government should begin small, perhaps by re-deployment of security forces. Make them less obtrusive, less in your face, allow peaceful protests and relax curfews.

The government should recall the words of Sheikh Abdullah while addressing an Eid gathering on Aug. 21, 1953 "What the Muslim intelligentsia is trying to look forward to is a definite and concrete stake in India".

The question to be asked is have they been given such a stake? Have they been made to feel wanted and valued citizens of India? Have they been made to believe in the idea of India?

This generation of Kashmiris has learnt from the mistakes of their fathers. They know they cannot take on the security forces militarily. And so, they have picked up the stone. This is what empowers them, more than the gun empowered their fathers. The danger is, however, that if the symbolism of throwing a stone at an armed security personnel is not grasped, this generation, too, would fall prey to the guns supplied readily by Pakistan. (ANI)




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