Kashmir Beyond Article 370 & AFSPA

Adfar Shah

Obviously a new hope for the return of normalcy seems there in Kashmir but not before the government is formed. Although until 2005 the peace deficit valley witnessed a slow decline in the culture of violence however it picked up later and by the time 2014 ended, the magnitude of support from Pakistan, the intensity of cross border infiltration, the presence of uncertainty in valley, the number of violent attacks and even the type of targets that extremists usually executed, has softened to a great extent minus the growing radicalization of vulnerable youth. In between the years 2008 to 2010, there were many aberrations in the march towards peace; however, when the disturbances are seen from the democratic prism, political defiance or intifada are very well justified. Had it not been for the significant loss of one hundred and twenty lives as a result of actions by security forces, these events could have been taken merely as expressions of disappointment against hope or desire for reaping the fruits of normalcy. I always say let us institutionalize the earlier peace ideas and actions but the fact remains the security apparatus has not been able to institutionalize good will in a sense it should have been despite doing a range of peace efforts or programmes.

The Security forces too, on their part, exhibited some sense of restraint except some recent and inhuman mishandlings like Chatergam killings. While incidents kept happening sporadically such as Kunan–Poshpora, Machhil, Shopian and Chhatergam, which posed serious questions against the ability of the security forces to operate as professionals in fourth generation warfare, the leadership, particularly that of the military has increasingly exhibited a rising sense of empathy towards the common people and their sufferings in the conflict zone but it can be safely argued that there is much more to do to be mass sensitive and professional enough. Though Chatergam emerged as a game changer when army for the first took the blame and apologized in time but again it derailed the peace project and disappointed people. In a nutshell, in terms of security, while the Forces graduated towards genuine commitment to the dictums of “Zero HR Violations” and ‘Zero Collateral Damage’ (as reiterated by Honourable Governor recently), the people responded with ‘tolerance’. On the political front, undoubtedly there has been a steady deepening of uncertainty due to delay in government formation and a plethora of wild guesses about the possible players in government formation however the larger question remains how forces envision Kashmir-2015 and what is their vision and work plan for peace that is mishandling proof. If the participation of people in the ritual of voting is taken as the measurement of trust in democracy, then there has been a tremendous boost in this direction, however voting behavior in Kashmir is not just linked to the love for democracy only but a routine exercise going on since long without any practical impact. While the voting percentage is not a reflection of shunning the ‘love for Azadi there is no doubt about increasing belief that good governance is the birth right of the long-suffering but confused people in the Valley and they can ensure it only by exercising their power to choose their own leaders. What is yet to be seen is how this translates into improved Human Indices, social infrastructure and empowerment of the people. On the social front, a large number of NGOs and civil society groups have been active in Kashmir however without any major breakthrough on the peace building question though many of them claim of. Although, from time to time, most of them have been branded as self interest groups. The good news is that there has been a steep rise in the number of students pursuing higher education, even if it involved moving beyond Kashmir. Secondly, the erstwhile barriers of Pir Panjal were crossed by job-seeking youth and multinationals like TCS, Reliance and Bajaj offered large number of vacancies under the project Udaan. Initially, the response was quite a damp squib, however, when Kashmir University, forces and certain NGOs came up to facilitate this laudable venture, the apprehensions were seen vanishing. Thirdly, women, particularly the girls have taken it upon themselves to live their dreams on their own. Whether it be an entrepreneurship workshop, enrolment in colleges and institutes or moving out for jobs, there is a definite rise in figures and more importantly women visibility in public space is encouraging. As and when Kashmir reaches the ‘tipping point’ of change, one can easily assert that it is women who will be the biggest contributors as the era of women as trend setters has already begun in Kashmir too. It is just about the time when the governments at the Centre and state should create conditions for these changes to flourish. Instead of remaining engaged with emotional issues such as Article 370, AFSPA, NHPC, WPRs, KPs, autonomy, and so on, a stable government needs to be formed and an Act passed in the Assembly that discussions on all the traditional emotional issues will be treated as a criminal act for the next 10 years. The period of a 10 years moratorium on controversial issues will be used for the re-construction of Kashmir and for putting wheels under and wings over the ardent dreams of the trusting people of Kashmir! As speculations predict a PDP-BJP alliance in Kashmir, I believe there is much more to do on ground other than controversial and sensitive issues as peace is yet to come, flood rehabilitation is yet to be achieved, youth are yet to get employment, women are yet to get a life of security and dignity and tourism, agriculture, roads, etc yet to be developed.

Time is ripe when the statecraft along with security agencies needs a serious rethink on rebuilding a peaceful Kashmir instead of the glorification of sensitive and emotional stuff.

(Adfar Shah is a New Delhi Based (Kashmiri) Sociologist and Columnist. Author is the Special Correspondent for South Asia Affairs at Prestigious Eurasia Review and senior fellow at SAISA).        

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