Dwarika Prasad Sharma
A former General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps of the Army, who is acknowledged for establishing a rapport of the force with common citizens of Kashmir, has been making the significant observation that it is important to bring Jammu and Ladakh into the ambit of a comprehensive initiative for lasting peace in the Valley, and in the state.
Lt-Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain has said that the people of Jammu probably understand the people of Kashmir far better than anybody else. He made this observation at a programme in Jammu marking the landing of Indian Army troops in Srinagar on October 27, 1947, a day after the signing of the Instrument of Accession. Earlier this month, he had made a similar statement at a meeting in Delhi. The theme of that meeting was “The Kashmir flashpoint: how to resolve the crisis”.
At the Delhi meeting, another very significant point he made was that the youth should be brought into the engagement. This is also a departure from the classical pitch and approach that the separatists, self-appointed “representatives” of the people of the Valley, nay, of “Jammu and Kashmir”, were the sole arbiters for the “angry and alienated” people of the Valley, now especially the youth.
Favouring also bringing Ladakh, the third region of the state, into the dialogue, Hasnain said: “Serious efforts are needed to be made towards providing more engagement between the civil societies, youth and business communities of Jammu, Ladakh and the Valley as this could be the workable precursor for more intimate engagement between the people of the region and the rest of India.”
The nose-to-the-ground analyst underlined the home truth that any “change in the ownership of territory is no longer possible anywhere in the world, especially by violence”. This has been stressed also by legions of other analysts, who see that for India, retaining Kashmir is unquestionably an absolute for upholding the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country. This is seen by all other countries, including privately Pakistan itself, except apparently the separatists, the terrorists and the seasonal agitators whom elements in that country manipulate as proxies.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had gone several extra miles with Pakistan and the separatists, and who is appreciatively quoted by Kashmiri politicians, journalists and people in general, had said that one could not wish away one’s neighbour. But he drew a red line at changing the boundaries of the state, though he added that these could be made softer.
Hasnain said that in view of the wider reality, “whatever is discussed as a way forward has to be with the assumption that it is for the purpose of mainstreaming those opposed to the idea of India”. Soon after the Delhi event, former chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, expressed views in New York that were along the lines of Hasnain’s observations. Spea-king at a conference organised by students of New York University on the theme “India and Pakistan: a subcontinental affair”, he said that “there is a disaffected population in Jammu and Kashmir that has to be brought into the mainstream”. The usually petulant National Conference leader, when away from the state, put the Kashmir problem in a level-headed perspective amid an impressionable young audience.
Omar also said:”I am not suggesting that we have to open a dialogue with all militant groups. That is not possible. But there are political groups in the Valley that don’t advocate the cause of violence, that are looking for a solution beyond the current status quo. Why not talk to them… Talk with those who are willing to talk.” He said that the present territorial contours of the state are very different from those of 1947, tampered with further some years later, and so a plebiscite is impossible.
In Jammu, Hasnain said: “The people of Jammu, who understand the people of Kashmir socially, politically and, most important, psychologically, can experiment on how to bring the people of the state together. Otherwise, Pakistan will keep disturbing peace in the region.”
It would be highly useful if the mainstream leadership of the state were to mainstream themselves first. Those whose electoral fortunes are derived from the Valley should stop making public observations that add fuel to the fire there. They should bring home to the “disaffected” and “alienated” youth of the Valley that their violent actions are alienating them from large sections in Jammu and Ladakh. That the disaffection over several issues in these regions, the chief of which is perceived discrimination against them across the board, is not any less weighty. That they view the repeated spells of violence in the Valley as communally-oriented and less as stands against human rights violations.
The opposition mainstream parties, along with the ruling combine, have to convince the stone-throwing youth that their deliverance does not lie in stones but in emulating their brethren who have climbed ladders of success through education, who have thrown their lot with a nation that is globally regarded for its steady economic growth. They should pillory Kashmir trouble mastermind (or proxy?) Ali Shah Geelani for his lunatic assertion that the unprecedented shutdown presided over by him has not hit education but helped it “blossom”. They should tell him that he should educate his grandchildren in stone-throwing.
Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti should rediscover her earlier charm with the youth of the Valley. As an opposition leader, she used to be accompanied by youths into South Kashmir’s remote rural areas as her pointmen and protectors. They affectionately called her “baaji”, sister. It is said that several of these youths have been leading violent protests. She should try to talk reason with them to bring them around. But she should avoid talking like an opposition leader in her own government. If she did that, they might again call her “baaji”, but would likely become more recalcitrant.
The PDP-BJP alliance government is a bold initiative that combines a largely Valley-based party, which defines itself as secular, with a Jammu-based party, that the opposition mainstreamers and, of course, the separatists, define as communal. This is for the first time that Jammu has been given a near-equal role with the Valley in the governance of the state. The opposition, by blaming this arrangement for being one of the major causes of the present unrest in the Valley, are only playing a parochial role.
For long since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the Indian Republic, there had been a skewed perception that Kashmir Valley was the be all and end all of Jammu and Kashmir and that Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was the last word in the state. The strong bond between him and the Sheikh, first Prime Minister of the state after the Accession, had been instrumental in nurturing this outlook. The affinity between the two had been in no small measure also on account of their visceral antipathy for Maharaja Hari Singh. In the sum, both leaders tended to overlook the wider picture in the state and dismiss any expression of aspiration outside of the Valley as an aberration or a disruptive attempt to drive in a wedge issue.
This kind of mindset has played out in varying degrees down the years. It has to be consciously cured. The present government at the Centre is going along that path and is displaying a broader and equitable outlook on the state.
(The writer is a Senior Journalist)