Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jammu and Kashmir – Modi's Golden Chance

Karan Kharb
                In the last 25 years, the intensity of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir has been fluctuating.  Phases of peace have proved to be no more than lulls in the battles used by the proxies of Pakistan to regroup and reorganise before unleashing their next phase of violence. Ironically, whereas the new political environment with BJP-PDP coalition government in the state and the NDA Government with fully majority BJP at the Centre should have effected a decline in the violence and separatism, the problem has become even more volatile.       
Marginalised leaders of a divided Hurriyat amalgam including Syed Ali Shah Geelani whose poll boycott diktats were spurned by the Kashmiri electorate, are now back on the centre stage. Efforts to pacify the separatists by releasing the likes of Masrat Alam saw a spurt in anti-India demonstrations. Fissures within the Hurriyat are apparently closing as supporters of different factions are converging. It is reliably learnt that this convergence is aided by ISI masters who want all separatist groups to rally around Geelani-Masrat duo so that Hurriyat is projected as a unified 'representative' body to promote separatism and an anti-India sentiment in the Valley. CM Mufti Mohammad Syeed's ambivalent stand on the separatists and violence has been a cause of recurring embarrassment for the BJP.
                Unlike other states of the Union, governance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is uniquely complex. Firstly, being a border state it acquires special geo-political significance, which is heightened even more with Pakistan having ceded Shaksgam Valley to China and the latter launching massive infrastructure development including multi-lane roads in the Pak occupied areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. Secondly, besides its mountainous terrain that is covered either by dense forest or by snow, the state is also demographically divided with Jammu-Udhampur having predominantly Hindu population, the Kashmir Valley predominantly Muslim and Ladakh having a mix of sparsely populated Budhists and Muslims. Thirdly, India's relations with Pakistan and China have directly influenced politics and happenings in these areas.  Fourthly, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution bestows 'special status' on the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which sets it apart from the rest in the country. This weird constitutional proviso makes the state look like a 'nation' within a nation.
                Thanks to these outlandish physiognomies of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, governments have been consistently smug in running affairs of the state in a status-quoist manner creating and promoting a privileged class of self-righteous politicians and protected elite of bureaucracy insulated from the people.  The proxy war unleashed by Pakistan against India in this region has been fuelling chaos in the state for decades.  More lives – military as well as civil – have been lost in the last quarter century of violence here than the combined total death toll of last three Indo-Pak wars.  Development has been another serious casualty while official corruption has thrived reducing civil administration to a self-serving mechanism for the privileged few and largely denied to the people. The carrot dangling approach of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to placate and win over the Hurriyat and hard core separatists has already flopped.  Masrat Alam has very effectively utilised his brief release from captivity to reignite the fizzling voices of separatism in Srinagar. The brief drama he so diligently enacted with Hafiz Sayeed from Pakistan assuring Jehadis (proxies) in Jammu and Kashmir every kind of support – "material, moral and military" – has once again poured acid into the wound that has festered for over a quarter century now.
Dissension in Gilgit-Baltistan
People in the 'Northern Areas', Gilgit-Baltistan do not call themselves Pakistanis.  Constitutionally, they are Indian citizens.  Of course, that is not to suggest that they believe to be Indian citizens either but, mercilessly persecuted and exploited, they strongly envy their brethren on the Indian side of LoC. Demographic transformation has been so engineered in this region that the aborigines have been gradually overwhelmed by the settlers from down south. In 1948, the Shia–Sunni ratio in Gilgit-Baltistan was 4:1; today it is 4:3. With a population of 2.5 million (Shi'as, Sunnis, Ismailis and Nur Bakshis), Gilgit-Baltistan is the largest region of POK covering an area of 73000 square km as compared to the remaining area of so-called 'Azad Kashmir', which measures 13000 square km.  It is larger than the combined total area of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. It equals the entire province of Khyber Pakhttunkhwa of Pakistan. Kalash of Chitral – also called Nuristan/Kafiristan – are the remaining non-Muslim group in this region. In contrast to this demographic transformation and persecution across the LoC, India has honoured its commitment and even today Indian citizens who do not belong to the state of J&K cannot purchase property here nor can they settle here.
Outsiders have come and accumulated property in this region under the guise of 'development projects' and 'industrialisation'. Military has arbitrarily usurped local land for military garrisons. Some parts have been ceded to China providing it the corridor that opens routes to the Islamic world even as the local Baltis remain fretful against ongoing exploitation of the region by Pakistan and China. Issues like mineral exploration, land compensation, control and utilisation of revenue and royalties from dams have been agitating the locals who remain bereft of basic amenities of life. Chinese bring their own labour force, denying the Balties the job opportunities that should have been rightfully theirs in job-starved region.
Voicing his people's anguish, Senge Tsering Hasnan, a Balti intellectual and activist, told me in New Delhi recently, "In Gilgit-Baltistan, we want what Indian Kashmiris have. In India they contest elections and represent the state in the Parliament as MPs; you have given them 'special status' etc. Even pro-Pakistani leaders in Gilgit envy the Indian Kashmiris who have benefits of Indian judicial, political and economic institutions. As for us, forget rights, persecution fills us with fear."
Similar sentiments have been echoed by Abdul Hamid Khan, chairman of Balawaristan National Front from time to time and a number of other Balti leaders and activists.  "We know that because of Pakistani fundamentalism and because the so-called Azad Kashmir is actually even more badly enslaved than the Indian-held Kashmir, no Ladakhi Buddhist in his right mind would ever consider joining us as long as we remain under Pakistani occupation", says Abdul Hamid Khan.
        What is even more interesting is that unlike the Indian constitution, Pakistan's constitution deems POK as 'disputed territory' and not integral to Pakistan. Pakistan Supreme Court has also given verdicts in the past calling POK as 'disputed territory' and disallowing treating it as Pakistan territory. Whereas the J&K constitution declares the state to be "integral part of India", the Azad Kashmir constitution stipulates 'right of self-determination' but in practice, freedom is severely curtailed by Pakistani system of controls. Therefore, the entire state of undivided Jammu and Kashmir legitimately belongs to India and even by its own constitutional tenets Pakistan has no legitimate right to meddle with affairs in POK/Azad Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan. The obligation of meeting aspirations of the people of POK including Gilgit-Baltistan lies on India but the aggressor has continued to hold this territory in defiance of the UN resolutions and the will of the people of the state.    
        Of course, the popular resentment against Pakistan in the region does not suggest any strong swing of passions in favour of India. Regional leaders and parties clamour for freedom for the entire Gilgit-Baltistan region, which, as they claim, includes Kargil and Ladakh. Growing enthusiasm in Pak-China partnership in this region and a surging injured Balti consciousness have further enhanced its significance as a junction point between Central Asia and South Asia on the one hand, and between China and West Asia on the other. Borders of India, China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan converge here. Any power that controls this region will gain the ability to influence relations and happenings in these nations.  Little wonder why China is entrenching its presence and expanding its influence in this area. Access to Gwadar port via Karakoram highway provides China an alternative trade route besides placing it strategically in a far more advantageous position near the Persian Gulf.  In sharp contrast to these manoeuvrings in its most sensitive region, India had almost succumbed to the Pakistan inspired 'Track II Diplomacy' that had sought demilitarisation of Siachen Glacier, the highest and forward most positions held by the Indian Army in the closest vicinity of these manoeuvrings. In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had himself declared his Government's resolve to withdraw the Army from these dominating positions and declare Siachen complex as a 'Peace Park'.            
Article 370 – An Anathema to J&K
There is ample evidence for the policy planners to understand that dithering and placating tactics have only led to worsening the situation rather than solving the problems. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the J&K government are today faced with a serious challenge, which they can convert into their golden chance to usher in new era of peace, prosperity and genuine azadi by integrating the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the mainstream of sovereign India. The so-called 'special status' under Article 370 has actually promoted 'separatism', inter-se rivalry and mistrust among different sections of the society and political establishments because the distinguishing constitutional provisions treat the state of J&K differently vis-à-vis the rest. It also kills the fundamental principle of 'EQUALITY' enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. No public interest has been served by it so far.  On the contrary, those in power in the state use it from time to time for their personal gains by blackmailing the Central Government under its shadow. 
Technically, Article 370 applies to the whole of undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir including what has now become Pak occupied Kashmir (POK) or 'Azad Kashmir' as Pakistan sells it to the world. Whereas India has steadfastly honoured the provisions of the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh and Article 370, Pakistan has violated all norms and conditions imposed by the UN even as it has continued to counter blame India for the same. Pakistan's occupation of POK is the outcome of its blatant aggression and not a result of any Instrument of Accession or people's mandate. Whereas India has steadfastly abided by the conditions laid down in the Instrument of Accession and enshrined those conditions in its constitution as Article 370.  Accordingly, no person from outside the state of J&K is allowed to purchase property or settle down here whereas Pakistan has outraged the original demographic profile of the areas of J&K under its illegal occupation since 1947. On the contrary, it uses India's provisions of Article 370 as a beating stick against India by displaying the subjugated territory of POK as 'Azad Kashmir' and calling the rest of J&K as 'disputed territory as evidenced by the Article 370 that distinguishes it from the rest of India'.                
To the international community too, continuance of 'special status' for J&K gives an impression of 'some final settlement about J&K's still hanging in the air' – an impression Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists have been cashing on to bolster their claims. Viewed from any angle, the provisions of this Article have proved to be a noose of silk in the neck of J&K.  The principle of equality entitles the people of J&K to be liberated from this royal bondage, which has only hampered their development because it has deterred the Indian investors and multi-national corporates from investing in J&K.
                Permanent solution to a problem as ticklish as this cannot be easy but how long shall we allow this wound to fester in search of easy solutions? Time is now ripe to administer the bitter pill.  Article 370 must be repealed and the state of Jammu and Kashmir integrated into the national mainstream without further delay.
Need for New Vision, New Resolve
The world has changed since 1947. From bipolar, it has become unipolar today. Soviet Union and the Berlin wall have gone. Once avowed enemies, the US and China are big-ticket trade partners today. Communism has changed stance to be friends with capitalism. A class of new nations has emerged in the post-Soviet Central Asia. West Asia is engulfed in chaotic Islamist struggles, which have reached India's doorsteps aggravating the proxy war scenario for India. China is also having a taste of this malaise in Xinjiang where the Uighurs have been up in arms against China for quite some time now. The state of J&K including POK and Gilgit-Baltistan has assumed greater significance in the altered geo-political matrix in this part of the world. However, India's perception of the Kashmir issue and its theories and practice of fighting terrorism have remained fixated in time. In their post-partition history of 68 years, India and Pakistan have fought four wars. Repeated victories, including dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, have failed to solve issues and bring about an atmosphere of mutual trust, friendship and cooperation between the two neighbours. If so, it is time India changed its strategic perceptions and addressed the problem with options not tried before. 
Narendra Modi's arrival as India's Prime Minister heading a strong government with single party BJP majority and NDA partners ushers in a new era of nationalist resurgence in India. He is aided by a team of professional experts of proven record of accomplishments such as Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor – a thoroughbred professional with enormous experience and capacity to think and devise differently. The world is watching a new India rise under Modi whose deft initiatives have established India in a class of nations willing to enhance cooperation, promote peace and join to fight the menace of terrorism together. As a member of the world's fastest growing economies – BRICS – India is now very much counted in the comity of nations. The rousing welcome and standing ovations given to the Indian Prime Minister during his visits to the US, France, Japan, Australia, China, South Korea and all other countries in India's neighbourhood indicate how the world is looking up to India's role as a regional power in this part of the world and as an important player at the global stage as well.  
Today's India has the potential to alter the matrix of relationships with its neighbours including Pakistan with a view to addressing the problems holistically and decisively. Economics of trade and commerce must be interwoven in efforts to bring about a congenial environment where each neighbour's own interests would be adversely affected if peace and cooperation were betrayed. For this, India needs to make its resolve clear by emphatically stating how it is committed to respect every nation's sovereignty. At the same it must also clearly state its resolve to protect and safeguard its own against all kinds of threats with all the goodwill and, if and where needed, with the utmost power at its disposal. A strategy of covert operations and earnest goodwill could go hand in hand to defeat the menace of terrorism and proxy war. Pakistan must be made to understand that exporting crime and terror to India will entail prohibitive costs hereafter and India could take the proxy war to the places of its origin – even if such places are across the LoC.  Whereas Pakistan's presence in POK and every intrusion across LoC would be always illegal, India's actions across the LoC would be very much in order – technically and legally. India's self-imposed restraint from venturing into areas of POK has matured into a paradigm that would make such a suggestion appear weird and brazen today. Yet, the fact is that POK is not Pakistan even by its own admission.
So far, India has not lent any worthwhile support to the genuine demands of people of Gilgit-Baltistan who have been suffering from ongoing persecution and exploitation.  India's support to their cause could also help in curtailing, perhaps reversing, the trend of terrorists infiltrating through LoC.  Espousing such a cause will also enhance stakes for Pakistan in talks with India.

All these arguments notwithstanding, India and Pakistan must sit together and find amicable solution to their festering problems taking a realistic view of the situation. The era of wars is fading and the civilised world is moving towards better times for our future generations. Neighbours in today's world could choose a common road to peace and prosperity or remain entrenched in animosity and take a flight to assured mutual destruction.   

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