Flawed all the way

Published : Sep 12, 2008 00:00 IST

May 3, 2006: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Hurriyat leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari.-RAJEEV BHATT

May 3, 2006: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Hurriyat leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari.-RAJEEV BHATT

How New Delhis well-meaning but ill-conceived peace process communalised Jammu and Kashmir.

CROW, spat out the young man tending the free food langar for protesters in Jammus old-town Kachchi Chawani neighbourhood, for 60 years, we have been made to eat crow. Now we are fighting to get our honour back. His fake Gucci sunglasses could not quite hide the hatred in his eyes.

Amit Gupta, an undergraduate from a lower-middle class family who has not held a regular job since he graduated from a computer-training institute two years ago, is a Hindu from Jammu. His sentiments have been voiced by a bewildering array of figures in the course of Jammu and Kashmirs still-unfolding shrine-land crisis.

Kashmir Muslims, Jammu Hindus; Ladakh Buddhists, Gujjar Muslim pastoralists; Kargil Shias, Jammu Muslims: the endless numbers of ethnic groupings who make up Jammu and Kashmir agree on little but one proposition: each believes itself to be the victim of the perfidy of the other and of the Indian state.

For the most part, commentators have argued that the crisis in the State is the outcome of its failure to pursue peacemaking aggressively: of its failure to address ethnic-Kashmiri sentiments and aspirations. Both the premises of this received-wisdom argument, and the prescriptions it lends itself to, are false. In fact, the crisis now unfolding in Jammu and Kashmir is a predictable consequence of the peace process initiated just under a decade ago. In its effort to secure peace with one faction of the secessionist movement in Kashmir, India ended up empowering Islamists within the region and competing chauvinist politics in Ladakh and Jammu. From the outset, sceptics had warned of the perils and potential price of New Delhis well-meaning but ill-conceived search for peace. Now, as a new discourse emerges built on the proposition that concessions to ethnic-Kashmiri aspirations can alone douse the fires in the State, it is imperative that the real lessons of this disaster be learnt.

In January 2004, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq arrived in New Delhi for the secessionist coalitions first, historic dialogue with the Government of India. We are not expecting a decision tomorrow itself, the Srinagar-based cleric said hours before his meeting with Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. But at least the process has begun. It is indeed a breakthrough in the recent turbulent times of the history of Kashmir.

Two words and some seven million people were missing from the comments of Mirwaiz Farooq and the five-member delegation he led to New Delhi: Jammu and Ladakh, home to over half the States population.

New Delhis engagement with the APHC was part of the wider architecture of the peace process put in place after the India-Pakistan near-war of 2001-02. Pakistans President of the time Pervez Musharraf had delivered an incremental, year-on-year reduction in cross-border terrorism ever since the end of the crisis. At the end of 2003, a ceasefire went into place on the Line of Control to consolidate the de-escalation. India, in return, began a dialogue with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir. Advanis dialogue with the APHC was an effort to secure the support of Kashmiri separatists for an India-Pakistan peace deal.

From the outset, the dialogue process was driven by events and actors in the Kashmir Valley. In 1997, the former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the ideological parent of the Hizbul Mujahideen, criticised gun culture. Jamaat chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat said that while the armed struggle had been a legitimate response to specific circumstances, it had served its purpose.

By the summer of 1999, such sentiments had become common among secessionists. In April that year, the APHCs Abdul Ghani Bhat called for a dialogue between secessionist and pro-India political groups such as the Congress and the National Conference (N.C.). The outcome of this dialogue, he suggested, would constitute the will of the people of the State, and would then be communicated to the governments of India and Pakistan.

In mid-April 2002, Mirwaiz Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone a one-time supporter of far-Right jehadi groups and who was eventually assassinated by a Lashkar-e-Taiba hit squad in May 2002 travelled to Sharjah for discussions with the powerful Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) leader Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan and Pakistans then Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant-General Ehsan-ul-Haq. If the government is not ready to allow self-determination, Lone said soon after, the alternative is that they should be ready to settle the dispute through a meaningful dialogue involving all parties concerned.

Pakistan and India both feared that a genuine multiparty dialogue would unleash claims they would not be able to accommodate. Pakistan worried that the Shia-dominated Northern Areas would call for greater federal autonomy and the expulsion of ethnic-Punjabi settlers. It was also concerned that the province of Azad Kashmir (POK) would leverage a dialogue to diminish the Pakistani governments direct influence. India, in turn, believed that giving space for the competing claims of Jammu and Ladakh would make it near-impossible to secure an autonomy-based deal with the APHC.

Both countries saw the process of obtaining an APHC imprimatur for their peace deal as expedient. New Delhi, at least, never considered its consequences. N.C. leaders in Kashmir responded to the emerging threat to their political position by adopting an increasingly intransigent position on the States constitutional future. In an official report released in 1999, the State government called for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmirs pre-1953 status, which would among other things have rid the State of the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India and the supervision of the Election Commission of India. It would also have left the State without the protection of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Jammu and Kashmirs N.C.-dominated Assembly passed the report but an embarrassed New Delhi refused to negotiate.

Hindu chauvinist groups in Jammu, too, began a renewed mobilisation around the same time. Ever since 1996, the tempo of Islamist terror strikes against Hindu villagers in Jammu had escalated. Hundreds were killed in the attacks, part of a campaign which was intended to drive out Hindus from areas north of the Chenab river and thus bring about the de facto communal partition of Jammu and Kashmir. Hindutva groups in the region capitalised on the killings, arguing that the terror campaign had the tactical backing of Kashmir-based parties such as the N.C.. In their propaganda, the demand for autonomy was the political face of the terror campaign.

When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-Congress alliance government took over, the Hindutva campaign accelerated. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeeds calls for demilitarisation and self-rule were seen, by Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh, as a direct civilisational threat. Neither the PDP nor the Congress or even the N.C. attempted to address these fears and anxieties. This ensured that the Hindutva movement had a free ride.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs round-table process was intended to obtain an endorsement of the New Delhi-APHC dialogue from mainstream parties. Regional actors had rather different hopes of the process precipitating a series of disasters.

The Prime Ministers advisers assured him that Mirwaiz Farooq would join the dialogue. Despite meeting several of the APHCs pre-conditions, though, New Delhi failed to secure his participation. Having been treated as sole spokespersons for all of Jammu and Kashmir, APHC leaders now saw no reason to participate in a dialogue where they were not the only voice. In the process of pursuing Mirwaiz Farooqs participation, though, New Delhi made it appear as though the dialogue had no value without the APHC a situation which embarrassed the Prime Minister and irked the parties who backed the dialogue.

Four of the five working groups which emerged from the round-table process made uncontentious recommendations on issues ranging from the economy to human rights. However, the critical fifth working group on Centre-State relations got off the ground long after it was supposed to have delivered its findings, and even now has yet to submit a report not surprisingly, given that it has not met in a year. What the fifth working group did achieve, though, was the further communalisation of the autonomy debate in Jammu and Kashmir. Each political grouping put forward plans with significant communal implications and addressed to specific, communal constituencies.

At the working groups meeting in New Delhi on March 29, 2007, N.C. leader Abdul Rahim Rather reiterated his partys demand for levels of autonomy bordering on independence a demand that had been rejected by the Union government in 2000. Among other things, the N.C. proposals call for stripping the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction in Jammu and Kashmir and freeing the State from the supervisory authority of the Election Commission of India. Leader of the PDP Muzaffer Hussain Beigh, for his part, laid out an agenda for self-rule based on the creation of new district- and region-level elected bodies.

In Jammu, the N.C. and PDP proposals were read fairly or otherwise as a manifesto for perpetuating ethnic-Kashmiri hegemony. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, who was tasked with making a presentation to the working group, fuelled the concerns. Habibullah, who was seen as speaking for the Prime Minister, proposed setting up two Provincial Assemblies in Jammu, one for the Hindu-dominated plains and one for the Muslim-majority mountains. He also advocated the creation of separate Assemblies for Leh and Kargil. Jammu- and Ladakh-based politicians were incensed since the proposals would have stripped their regions of representational parity with Kashmir.

An impasse had been reached. Given the fifth working groups inability to arrive at a formulation that fitted the course of the New Delhi-APHC engagement, it was simply allowed to die.

Islamist secessionists in Kashmir, meanwhile, feared that the round-table dialogue process would arrive at an agreement that excluded them and began sharpening their knives.

To anyone other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs house-intellectuals, who seemed to have had their eyes paper-clipped shut, the warning signs were long evident.

In July 14, 2006, Frontline reported the dawn of a new war with three fronts: a low-grade terror campaign that would continue to coerce civil society without risking a major India-Pakistan confrontation; an Islamist political campaign which cast the Indian state as an enemy of Kashmiri Islam; and a thoroughgoing on manifestations of secularism in popular culture. What some mistook as the end of the storm, the report said of declining violence in Jammu and Kashmir, was just a lull.

Just how deeply communalised the States politics had become was made evident by political reactions to a brutal Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on Muslims in the village of Nehoch-Dunga, near Udhampur, that June. Lashkar terrorists publicly beheaded 65-year-old Abdul Ahad, and then mutilated the faces of Roshan Din and Ghulam Rasool, after holding a show-trial in which they were held to be informers. Six other villagers, including Abdul Ahads wife Fatima Bi, were also tortured. However, not a single Hindu politician of consequence visited the village. Earlier, when 13 Hindu villagers were killed in the same area, no important Muslim politician had seen fit to visit the place. A later massacre of migrant Nepali workers in southern Kashmir, similarly, did not move the conscience of major valley-based politicians enough to join in their cremation ceremony.

Instead, mainstream politicians sought to ride the wave of hate Islamist and Hindutva groupings had unleashed. PDP and N.C. leaders, for instance, failed to condemn Islamist allegations that migrant workers were responsible for a range of crimes, from peddling bootleg liquor to the rape-murder of a teenager in Langate. Secessionists were allowed to mobilise on a welter of communal themes from 2006 onwards, while an inflammatory Hindutva cow-protection movement in Jammu was unchecked.

Now, the wages of a flawed peace process was evident. Where might we go from here?

In a recent article, scholar Yoginder Sikand pointed to the structural similarities between the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, and that of pre-Partition India.

Prior to Partition, Sikand wrote, the Muslim League insisted that because the Hindus of India were in a numerical majority, a united, independent India, no matter what safeguards it gave and promises of equality it made to the Muslims, would be dominated by the Hindus, and would, for all its secular and democratic claims, be untrammelled Hindu Raj. Hence their demand for a separate Pakistan. The Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Leh find themselves in precisely the same position as did supporters of the Muslim League in pre-Partition India. He noted that just as many Muslims refused to accept the promises of the Congress, fearing that they would never be honoured, the non-Muslim minorities in Jammu and Kashmir refuse to buy the arguments of the Kashmiri nationalists, which they rightly see as a thinly veiled guise to justify Kashmiri hegemony.

Jammus Hindutva mobilisation, similarly, has fuelled fears in Kashmir that its faith and civilisation are under threat from a predatory Hindu India. In empirical terms, there is little doubt that the claims that Kashmir is subject to an economic blockade are overblown. Kashmirs apple harvest, which polemicists have claimed is rotting in the State, does not even mature until October. However, the fact that Hindutva leaders threatened such a blockade has fuelled fears.

No magical solutions exist to heal the States dysfunctional political culture. Manmohan Singh could begin, though, by ridding himself of the advisers who led him to this impasse and renewing his consultations with the representatives of the States peoples, this time in earnest.

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