A perspective on ways to help the Kashmir valley return to normal.
THE situation in Kashmir figured prominently in the Independence Day speech delivered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The message he sent out to the volatile valley was that dialogue was the only option to resolve all the contentious issues. Kashmir is an integral part of India. Within this framework, we are willing to move forward in any talks which would increase the partnership of the common man in governance and their welfare. Manmohan Singh regretted the tragic loss of lives in recent weeks and said that the years of violence should now end.
But the considered opinion of many Kashmir-watchers and Kashmiris themselves is that the Prime Minister's offer will do little to defuse the volatile situation in the valley. The leaders in the forefront of the agitation have been quick to refuse the offer of renewed talks and have instead reiterated their conditions, which include reduction of troop presence and a credible inquiry into the deaths of protesters.
The central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanded in the last week of July that an all-party parliamentary delegation be sent to Kashmir urgently to ascertain all shades of opinion. The party took this stand after studying the report of Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, Jammu and Kashmir State secretary of the CPI(M).
Prakash Karat, CPI(M) general secretary, emphasised that sending an all-party delegation at this juncture would help the political forces in the State to bring the situation under control. Karat, underlining the gravity of the situation, pointed out that many young men and boys had lost their lives after the crisis escalated since June. He was also critical of the inability of the Central and State governments to gauge the alienation of the Kashmiri youth adequately. It was unfortunate that the government has not to date initiated any meaningful forms of dialogue with various shades of public opinion in the valley, the central committee statement said.
Tarigami, who represents Kulgam in the Jammu and Kashmir legislature, told this correspondent that the situation in the valley should be viewed from a different perspective. It is a unique situation, different from the rest of India, and should not be viewed from the prism of only insurgency and terrorism or for that matter cross-border terrorism, he said. The situation in Kashmir, according to Tarigami, posed the biggest existential threat to the concept of secular democracy in India. He regretted that many political parties and commentators in India viewed the Kashmir issue as mainly that of the nation's territorial integrity and national security.
He said that the Prime Minister's Independence Day speech also reflected this view. He, too, harped more on national security, telling the security forces stationed in the valley not to get demoralised. What about the people of Kashmir and their demoralisation! Tarigami said. He noted that the Prime Minister was quick to go to Leh to provide a healing touch to the people of Ladakh who were affected by floods and landslides. The people of the valley also need a healing touch, Tarigami said. He added that the visit of an all-party delegation to the valley would be a positive move in the present circumstances. The parliamentary panel should have a sustained dialogue with all shades of opinion in the valley, he said.
The CPI(M) leader, who won the last Assembly election despite being physically targeted by militants, was of the opinion that for the current impasse in Kashmir the Indian state had much to answer for. He pointed out that at the time of India's independence, Jammu and Kashmir had its own Constituent Assembly and a special status. Sheikh Abdullah played a key role in the State's accession to the Indian Union, but he was arrested in 1953 by the Indian state, triggering the alienation process in the valley. We must examine the conduct of the Indian state. The Central government should be made accountable, said Tarigami. To illustrate his point, Tarigami said that the Central government's dilution of the federal structure started with Kashmir. The Communist government in Kerala was not the first to be dismissed by the Centre in 1957. It was the popularly elected Jammu and Kashmir government that was dismissed before that, said Tarigami.
The Central government, he said, had not implemented any of the accords on Kashmir it had signed. Was the 1975 accord ever implemented? he asked. Kashmir, according to Tarigami, was a model for decentralisation of power. Kashmir had after all joined the Indian Union under the terms of limited accession. It is the only State that is without an internationally recognised border. The Line of Control (LoC) is recognition that there is an international dispute. Kashmir remains caught in the crossfire between India and Pakistan. Tarigami lamented that the State was now being torn asunder by communal politics, one type in the valley and another in the Jammu region, as the process of reconciliation was put on the back burner.
He said that at the all-party meeting convened on July 12 in Srinagar, he raised the matter of the circumstances of the killings of young Kashmiris at the hands of the security forces. He said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) objected to his proposal of a credible inquiry on the grounds that the security forces would be demoralised. Tarigami said that it was high time the Indian state conducted a thorough inquiry into the killings and disappearances in the valley. He cited the example of the three youth who were picked up from Machail by the Army. They were described as dreaded criminals and eliminated. The Army was later forced to admit its mistake after an official inquiry proved that those killed were innocent villagers. The young generation that has taken to the streets today is the product of a brutalised society, Tarigami said.
But some people and parties are against the Army being questioned. Is this the message you are sending to the Kashmiri people? It is a national shame, he said. He alleged that the Army, in its haste to show that it was eliminating Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, was killing many innocent people. He recalled the Patribal killings on the eve of former United States President Bill Clinton's visit to India. The Central Bureau of Investigation probe showed that those killed had nothing to do with terror outfits. The CPI(M) leader felt that there was an urgent need to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The CBI has found many Army officers guilty, but no action has been taken, he said.Essential steps
More than 20 years of terror and counter-terror have left very few families in the valley untouched. Tarigami was of the view that for the valley to return to normal and for the wounds to heal, certain essential steps should be taken. These must include, he said, the return of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits to the valley and a full-fledged inquiry into the whereabouts of the people who were made to disappear or were killed in the past 20 years. The relatives of the missing were desperate for a final word on what had happened to them. Even a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the lines of the one created in South Africa after the demise of the apartheid regime would be welcome. Such a move, said Tarigami, would go a long way in healing the deep wounds the two-decade-long conflict had inflicted on the psyche of the people of the valley. The South African experiment only allowed people to air their grievances over the crimes and atrocities committed by both sides. No one was punished. Tarigami said that it was essential for the Government of India to continue with its dialogue process with Pakistan and at the same time show its willingness to engage all sections of opinion within Kashmir itself.
The desire of the Kashmiri people to see the LoC as an open border remains unfulfilled. After the LoC was opened some years ago for Kashmiris to trade and travel across their divided homeland, very few people have been actually able to take advantage of what was then viewed as a significant step forward. Tarigami said that only a limited number of people living in villages near the LoC had been issued visas to visit their relatives across the LoC. The Muzaffarabad crossing is only for divided families along the LoC, so far. And as for trade, only a crude barter system operates there, he said.
Tarigami wants the government to make the process of issuing visas easier as Kashmiris from all walks of life want to visit their relatives and compatriots in the other half of Kashmir. He, along with other Kashmiri politicians, also seek immediate action to rehabilitate the thousands of young men who either crossed over to Pakistan or embraced militancy in the 1990s. There is a demand that those who are still holed up in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, unable to rejoin their families in the valley, be allowed to return to the mainstream. Militants who were arrested should be allowed to earn a secure and decent living, Tarigami said, warning that otherwise they would once again embrace militancy.