Signs of distress

Print edition : July 03, 1999

The lessons from Kargil show that the official policy on Jammu and Kashmir needs a thorough review.

I TOLD Frontline correspondent Praveen Swami in March 1999: "This is the most dangerous period in the history of Jammu and Kashmir." And I also wrote in Mainstream (March 26) that for the first time I was almost without hope.

I have not been able to share the euphoria created by the pronouncements of the Central and State governments with regard to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of 1998 that militancy in the State had nearly ended. No doubt, there have been some positive developments. In recent months, a record number of tourists visited the Valley and pilgrims travelled to the Amarnath cave. There has also been a decline in the number of Kashmiri youth who joined militant organisations. However, officialdom erred in presuming that those regions in the State where non-Kashmiri Muslims lived had become safer. The spurt in violence in the Muslim-majority areas of the Jammu region was not because of the militants on the run from the Valley, as the people were told; it represented a distinct shift in Pakistan's strategy and objectives vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir. Was some authority in Pakistan looking to convert a Kashmiri movement for azadi into a Muslim movement across borders? Could that be the reason for changing targets and battlegrounds, from Kashmiri Muslims to non-Kashmiri Muslims, from Jammu to Ladakh?

In 1990, militancy started in the Valley as a popular upsurge inspired by the ethos of Kashmiriat; it is equally relevant that Kashmiri militants received arms and training from across the Line of Control. Gradually the militant movement was taken over by other agencies based in Pakistan. The overground secessionist leadership in Kashmir also tilted accordingly. This has been one of the major causes for loss of its popular support in the Valley.

The next phase of militancy was neither Kashmiri in composition nor was it inspired by the Kashmiri nationalist slogan of azadi. The new militants were not Kashmiri-speaking. They were indoctrinated in a particular brand of Islam and were regulars of the Pakistan Army. They operated from the hilly terrains of Jammu and the glaciated peaks of Ladakh, which were more impregnable for the Indian defence forces than were the plains of the Valley. Militants from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Punjab had a close ethnic affinity with the local Muslims in Jammu and could expect a better response here than in the Valley.

Similarly, a neglected non-Kashmiri, non-Shia and Shina-speaking Muslim community of Drass in Kargil belonged to the same ethnic stock as the community across the Line of Control (LoC) and could possibly provide the first point of local contact and information about the topography to Pakistani intruders, in a region which is otherwise loyal to India.

Authorities in Pakistan must also have calculated the political and strategic advantage to be gained from shifting the scene of operations. Any disruption on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, which passes through the Muslim-majority belt of Jammu, and on the vulnerable Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway would cut the Indian defence system into three parts, while Pakistan would have direct access to each of the regions. Moreover, the Muslim communities of the three regions would be consolidated.

The Gujjars and the Paharis, two major Muslim communities in the Rajouri and the Poonch border districts of the Jammu region, have been alienated by the state. The Gujjars were not given representation in government while the Paharis were not given the status of Scheduled Tribes. The National Conference tried to unite them under it by playing on communal sentiments and promising a separate regional status for them, to rid them of the so-called Hindu domination in the Jammu region.

The 1998 Lok Sabha elections divided Jammu along communal lines. For the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won both the seats from the region and made a sweep in all the Hindu-majority Assembly segments, while the National Conference held its sway in all the Muslim-majority segments.

Similarly, while the National Conference strengthened its base in the Muslim-majority district of Ladakh, relations between the National Conference and the Ladakh Buddhist Association, which controls the Autonomous Hill Council of Leh district, became strained. The latter has threatened to launch an agitation for the district's separation from the State and for granting of Union Territory status for it.

All-Party Hurriyat Conference leaders Yasin Malik and Javed Mir (centre) break a police cordon at Maysouma in Srinagar, while expressing solidarity with the infiltrators.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

By April 1999, the State Government formally proposed the division of Jammu into Hindu- and Muslim-majority regions and of Ladakh into the Buddhist-majority region of Leh and the Muslim-majority region of Kargil. Although the proposal has been referred to an expert for further examination, its communal impact cannot be denied.

Coincidentally, the internal developments in the State were supplemented by proposals from organisations based in the United States to divide the State along religious lines. The highly influential Kashmir Study Group proposed that such a reorganised State be given the status of being "sovereign without an international personality". Some Indian associates of this group insisted that the proposal envisaged such a status within Indian sovereignty. The idea is reported to have received a sympathetic response from Pakistan. Slightly modifying Pakistan's earlier stand, Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz suggested that a district-wise plebiscite should determine the future of the State.

Several developments have occurred simultaneously in the State, such as the various regional political events, the government proposal subsequent to the campaigns by the National Conference to carve up Jammu and Ladakh, demands by some Hindus and Buddhists to separate Jammu and Leh from the State, international efforts to divide the State along communal lines, Pakistan's offer for a district-wise disposal of the State, and the shifting of militant operations from Kashmir to Jammu and Ladakh. These may or may not have been accidental, but they conveyed the same message.

If these internal and external developments had been taken notice of and coordination effected among different wings of the Government, the eloquent hints about activities of Pakistani intruders in Kargil would not have been dismissed so summarily either by the intelligence agencies or by the defence forces. The intrusion served a political purpose to some extent.

Refugees from Kargil wait for kerosene oil supplies at Trespone village.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Although the infiltrators were Pakistan Army regulars and non-Kashmiris, all the secessionist leaders in Kashmir hailed them as freedom fighters. They also condemned the aerial bombing in Kashmir and expressed concern for the fate of the Muslim refugees in Kargil. When 150 refugees from Kargil took shelter in Buddhist-dominated Leh, they were greeted with demands for their repatriation. The youth wing of the Ladakh Buddhist Association warned that "our people will be the last to play host and extend hospitality" to illegal intruders.

Notwithstanding the unprecedented international support to India on Kargil, the morale and sacrifices of the armed forces, the successes on the battlefront and the sense of patriotism displayed by a united country, there are signs of distress inside Jammu and Kashmir. Its political leadership is isolated from the people. Besides, an overcentralised administration with empty coffers, which is hardly in a position to meet routine responsibilities, cannot handle the extra burden put on it by the current crisis and the problems of uprooted families. It is estimated that there are 30,000 uprooted families in Kargil and perhaps 60,000 in the entire border area.

How far will the gains on the other fronts be maintained if the home front within the State remains neglected? If wars are fought not merely by weapons and armies and if people also matter, why is their role in the debate not even mentioned? If every war, particularly a possible India-Pakistan war, has an ideological and psychological aspect, what is being done to strengthen this? While the political and administrative system in the State cannot be overhauled overnight, why did the State Government choose this particular moment to add to the political tensions through its proposal on carving up the Jammu and Ladakh regions? Why was the report of the Regional Autonomy Committee, which had evolved a consensus for reconciling the interests and aspirations of all diversities of the multi-ethnic State suppressed? And why did the national media choose to black out all versions except the official version? Why did the official electronic media provoke a controversy by arranging a discussion on the advantages of terminating the age-old practice of the annual durbar movement of the Secretariat between Jammu and Srinagar? Why did no one quietly remind the Buddhist leaders of Ladakh of their patriotic and humanitarian duty to be accommodative to the Muslim victims of the Pakistani aggression in their region? Why is no media outlet available to leaders in Kargil to express their genuine resentment against the aggression? Why were the autopsy reports of six mutilated bodies of Indian armymen, killed by the Pakistan Army, not supplied to Amnesty International, which it had demanded before giving its comments on Pakistan's action? Its verdict would have carried better conviction with Kashmiri Muslims and the liberal constituency in Pakistan.

The lessons from Kargil must be learnt and the whole policy on Kashmir needs a thorough review. The inadequacies in the defence strategy and intelligence system must be removed. Foreign policy, including that which relates to India-Pakistan relations, may have to be reoriented in the light of current and past experiences. It has to be a holistic approach, keeping in view India's long-term aspiration for a role not only in the region but also in the world.

Above all, no policy - nor even the concept of security - can afford to ignore the role of the people and their genuine urges in Jammu and Kashmir. This implies recognition of all ethnic identities, including the Shina-speaking community of Drass, and the reconciliation of their diverse concerns. Without that, India cannot acquire the requisite moral, political and diplomatic influence to play its due role.

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