Successive Indian governments have exacerbated the problem in Jammu and Kashmir, says historian Dr Radha Kumar
Dr Radha Kumar's definitive and insightful account of political developments in Kashmir in her recently released book Paradise At War could not have come at a more timely moment
Dr Radha Kumar's definitive and insightful account of political developments in Kashmir in her recently released book Paradise At War could not have come at a more timely moment. Jammu and Kashmir continues to be locked in political turmoil. The latest being Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik's decision to dissolve the state Assembly after the National Conference, Congress,and PDP (on one side) and the BJP along with Sajjid Lone staked claims to form the government.
Kumar is a historian and policy analyst, who apart from being appointed interlocutor in the state during the Manmohan Singh regime, has also specialised in ethnic conflicts and has written extensively on negotiating peace in conflict-ridden areas including on the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict.
Edited excerpts of an interview with her follow:
Why has Kashmir become such a complex issue? Has it been so complex from its inception or has it been allowed to become so intractable over the years?
Kashmir would always have been complex given its geopolitical location and the multiplicity of actors involved. Externally, two newly-independent States, India and Pakistan, laid claim to it, and after the Yalta Pact of 1945, the US and UK had a strategic interest in bringing it under their sphere of influence, if only indirectly through Pakistan.
But the prolonged conflict the state has undergone (three wars and, if we include Kargil and the Pakistan-backed armed conflict in the Valley — an ongoing insurgency for 30 years), added greater layers of intractability. Since 2001, the Afghan conflict has added another dimension to the conflict, with Pakistan linking its role in Afghan peace talks to support of its goals in Kashmir.
What have been the limitations of the Indian government in handling this issue?
Successive Indian governments too, by procrastinating over Article 370 and violating democratic processes, further added to the problem, intensifying frustration and despair. Until 2014, the overall policy was to combine peace talks, counter-insurgency and financial aid, while continuing to postpone a political settlement. Kashmiris felt that every time they raised a political grievance, they got money thrown at them.
Kashmir has today the most dependent economy of any state in the country, contributing to its sense of helplessness. This is bad enough, but after 2014, the situation has worsened exponentially. The present government has combined a security-alone policy with frequent and open displays of contempt, even hatred for Kashmiris, who are labelled 'anti-national' and supporters of terrorism.
What were the major lapses on the part of the Indian government that has allowed this problem to first become manifest as an insurgency and now into an Islamist jihad?
Today, we must also take into account the growth of the Islamic State and the impact of social media.
Could our own armed forces have been trained to be more sensitive to the Kashmiri sentiment or is this 'bludgeoning' approach inevitable in any armed conflict?
I would say the armed forces have been as restrained as is possible. In general, armed forces should only be sent in for short periods with a clearly defined and restricted mandate, in this case counter-insurgency. The longer the mission of any armed forces , the greater the risk of human rights abuse and creating a counterproductive spiral in which each negative feeds another.
From your book, I got the impression that Pakistan does not want a solution to the Kashmir dispute. Do you see any ray of hope that will help end this dispute or is it going to continue indefinitely?
Pakistan wants a solution to Kashmir on its own terms. That is not possible. Yet there is a ray of light — Pakistan cannot force a solution on its own terms and being an increasingly unstable State, it is vulnerable to external pressure. Under pressure, the Pervez Musharraf government did take substantial steps towards a resolution. If major powers such as the US, China and Russia were to jointly push for a renewal of the peace process — something Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared to favour initially, conditions on the ground could improve enormously.
Why have the Indian government's attempts to hold talks with different groups including the Hurriyat in Kashmir always seemed to have ended in failure?
As far as armed groups are concerned, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has always ensured that no direct talks between them and Indian government representatives could be successful. The ISI has engineered the assassination of dissidents who have engaged in peace talks, such as Abdul Ghani Lone and Majid Dar. Under pressure, again, the Pakistan Army did allow some flexibility to the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq faction of the Hurriyat, and it could again have played a role as a bridge-builder for peace talks, as it had with Atal Bihari Vajapyee and Manmohan Singh in his first term. Unfortunately, the BJP opposition to Manmohan's peace initiatives succeeded in undermining them and the current government appears to think Hurriyat members are terrorists.
Your book mentions how Pakistan has been giving aid to armed militant groups that has run into millions of dollars. In 1993, it was estimated that it was giving them $3 million per month. What is the amount likely to be today?
I have no ideas as there is little information available on this.
Kashmir is such a complex issue. Your book cites the unprecedented example of how in the early 1990s, 137 senior state officers sent a memorandum to the UN secretary-general pleading for intervention in Kashmir. What is the feeling like among bureaucrats and the public today?
I don't think anyone expects international intervention today. But the anger is even greater than it was in the 1990s.
How strong is the Jammu-Kashmir divide today?
The Jammu-Kashmir divide has changed since 2014. Previously it was a divide between the two provinces; now several of Jammu's Muslim majority districts want closer ties to the Valley than within Jammu. It has become a purely communal divide now, undoubtedly fanned by politicians in both provinces.
How has Pakistan been allowed to get away with the 1993 bombings, the 2006 train explosions and the 26 November, 2008 attacks in Mumbai?
The retaliatory tools available to India are very few. We cannot engage in the kind of cross-border 'proxy war' that they do, partly because we are a democratic not authoritarian state and partly because we do not have an overwhelming military superiority. Also, they have powerful neighbourhood allies willing to supply them such as China.
What is the peace with honour that the average Kashmiri wants and why has the Indian State been so unwilling to give it?
I am not sure if there is an average Kashmiri! But peace with honour would mean first and foremost, honouring the agreement under which Kashmir acceded to India, combined with a redressal of the many wrongs the state has faced since then. Why has the Indian State been so unwilling to give it? One major problem has been the Pakistan factor — its unwillingness to see a Government of India-Kashmir rapprochement.
Without this factor, I think peace would have been achieved a long time ago. But given that there is this factor, over which India has little influence, what steps can be taken to overcome or at least limit it? My book describes several steps that were tried, with varying degrees of partial success and failure. We should learn from those to revive the more successful ones.
So many rounds of talks have been held to solve this issue, and yet each round of talks seems to end in failure. You have been an interlocutor and have studied the problem here closely. You have also studied conflict situations in other countries. But there, as distinguished from Kashmir, some resolution has come about. What is stopping this from happening here on the subcontinent?
As I have said in the book, the chief problem is the multiplicity of actors. In similar situations, external actors, such as the US, Europe etc, were able to come together and become a part of the solution and not the problem. In our case, this is yet to happen. China remains a part of the problem insofar as the Chinese government continues to protect armed groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba in such fora as the UN anti-terror financing group.
Why has the army not been used more frequently to negotiate with militants as was done in 2000 with Majid Dar?
After the assassination of Dar, the armed groups are more firmly controlled by the ISI. Also, local leaders of the calibre of Dar have not emerged.
This armed conflict has taken a huge toll on the youth in Kashmir. Do you feel local politicians in the Valley have also failed the public at large especially in their inability to put pressure on the Indian State to provide some long-term solution to this problem.
You have written extensively on negotiating peace in deeply divided societies. Can you elaborate on what mechanisms were used to bring about peace and how can we apply these to India?
The multi-track process that was initiated from 2000-01 — of India-Pakistan, India-Hurriyat, Pakistan-Hurriyat, along with security-CBM coordination and support for Track II initiatives — was drawn from the Northern Ireland peace process, as was the framework agreement for a solution that was developed by the Lambah-Aziz back channel. As we know that was the most successful peace process, even if in our case it was brought to an abrupt halt by the Lal Masjid revolt in Pakistan.
You have looked at other countries that have suffered communal partitions including Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Cyprus where scars left by partition had metamorphosed into institutional hostility. And yet they managed to bring about peace. What is stopping us?
Well Bosnia and Cyprus have a stalemate rather than peace, but at least they are not in active conflict. In Bosnia's case, this uncertain peace was externally imposed through a US-Europe military intervention. In Cyprus, neither Greece nor Turkey want armed conflict, even though they are not ready to agree on a settlement. Of the three, only Northern Ireland has achieved a comprehensive settlement although implementation is still taking time, even 21 years later. Pakistan has not arrived at the point that Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia have, nor that Greece and Turkey or Britain and Ireland did.
Given the anti-India (Kashmir) thrust by the Pakistan government, what choice does the Indian government have but to continue with AFSPA?
India was able to resist Pakistani efforts to precipitate an armed uprising in the Valley for 40 years because the people of the Valley opposed Pakistan's efforts. The Indian government's meddling in Kashmir's political processes opened the door for Pakistan.
Polling for the panchayat elections in the state have seen a fairly large turnout. What does this indicate?
The panchayat polls are in contrast to the municipal polls where the turnout was very low. What it indicates is that the need for services is much higher in the rural areas.
What do you feel about the Jammu and Kashmir governor's decision to dissolve the state Assembly?
The timing of the governor's decision is extremely suspect, coming as it does when the PDP with National Conference and Congress support had announced it were staking a claim to form a government. He should have dissolved the Assembly months ago and announced state elections. If the state was secure enough to hold panchayat elections why not Assembly ones?
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