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Army and the Peace Process in Kashmir
05/14/2007
By Ram Puniyani

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of People's Democratic Party, the party ruling in alliance with Congress in Kashmir, recently called for demilitarization of the state and  withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (April 2007). This demand was looked at with great amount of skepticism on the ground that how can we control the armed militancy in the state without the army presence and the special act to back that up. It is noteworthy that since the last elections when the electoral process was more democratic than the earlier one's, there is reduction in the overall militant actions in the state. It is also worth noticing that the atmosphere for dialogue and the amity within communities is better than before. Surely it is comparatively more representative character of this government, which has improved the situation. The question is, is it army, which can end the militancy, or is it the democratic character of the government and the keenness for dialogue with the disgruntled elements, which can further improve the situation. To begin with let's realize that army is trained to deal with 'enemy armies', enemies only , its functioning is totally authoritarian and it has its own methods very different from the civic norms of a democratic society. It is all right that an army is deployed in some area for a short while, but a prolonged deployment of the army creates further problems and civilian life suffers a set back which tantamount to loss of trust in the ruling government, alienation of people and further boost to the phenomenon which bring in militancy in the first place.

As such Kashmir has been in the news most of the times for last few decades but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. On one hand we have the militancy, military's heavy handed actions, fake encounters, missing young men, half widows and streaks of blood on the greens of the valley, on the other there are efforts to bring in peace through dialogues and still on the other we have  the gross misrepresentation of the events of Kashmir to communalize the mass consciousness'. Communal elements have presented it as a Hindu-Muslim problem and have propagated that events in Kashmir are one more example of 'Muslim separatism', while the real issue relates to the historical roots, the regional power equations and the ethnic identity of Kashmir.  The debate on the efforts to bring in amity in the valley needs to be seen in the historical genesis of the issue and complexities of the present, the changing tilt of US with the aim to bring peace in the bullet torn edifice of the society. Also mistakes of the past need to be shunned if we aspire for the harmony and justice.

With India's independence the Princely states were given three options, one to merge with India, two to merge with Pakistan and three to remain independent. While most of the princely states merged with India or  Pakistan, the king of Kashmir, Hari Singh decided to remain independent on the ground that his 'Hindu' Kingdom cannot merge with secular India. While the king was Hindu, majority of populating of Kashmir was Muslim. Pundit Perm Nath Dogra, of Praja Parishad, the precursor of BJP, Bharatiya Jansangh, endorsed his stand. Later Hari Singh offered standstill agreement to both India and Pakistan. As per this some state functions were to be shared with Pakistan and India. India rejected the offer; Pakistan accepted it and its postal department started serving Jammu and Kashmir.

When Pakistan army, dressed as tribal attacked Kashmir, the people of Kashmir did not want to merge with Pakistan and accordingly the President of National Conference, Sheikh Abdullah and representative of Maharaja Harisingh went to Delhi to urge upon the Indian Government to send the army to Kashmir to quell the Pakistani aggression. As at that time, Kashmir was not part of India, Indian Government did not accept this request. The negotiations to help Kashmir resulted in the treaty of accession according  to which Kashmir was to have total autonomy barring in the matters of defense, external affairs, communication and currency. Kashmir was to have its own Constitution, with Sadr-e-Riyasat and Prime Minster. It is on these terms that Indian army went to Kashmir to quell the Pakistani aggression. Indian army stalled the Pakistani army, but by that time Pakistani army had occupied nearly one third of Kashmir. The matter was taken to United Nations, where it was resolved that plebiscite will be held, to ascertain the wishes of Kashmiri people, after Pakistani and Indian armies withdraw from Kashmir. Neither of the armies withdrew and no plebiscite took place.

The elections held in Kashmir led to the victory of National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah was chosen the Prime Minister of Kashmir. The major achievement of Sheikh Abdullah was land reforms without any compensation to the landlords. As such Kashmir was a society, which stood on the foundation of Sufi Islam, values of Vedant and Buddhism. These are the ingredients of Kashmiriyat. After the Kashmiri assembly came to take charge of things, the ultra nationalists and Hindu communalists in India started the campaign for abolition of the clauses of autonomy of Kashmir, demanding its total merger with India. The pressure of this 'forcible integration of Kashmir' led to a discomfort amongst the people of Kashmir, and  Sheikh Abdullah voiced his concern that Indian Government is going back from its earlier promise. With his statement calling for respect of treaty of accession, he was dubbed as anti Nationalist and was put behind the bars. His imprisonment may be amongst one of the few cases of imprisonment of an elected chief of the state.

His imprisonment was the first act due to which the process of alienation began in Kashmir. This alienation was aggravated further by the political parties in power in Center trying to impose their agenda of power sharing with the National Conference.  The rigging of elections was a regular phenomenon in Kashmir. With this the alienation of Kashmiri youth turned in to militancy, duly supported by Pakistan, which in turn was backed by the US. The local militants were joined in by the one's trained in Pakistan and later joined by the Al Qaeda elements.

The militancy in Kashmir initially was not based on communal ground and Kashmiriyat remained the overarching goal. In the decades of 80s the militancy did assume communal color, targeting the Kashmiri Pundits. Jag Mohan intensified the problem by encouraging the Pundits to leave the valley on the plea that every Kashmiri Muslim is a terrorist and Pundits face the physical threat.

Hanging of Maqbool Butt and rigging of elections worsened the problem giving a further boost to separatist tendencies in the valley. The issue was communalized in the country by presenting it as a Hindu India versus Muslims of Kashmir. The communal elements in the country made a heavy use of this issue to polarize the society. The response of Indian government was to go on increasing the presence of army in the valley. Today the number of military personnel is so heavy that the air is thick with intimidation of the army guns. The local Kashmiris are the victims of the acts of the militants and that of Indian army. Army treats most of the civilians as suspects.

This alienation of local people and gross violation of human rights needs to be redressed. The restoration of part of democratic process during last elections has been a welcome sign. Any area under military presence cannot breath freely. Too many disappearances, senseless killings and the orphaned children tell the story of state of affairs in Kashmir. The confidence of local people has been shattered by this approach, which looks at Kashmir as the real estate to be acquired at any cost. Kashmir as the inseparable part of India on one hand and Kashmir a Muslim majority state cannot be part of India, these contrasting positions need to be countered to respect the autonomy and aspirations of Kashmiri people. That is the only way to restore the human rights and amity in the valley, which is being wounded by the guns of dissatisfaction and weapons trying to control the  aspirations of people.

Today the thinking on the Kashmir issue has to begin with the idea of respecting the wishes and well being of Kashmiri people, and to apply the soothing balm to the wounded psyche of average person in Kashmir. While dialogue with the dissident factions goes on we need to reduce the heavy-handed presence of army in the area. We also should register the fact that a long stay of army will affect the way of thinking of army itself. We have heard about the incidents like Chittsinghpura massacre of innocents at the hands of our own army, many an army personnel have tried to bake their own bread under the guise of their uniform.  By winning over the trust of the people we can definitely reduce the intensity of militants' actions, and in due course bring in a more hospitable atmosphere. A long-term view of the matter is equally important. To begin with we need a social audit of the actions of army and to devise a mechanism where by armies actions are not arbitrary but are subject to civic scrutiny, and involvement of civilians and political representatives in the process of planning the actions of army.

The over all improvement in the situation needs to be welcomed and path for further improvement sought in a proactive way.