AUTHOR: Raunaq Singh Bawa
(Student, Class 12, Bhavan Vidyalaya, Chandigarh)
Kashmir has always been a controversial subject for India, and has always had the potential to cause political and ideological differences to flare up, often creating dissent and friction even amongst close friends and families. Therefore, at the outset, I would like to clarify that there is no intention whatsoever, to offend the political and ideological sentiments of my readers. Nevertheless, in the event of such an off-chance, I shall not be held accountable. All policies of the Central Government with regard to Kashmir, past and present, whether UPA or NDA, will be subject to attack, and will be so in an indiscriminate manner.
What is the biggest problem we face in the Kashmir issue? No, it isn’t militancy. The real issue we face, the true roots of the militancy taking place in the region, is the sense of alienation felt by the Kashmiri people. While the average Indian reserves (unfounded) prejudices against Kashmiris, the average Kashmiri also reserves (similarly unfounded) prejudices against India. The fact that the State has to assert its authority round the clock through military presence on the streets doesn’t help. In most other regions, the fact that they are a part of India, is a no-brainer, a subconsciously accepted fact, as plain as day. Why then does it need to be asserted repeatedly that “Kashmir is a sovereign part of India”? Should this not, after 70 years, be a naturally acknowledged fact?
The fact that this question is being asked, is indicative of a policy failure of behemothian magnitudes. Indian military presence in the Valley is an easily understood and justified policy; some troop deployment is undoubtedly necessary, keeping in mind that the Valley is a hotly contested territory and that there’s an army on the other side of the fence, just waiting to wade in. Also, the terrorism in the Valley merits some kind of force to keep it in check to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control, becoming more violent than we can imagine. While the magnitude of this military presence is a debatable question, the fact remains that something must accompany the same.
What governments over the past seven decades have miserably failed to do, is address the problem at its foundation. The Instrument of Accession (even though I do not oppose it) was signed by an undemocratic monarch, who could not be considered a representative of the population. Of course, I believe the Kashmiris did get a better deal by acceding to India, because Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state anyway, and the entire country is plagued by violence far exceeding what is seen in Kashmir today. At the same time, the idea of an independent Kashmir was an unsustainable paradigm. This still does not change the fact that the decision itself was an undemocratic one.
To make things worse, in the years that followed, the Central Government dealt solely with a plethora of Kashmiri political leaders, who in turn dealt with the people. Rare was the occasion when the Centre ever got directly involved with the citizens. Interaction—social, economic, and political—between the citizens of Kashmir and the rest of India remained very limited. This was partly due to Kashmir’s special status which made it very restrictive for non-Kashmiris to get involved in the economic and political activities of the region, and also because Kashmir was too often a warzone, hence hindering the tourism industry, the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. Then, when the terrorist movement began in the 1980s, we took to sending in the military, killing and apprehending terrorists and their leaders, spying on Pakistan, threatening Pakistan, negotiating with Pakistan, arm-twisting Pakistan, calling out to the US, USSR, UK, France, and the rest of the world to address Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror, negotiating with leaders of the Hurriyat, negotiating with the Muftis and Abdullahs, and so and so forth. Ironically, in this whole gamut of responses that were executed, the most important stakeholder in the issue was completely missing—the people of Kashmir themselves.
And this is where our policymakers, our MPs, our Cabinet, our military all fail miserably. In the optics. Do not make the mistake of thinking that our leaders aren’t focussing on the optics. They’re obsessed with public perception in the Kashmir issue. It’s just that they’re obsessing over the wrong segment. A resident of Srinagar cares far more about what the government is doing in Kashmir than a resident of Amethi or Varanasi. Yet, it is they who are proudly informed of their leaders’ ‘achievements’ in Kashmir, rather than the residents of the valley, who frequently suffer prolonged lockdowns with communication blackouts, left devoid of not only basic telephone and internet communications but sometimes even essential commodities such as food and medicines.
Looking at how the government has attempted to deal with the situation in Kashmir, I can only come to one sound conclusion. In their efforts to end terrorism in the Valley, our leaders and policymakers believe that the problem ends by killing terrorists and their leaders, and by attempting to punish Pakistan for infiltration of terrorists across the LoC. In their defence, it isn’t exactly incorrect to try and combat the problem by killing the terrorists. In fact, it’s necessary to dismantle all existing footholds these groups may have, and to effectively eliminate their manpower and strategic assets. However, here we are looking only at a cure, not prevention. And that is why Kashmir suffers today. Because we are treating only half of the problem, while failing to realise that all our gains in one aspect of the problem are immaterial without the other. Just as, if we miraculously managed to prevent more individuals joining the terrorists’ ranks one day, it would make no sense if we didn’t attempt to counter those who already existed.
So how have we failed to prevent terrorism from coming up in the first place? Shouldn’t the fearsome army be deterrent enough to prevent individuals from taking up arms against them? Well, no. Here, we need to understand, we are looking at a determined population, and a long-suffering people. No force on Earth can ever convince, oppress, or scare a people into conformity if they are determined not to. Furthermore, the fact that these people have been suffering for decades now only adds to the difficulty by which hard force can win them over. History, time and again, has proven that a long-persecuted people is the deadliest. Israel is the finest example of this maxim. No one dare confront Israel today, despite its insignificant size and negligible resources, for Israel’s people have been beaten and punished to the point of no return, notably during the Holocaust, and the repeated attempts by the Arab nations to wipe Israel from the face of Earth.
The point being, expecting the people of Kashmir to stop resisting against the authority of India merely out of fear and awe is a baseless expectation, and policies made on the basis of such an assumption will inevitably do more harm than good.
In my humble opinion, what is severely wanting in our programme to integrate Kashmir into mainstream India and to end the violence there, is a very simple principle: outreach and public relations (in military terms: Information warfare, in order to counter the open secret that is the massive propaganda and disinformation campaign undertaken by the Islamists and their patron, the ISI). If the government and authorities could just make a concerted effort to create holistic policies that attempt to battle anti-social elements, counter intervention by foreign parties, and at the same time reach out to the people of Kashmir.
Nothing needs to be done, except to send across a message to the people of Kashmir, that they are Indians, and that India stands with them, and cares for their well-being as much as it does for any other people in of this diverse nation. They need to be made stakeholders in the idea of India, not subjects of India. Such a step would a) Enhance the democracy, b) Ensure greater cooperation on the behalf of the Kashmiri people, c) Open up opportunities to exploit the economic potential of Kashmir and make it a tourism hub, thereby benefitting both the people of Kashmir and the national economy, d) Reduce number of radicalised youth and thus help end the cycle of violence prevalent in the region.
It is about time that one of the most militarized regions of the world becomes that “Paradise on Earth”, which it was always referred to as.