Kashmir once again exposes our inability to come to terms with reality. Reactions to the current spate of violence following the gunning down of terrorist Burhan Wani are either opportunistic, pedantic, emotional or needlessly panicky. Since the early Fifties, it has been a familiar tale of violent protests, destruction of properties, curfews and killing of terrorists, civilians and personnel of security forces. Not surprisingly, ill-informed politicians and supercilious commentators have renewed calls for withdrawing security forces to the border and removing AFSPA at a quick pace, notwithstanding the fact that terrorists are operating all over the state. They also insist that police use ‘maximum restraint’ and make distinction between ‘terrorist and people’, but would neither quantify what constitutes ‘the right amount of force and restraint’ nor identify bullets that pick up terrorists in a mob without inflicting collateral damages. Their concern for the use of pellets is jarring, for pellets can neither be precisely guided nor firing units can comprise ‘only’ sharp shooters. Some even believe that Kashmiris’ alienation is complete and it is time India packed up from the Valley. Others stress that Delhi is foolishly trying to hold the Valley by force rather than win its people and urge PM Modi to open his heart to separatists.
Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif must be grateful to such self-righteous outpourings. He has since extended full-throated support to Kashmiri terrorists/separatists and indulged in a bit of drama like observing black day and honouring Wani as a martyr. The Pakistan Army on the other hand has been quietly training and infiltrating terrorists like Bahadur Ali and Mohammad Naveed, and using Hafiz Saeed and his surrogates to keep the situation on boil. Where they err is that violence tailored in Pakistan can never be a perfect fit in J&K.
The Kashmir issue has festered because we keep experimenting with ideas. Intelligence agencies bribed Hurriyat leaders for years, hoping erroneously that money would bring Kashmiris in the mainstream. Numerous back-channel and diplomatic initiatives were launched, but Pakistan has neither refrained from interfering in Kashmir nor accepted Line of Control as international border and unrestricted visits, trade and commerce across the border. Its unfinished agenda remains annexation of Kashmir, which India simply can’t deliver.
Everyone loves talking of finding a ‘political solution’, which actually means that we allow J&K to secede, become independent or join with Pakistan. Some advocate giving Kashmiris the option of plebiscite, no matter whether it leads to second partition of India on the basis of religion. Others suggest that all powers that Kashmir enjoyed at the time of its accession to India in 1947 be restored. They try not to understand that no amount of devolution of powers will ever satisfy the separatist fringe who simply dream of living with Pakistan. Strangely, Kashmiris seem blind to the fact that in a unified J&K, they will be reduced to minority and their language will be consumed by Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun and Balochi.
The other cliché is that we must involve ‘all stakeholders’ to find a solution. The problem, however, is that while political parties may come around to accept a settlement, terrorists and separatists won’t, for their survival depends on how strongly they carry forward the Pakistan Army’s agenda. So long as Pak Army does not abandon its dream of annexing the Valley, there is no possibility of a permanent resolution. Hence, the only option that we have is to tire out Pak Army militarily and burn its mischief wherever it buds. Its proxies in the Valley will fall in line automatically.
It is time J&K was treated like any other state in India without grandstanding on Article 370. It needs a clean and effective administration, a participatory governance, a police that firmly handles protesters, and security force that guards borders and takes on terrorists aggressively. The PDP-BJP government is ideal to accomplish this objective. CM Mehbooba Mufti has her hand on the pulse of most Kashmiris and BJP has the requisite political strength to give her leeway to announce amnesty, provide relief to reluctant terrorists and tolerate their antics like awarding bravery rewards posthumously, raising pro-Pak flags and slogans, writing anti-India graffiti etc.
Opposing political interest groups are in all states and Kashmir is no exception. India is accustomed to managing Naxalites, insurgents and violent crusaders for social causes. There is no reason why it cannot manage unrest in the Valley. It will help if we stop overemphasising and glamorising the events. The problem of Kashmiris a historical blunder, which Nehru committed by not integrating it outright with the Indian union. It can now be rectified only by history.
The writer is a former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing