As someone who has been involved in study of Kashmir problem since 1991, I was intrigued by the recent media talk of situation having gone back to 1990s. To find out the truth I spent a week in valley in second half of October this year. During the stay in valley, I visited Srinagar, Trehgam, Kupwada, Baramulla, Pattan and Sahibabad. During this period I interacted with local commanders as well as some civilians. This assessment is based on the observations during that visit as well as a longer term view of historical and social forces that have been in operation in the Kashmir valley. The perspective is from a ‘realist’ point of view and its consequential ‘pragmatism’.
The one major change from 1990 is that the conflict is no longer a realist one but an ideological one. The demands are no longer for Azadi or its equivalent but about ‘Nizam e Mustafa’ or rule of Sharia. The slogans one often hears now are ‘what is the meaning of Azadi, la ila ill allah Mahammaur rasul allah’ (meaning of freedom is there is only one God and Mohhamd is his only prophet). The appearance of Islamic Caliphate flags is one indication of this change.
The second major point often lost sight of is that the violence and agitation is now solely confined to 4-5 districts in valley with rest of state of J&K totally unaffected. In the recent local body elections, while valley witnessed almost total washout, the rest of the state voted normally to elect its representatives peacefully.
Unlike in the 1990s, Pakistan’s ability to send in arms, ammunition and fighters is severely limited thanks to fencing of the LOC, modern gadgets and three tier deployment of the forces. In 1990 when the violence erupted, there was virtually no deployment in the valley, while today, valley is effectively garrisoned by the rashtriya rifles and paramilitary forces. Unlike the 1990, an average Kashmiri no longer thinks that Azadi or merger with Pakistan is round the corner but sees that it is a near impossibility.
While some of the above changes are positive, on the negative side, it must be accepted that the alienation of local population is more or less complete. The large number of casualties in the post BruhanWani death agitation have left a deep scar on the Kashmiri psyche. But the impact of that event is that when another Wani, Mannan( a PhD from Aligarh Muslim University) was similarly killed in an encounter, the response in the valley was muted. This author travelled through the town of his birth without an escort. While the ‘bandhs’ after every encounter are as routine as earlier, the stone pelting has reduced drastically. Armed action in BurhanWani agitation has reestablished the fear of armed forces. One can describe the situation as peaceful but tense.
Realistically speaking, unrest in the four districts of Kashmir valley, poses no threat to national security. The Indian Armed forces are well equipped and capable of meeting this limited challenge. Change in the Global environment after 9/11 and atrocities of the Islamic State has meant that Kashmir agitation no longer evokes any support or sympathy. But it has to be accepted that support for Kashmir separatism in Pakistan remains strong as ever. The OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) also makes periodic noises in support of Kashmiris. Also the fact that the Kashmir issue is still on the UN agenda retains the last flicker of hope for the Kashmir separatists.
It is easy to dismiss the importance of ‘internationalisation’ of Kashmir issue as of no consequence. But that would be a mistake. In another similar circumstance, the revolt in Mizoram, late Mr. LalDenga (erstwhile chief of Mizo National Front and late chief minister of Mizoram) told this author in 1988 that lack of open support by China and liquidation of East Pakistan, were two international events that led to Mizo’s finally giving up their quest for freedom.
While our diplomats never tire of accusing Pakistan of internationalizing the Kashmir issue, the truth is that it is we, India, that took the dispute to the UN in 1947-48. Time has come to go back to the UN and withdraw our complaint of Pakistani aggression. It is time to make Kashmir an internal issue of India, not only de-facto but de-jure as well. This will rob Pakistan of any legitimacy for its interference in our internal affairs. This will also give some sort of closure to the people of Kashmir. In the aftermath of this decision, we must open talks with ALL the stake holders in Kashmir about future set up in Kashmir, only Kashmir and NOT J&K. It is also time that we think of out of box division of J&K on linguistic basis, may by on Scottish pattern and give ‘Azadi’ to Ladakh and Jammu from Kashmir valley. The current practice of giving more and more economic goodies to Kashmir has never worked and will not work in future as well. This is akin to giving an anti-cancer drug to a patient suffering from TB.
There are historical precedence to this. In 1967, Nasser’s Egypt similarly asked the UN to leave Gaza and Egypt-Israel borders. The result was a military disaster for Egypt in a six day war. But India is not Egypt and Pakistan is certainly NOT Israel.
The biggest obstacle in crossing this rubicon, one guesses, would be the Min. of External Affairs bureaucracy. But bureaucracy by its organisation is unsuited to think and act out of box, it has to be the political head at the highest level that needs to take the call. Must we continue to suffer for the blunder of Nehru, that Saradar Patel had warned against?