by Badri Raina
First Published in The Hindu
August 24, 2000
by Badri Raina
First Published in The Hindu
August 24, 2000
IN A week or two, things have been done and undone speedily in Kashmir. Baffled speculation and imagined scripts are rife. This is inevitable, since every section of opinion understands both the importance of what has transpired and of getting a quick grip on the situation. The official script thus far seeks to persuade us of the following considerations: that the offer of ceasefire by the Hizb phalanx in Kashmir was proof of the fact that the largely indigenous militant group had, after long years, realised the futility of armed struggle; that its displacement increasingly by the Lashkar and other non- Kashmiri groups was a source of worry to it; that the Hizb, therefore, acted independently both of its Pakistan-based leadership and of the Pakistan establishment; that it was, however, within a day or so compelled to retract on the pretext that Pakistan was not being included in the parleys.
This script leaves the following questions unanswered: why did the Hizb in Kashmir choose the moment it did to come forward unilaterally with its ceasefire offer? Why did Syed Salahuddin endorse the offer, `sitting where he was’? Why did the Hizb go back on its momentous offer as quickly as it did? There are other questions as well: is it not the case that in adopting the course it did the Government of India made open acknowledgement that the biggest and the most significant section among the militants, after all, comprised Kashmiris of the Valley? how did this square with the strident position voiced ad nauseum that Pakistan was the root of the problem? And, how did it also square with the Government of India’s position internationally that the problem had to be sorted out bilaterally between India and Pakistan? and how, in turn, did the last formulation square with New Delhi’s refusal to include Islamabad in the parleys? On another, more substantive, plane, having turned down the autonomy resolution of the elected Kashmir Assembly, was it the Government of India’s view that the Hizb could be persuaded to settle for something less than autonomy, since sometime shortly after the ceasefire such matters would have had to be confronted. It is also being made out, however shyly, that the Hizb offer was no sudden, impulsive gesture but had, infact, behind it some prolonged track-II diplomacy. Are we to believe that those considered preparations in which, ostensibly, most major players had been involved, should have ended in as botched a fiasco as we have witnessed. Surely internationally blessed diplomacies are not expected to blow up overnight first in a whimper, then in a bloodbath. What went wrong? In the light of the posers suggested above, would it be erroneous to conclude that the details of the official script do not at any point tally with the logic of the events that actually occurred? I think not. Perhaps a more credible script needs to be constructed if further goofs are to be avoided and more reliable policy directions formulated in the months to come.
After the curt and summary rejection of the Kashmir Assembly autonomy resolution by the Union Cabinet, realisation began to dawn that perhaps what the Cabinet had done had been, if not substantively certainly politically, ill-advised. From the first week of July, leading sections of the media refocussed attention on autonomy both editorially and through independent lead articles. Dr. Farooq Adullah appeared many times on the electronic media, and each time the positions enunciated by him and other spokespersons of the National Conference began to seem more than mere gimmicks calculated to keep the Government from talking to the Hurriyat Conference. If anything, Dr. Abdullah was heard repeatedly to advocate such parleys for the reason that only then would the Central Government know what the Hurriyat Conference stood for. Towards the last week of July a distinct consolidation of opinion seemed to emerge favouring a detailed exploration of the autonomy demand. Some Chief Ministers allied to the NDA also endorsed the line that Dr. Abdullah had a point.
It is at such a juncture that the Hizb announced its offer. And it is this writer’s view that the offer related neither to any elaborate track-II diplomacy, nor to some sudden revelation among the Hizb that, after a decade of trying, enough was enough, nor to any conflict of perception and action as between the local Hizb and its Pakistan-based leadership. The ceasefire offer, indeed, best makes sense as a brilliant ploy on behalf of the ISI and the Pakistan military establishment to achieve more than one purpose all at once.
Foremost, the ceasefire offer was deployed to scuttle any possibility that autonomy as an issue might come to occupy centre stage. Even when isolated opinion in the Valley, here and there, made cynical noises that noone cared for autonomy, Pakistan, reading its own alienation among Kashmiri Muslims cannily, understood that a whole new chapter of popular mobilisation within Kashmir could result if the Government of India was persuaded to reflect seriously on the desirability, over time, of restoring the full ambit of Article 370. After all, that would any day have made more sense to Parivar hardliners than parleys with militants without even the precondition that the Indian Constitution be kept as the watershed. Indeed, the responses that have since come from the RSS and the VHP have borne this out. Restoration of Article 370 accompanied by a political consensus that the economic development of the State be taken up as a concrete as opposed to a polemical national project could not but have had the consequence of not just foregrounding the National Conference but, worse, giving it and its prehistory a further long lease of legitimacy. It might even have produced a situation wherein the Hurriyat Conference might have been obliged at some stage either to engage in democratic/electoral politics or shut shop.
Second, in getting the local leadership of the Hizb to offer ceasefire – at which Pakistan calculated with finesse the Government of India could not but jump in order, if nothing else, to forestall American opprobrium – Pakistan achieved recognition for the fact that cross-border terrorism was not the chief reality in Kashmir; rather, it could be seen now to be local Kashmiri insurgency – a considerable political gain from Pakistan’s point of view. And, in responding with the position that there was, after all never any harm in talking to our own boys, the Government of India swallowed the herring hook, line, and sinker.
Having astutely orchestratred a so-called friction between the local Hizb and its Pakistan-based leaders, encouraging the Government of India to engage in talks without preconditions, Pakistan hoped to achieve the final coup – its own participation in parleys without precondition. And were India to find this excessive, the Pakistan establishment was always in control to pull the Hizb back, which they did. Suddenly, the friction between the local and other Hizb was seen for what it is, a fiction. It then remained to make felt on the world that, despite India’s position that the Kashmir problem was to be sorted out between India and Pakistan, it pulled out from a once-in-a-decade opportunity.
What, then, is to be done? As a first measure, the bellicose suggestion that hot pursuit across the line to hit militant bases be taken up must be public by rejected by the Government of India. After Pokhran and Chagai such options do not exist, and no decisive final war can be envisaged. But, as a substantive initiative, however weary an insistence this may seem, the autonomy issue must now be addressed not just as a ploy but as a seriously-intended praxis. As to the possibility of renewed parleys, it is best understood once and for all that Pakistan can never allow any proxy group to speak for it, finally. The Government of India’s parroted position that cross-border terrorism must stop before it will sit down to talk to Pakistan is not a clever argument. After all, this was not a consideration when Mr. Vajpayee rode the bus to Lahore. Nor does it make sense to insist that India will await the return of an elected Government in Islamabad before it engages in parleys. So talk. In the meanwhile, improve Intelligence services, respect the Kashmiris while fighting the insurgents, refuse to condone excesses, give every assistance to the State Government to create infrastructure and jobs. But, primarily, restore Article 370 and evolve further devolution of authority within the sub- regions of the State along non-sectarian lines. And hope for the best.
(The writer teaches English Literature at Delhi University.)