A deal in the making

Published : Jun 06, 2003 00:00 IST

The Prime Minister hints at a "new arrangement" for Jammu and Kashmir, but any such solution to the decades-old problem would raise doubts about the motives behind it and the circumstances in which it will be worked out.

ASK any politician, lawyer, or second-hand car salesman: truth resides in the small print, and fortunes are often made on the assumption that people would not read it.

On May 8, towards the end of a long and rambling statement about his government's foreign policy, Atal Behari Vajpayee made the most dramatic announcement on Indian policy in Jammu and Kashmir by any Indian Prime Minister since Jawaharlal Nehru. "It is a fact," he said, "that nobody can break Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir has three parts, separate divisions. They have been living together for generations. If there is a new arrangement, even there they will remain together."

A new arrangement? Only Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav's ears pricked up. "Are you echoing," he demanded to know, "the old Sangh Parivar and American view of splitting the State into Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu?"

Vajpayee responded skilfully with a non-answer, and Mulayam Singh Yadav, sadly, let himself be drawn into a discussion of Ram Manohar Lohia's dream of an India-Pakistan confederation. No one else bothered to take up the theme.

It is unlikely that the Bharatiya Janata Party is seriously considering a communal division of Jammu and Kashmir, the fervent endeavours of Hindutva fanatics within its ranks notwithstanding. But Vajpayee's speech made clear, to those who paid attention, that something dramatic is in the offing in Jammu and Kashmir. After years of vacillation, the Prime Minister appears to have responded to prodding from the United States of America, and offered Pakistan a half-victory in return for an end to cross-border terrorism and a recognition of the Line of Control (LoC) as the border.

Other elements of the deal are also taking shape. On May 12, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed argued for a "softening" of the LoC. "When opening of entry points in Rajasthan can be considered on the plea that it will facilitate the visits of Sindhis on both sides," he demanded to know, "what is the harm if a similar facility is also considered for the divided families of Jammu and Kashmir?" Sayeed's comments, which were built on proposals floated by Vajpayee in 2001, came after a series of meetings he had with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Minister Arun Shourie in New Delhi.

Vajpayee's use of such opaque terms as "new arrangement" is not surprising. On July 4, 2000, the Union Cabinet rejected a resolution on autonomy that was passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, as tabled the previous year. The Cabinet argued that the "acceptance of the resolution would set the clock back and reverse the natural process of harmonising the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with the integrity of the nation."

Advani said that the acceptance of the recommendations of the State Autonomy Committee Report, which was the basis of the Assembly resolution, could "set in motion certain trends that may not be conducive to the country's unity". Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar had also, ironically enough, dismissed the Assembly's demands. Speaking in Malaysia where he was attending a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, Sattar said the Assembly was "nothing more than a puppet of the Indian government".

While movement towards expanding the content of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir is welcome, the Union government's new proposals are fraught with danger. The problem does not lie in the autonomy idea itself. Rather, as Mulayam Singh Yadav pointed out, it lies in the larger politics of the Hindu Far Right relating to Jammu and Kashmir, and the consequences Vajpayee's proposals might now have on communal politics in the State.

Days after Vajpayee floated his "new arrangement'' idea, BJP elements in Jammu sought to renew their affiliation to Hindu chauvinist causes. On May 10, top BJP leaders defied the party's fiat and attended a meeting to commemorate the Praja Parishad activists killed in the Hindu chauvinist movement that began in 1952. The dissidents, who were joined by Union Minister of State for Defence Chaman Lal Gupta, included several figures hostile to State BJP chief Nirmal Singh. They included vice-president Chander Mohan Sharma, State working committee member Kuldeep Gupta, the Jammu and Doda district unit presidents, Sat Pal Grover and Om Prakash, and senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader Bhagwat Swaroop.

It is not difficult to understand the significance of the May 10 meeting. The Praja Parishad movement, born in part as a consequence of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's failure to give the Jammu region real political representation, had demanded the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir's special constitutional status. Failing that, it endorsed the Dixon Plan, which asked for regional referenda to be held which would lead to the regional division of Jammu and Kashmir, and its partition between India and Pakistan on a communal basis. Jan Sangh leader Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, one of the RSS' revered icons, died in jail in the course of the bloody agitation to secure these twin ends.

Sheikh Abdullah, predictably enough, was incensed by calls for a `Dogra Desh', and was increasingly driven to consider independence from India. In the build-up to last year's Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP suffered a frontal split after its leadership refused to endorse the demand for a separate Jammu State. The dissidents founded the ultra-Right Jammu State Morcha. Both organisations were defeated in the elections, but Vajpayee's moves have clearly signalled to the State BJP that it needs to position itself once again as a communal-chauvinist force.

Similar political developments can be seen in the Kashmir Valley. While Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been dutifully accompanying Vajpayee's virtuoso performance, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) is preparing fallback plans. Around the same time that the BJP dissidents were at the commemoration meeting, Sayeed's daughter and newly elected PDP president Mehbooba Mufti made the extraordinary assertion that "state terrorism" was intact in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian troops, she argued, were simply ignoring the State government's efforts to ensure humane policing. "Unfortunately", she asserted, "troops in the lower rungs have not changed their mindset and remarkable abuses of human rights have been witnessed since last month." "The people," the PDP chief proceeded to state, "have come out on the streets in protest, and I'm always with them."

Asked what her party's government was doing about the situation, Mehbooba Mufti said it had no control over the armed forces. The PDP would love to win credit should an autonomy settlement come about. But it is clearly sensitive to the political costs of being perceived as being too close to the BJP, by sections of its supporters who are sympathetic to secessionist and terrorist groups.

THE real danger, of course, is that the BJP will feel impelled to grant communal concessions to Jammu and Ladakh in return for a `pro-Kashmiri Muslim' autonomy package. Competing elements of chauvinism could, in that event, make a future peace look not dissimilar to an ongoing war. In the short term, any movement towards peace is of course predicated on some kind of reduction in violence. Much of the policy establishment believes that General Pervez Musharraf, desperate to get the U.S. off his back by entering into a dialogue with India, will bring about a carefully calibrated de-escalation of terrorist violence.

His claims to have ended cross-border terrorism have, along of course with Vajpayee, received endorsement from Defence Minister George Fernandes. Speaking in Bangalore on May 13, Fernandes said that infiltration was "looking down" for now, although he was careful to add that this "does not mean tomorrow it may not go up". Presumably based on his assessment that infiltration was going down, he added that "the road map is being done" for the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations.

Interestingly, just a day earlier Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had rejected the thesis that infiltration had gone down. "I am not aware of any such trend", the Chief Minister said.

So just what is going on? The Union Home Ministry's estimates of infiltration, drawn from military and intelligence sources, suggest that cross-border movement from January to April this year has been considerably lower than in previous years. The proposition is borne out by the actual levels of violence in the valley, which along with the killings of civilians, security force personnel and terrorists has indeed come down during this period. It is not clear, however, if this is the outcome of any clear tactical intent. Unusually high levels of snow and rain from January to March might, for example, have been a key factor in reducing LoC crossings. Reports say that key Hizbul Mujahideen camps such as those in Tarbela and Jabbar have been closed down, but the import of this is again unclear.

The closure of Jabbar, for example, could have been the outcome of violent feuding between supporters of its official head, Mohammad Yusuf Shah, and dissidents grouped under the banner of his assassinated rival, Abdul Majid Dar. Their latest clash, on May 9 at Jabbar, is believed to have left a dozen Hizb cadre seriously injured. Camps belonging to other organisations, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, were not touched. And, most important, the killing of civilians continues in Jammu and Kashmir. A notable event was the execution on May 10 of three PDP cadre, including Sayeed's relative Gul Mohammad Mir.

Matters are not helped, as Musharraf never tires of pointing out, by the fact that there is no way of assessing reliably just how many people cross the LoC. There is, however, a way to test empirically whether infiltration is increasing or declining, one which few analysts have applied their mind to. Every year a certain number of terrorists are killed in ambushes along the LoC, obviously while they are attempting to cross it either way. If one makes the not-unreasonable assumption that the Army's efficiency in interdicting terrorists does not change dramatically from year to year, those engagements ought to indicate roughly the volume of cross-border infiltration.

Consider the case of Poonch, the sprawling western region of Jammu, which records the highest levels of terrorist violence among all districts in the valley. In January and March 2003, killings of terrorists on the LoC were lower than in the same months of 2001 and 2002. That seems to bear out the proposition of a lower level of infiltration. But in February and April, the month when the peace initiative gathered momentum, the figures of terrorists killed were higher than in past years. Overall, more terrorists have been killed along the LoC in Poonch in the January-April 2003 period than in the same period in 2001 and 2002. This hardly bears out Fernandes' certificate of good conduct for Musharraf.

But even these data do not settle the issue. Climate conditions had a considerable bearing on infiltration in Poonch. Heavy rain made the Poonch river impassable for much of this past winter, while snowfall sealed off the mountain passes in the key passage routes of Mandi-Loran and Saujian. The Army's 16 Corps was able to redeploy personnel along the remaining infiltration routes in Poonch, in Mendhar and Balnoi, creating a second counter-infiltration defence line. Thus, even though intelligence estimates suggest that there was less infiltration in Poonch in January-April 2003 compared to the same period in 2002, there was a higher level of interdiction. The major success in February and April, when killings of terrorists showed an upsurge, came with the interdiction of large groups in these regions. Eight persons were killed at Hari Galla on February 23-24 and nine were killed at Balnoi on April 20-21.

The funnelling of terrorists into narrower belts as a consequence of the weather seems to have played a key role through the entire region covered by 16 Corps. Fire contact with infiltrating terrorists, 16 Corps data shows, was higher in January and February 2003 than in January and February 2002, but lower in the following months as the weather improved and more routes became available.

The fact, then, is that there is still no means of knowing just what the truth is with regard to infiltration. Ground-level experience of the patterns on terrorism in Poonch show that violence has escalated sharply from May each year, when warm weather sets in, and tapers off again each November, bar in low-snowfall years like 2001. This suggests an organic linkage between infiltration, which peaks during these months, and security force engagement with terrorists. It will only be known as the summer progresses whether Gen. Musharraf intends to turn into a fact his favourite piece of fiction that "nothing is going on across the LoC".

Firm assertions on infiltration levels, such as those emanating from Vajpayee and Fernandes, are essentially political in nature, and not founded on any testable ground appraisal. So, too, is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's description of Musharraf as "a man of his word". Just over a year ago Armitage had secured promises from Musharraf that cross-border terrorism would end and that terrorist groups would be banned. Terrorism declined, and leaders of the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba were arrested - but after the briefest of intervals, Pakistan's state-sponsored jehad was up and running again.

THINGS might, of course, be different this time around: it is just that there is no convincing evidence yet to suggest that they will be. In the event that a real dialogue does get off the ground, the Prime Minister's reference to a "new arrangement" suggests that the grant of wider internal autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir is the price that India is now willing to pay for peace.

The irony is unmistakable. Events have clearly come a long way since the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government's flat refusal to even merely consider the National Conference government's demand for greater autonomy. It may now have to concede far more than what the N.C. would have settled for, and that under pressure from the superpower it has enabled to arbitrate the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir.

This unhappy situation could have been avoided if the BJP had shown the vision to make forward political movement and engage in a substantial internal political dialogue. The Indian state would then have been able to engage with political forces in Jammu and Kashmir from a position of strength, and the outcome would have won it real goodwill from the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Instead, whatever emerges now will be seen as the outcome of viceregal fiat: a triumph for Washington, not for New Delhi.

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