Kashmir Problem – A Different Approach

A lot is being written on Kashmir these days that mostly focuses on the problem in hand but there are hardly any constructive suggestions on how to resolve the problem. It goes without saying that successive governments for last sixty seven years have only paid lip service to finding an acceptable solution. Unfortunately with time attitudes on both sides have hardened and today the solution is even more elusive than perhaps it was thirty years ago. While the importance of a political solution is not debateable, one cannot ignore the social aspects that are part of the problem. Therefore aid packages from central government, development projects from time to time or other such measures will not provide a solution. What is required is some out of the box thinking that addresses not only the political issues but also the social issues involved. The final solution will have to be a politico-social solution as opposed to a political solution. The question is how to go about finding that elusive solution?

There are a few harsh realities that are likely to impact any solution to the problem. These are:

  • Demand for plebiscite by Pakistan and some separatist groups as per the UN resolution
  • Pakistan’s claim on the territory under Indian control
  • Indian claim on the territory under Pakistani Control (POK)
  • Strategic nature of the whole region and growing Chinese interests in the region
  • Demand for independence from Indian sovereignty by the separatists and some sections of the population in the valley.
  • Demand from some separatists and sections of the population in Kashmir valley for merger with Pakistan
  • Ethnic diversity and diverse viewpoints of the three regions- Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh –  which make up Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)
  • Spread of ISIS and other terror outfits in the region

It may be prudent to understand that there are some terms of reference which will be non-negotiable as far as India is concerned. These are:

  • J&K was ceded to India by an instrument of accession by the erstwhile Maharaja of J&K and therefore for India the whole of J&K, including POK, is an integral part of the country
  • Presently the whole territory of J&K is divided in two parts along the Line of Control (LOC), about two thirds controlled by India and balance by Pakistan. Either nation is unlikely to cede the part that it holds as on date.
  • India will not hold a plebiscite in J&K as per UN resolution since Pakistan did not comply with the other conditions laid down that were to be fulfilled prior to any plebiscite. As far as India is concerned demand for any plebiscite is history and not valid anymore.
  • The problem is restricted to the Valley region only

The next important part would be to find out the strengths that the Government of India can count on and the weaknesses that it needs to conquer while seeking a lasting solution to the problem. The strengths as on date will include;

  • More than two thirds of the territory of J&K is under Indian control
  • India has successfully thwarted any attempts by Pakistan to gain any further territorial advantage in the state despite three wars and other border clashes
  • India has a credible record of holding elections in the state for over 67 years and the state is run by a democratically elected government under the Indian constitution
  • Apart from regional political parties, the state has well entrenched national level parties too like Congress and BJP
  • Political leaders from regional parties in J&K, mainly NC and PDP, have held important senior portfolios, including cabinet ranks, in the central government
  • J&K has an elected government and an administrative machinery covering every part of the state
  • The state of development in Indian part of J&K is way ahead of that under Pakistan’s control (POK)
  • Terrorism and militancy is restricted to the valley area
  • The government does not impose any restrictions on the residents of J&K to move freely within the entire country for education, jobs, business, tourism or any other purpose
  • J&K residents can buy property or set up business anywhere in the country
  • Tourism is a major revenue generator in the state and there is no ban on foreign tourists visiting J&K

The weaknesses will include:

  • Alienation between the three main regions of the state of J&K – Kashmir valley, Jammu Region and Ladakh region
  • Political power in the state is concentrated in the valley area and dominated by Muslim community with other two regions not having a proportionate say
  • Wide spread terrorism and militancy in the valley area supported by Pakistan’s establishment and known terror groups operating out of Pakistan
  • Separatist movement encouraged by some hardliners seeking an independent state of Kashmir or wishing to merge with Pakistan
  • Lack of central and state political will to deal firmly with the separatists
  • Increasing alienation of the local population in the valley from India and the spread of radical Islam in last two decades
  • Influence and impact of ISIS on the state’s population in the valley and hardliners seeking independence from India
  • Forced exodus of Hindu pundits from the valley in 1990 and the inability of the Indian and state governments to prevent the same
  • Restrictions imposed by Article 370 on the central government from seeking a complete unification of the state with the Indian union
  • Easy access to central funds by the state has harmed the state as its own economy has not developed in the manner in which it should have in the last more than six decades

It is obvious that any approach that discounts the use of force would be preferred over the one that includes use of force. However given the current situation in J&K where militancy and terrorism are wide spread in parts of the valley with active support from across the border, a completely peaceful methodology may be hard to find. Therefore it would be foolish to assume that no force would be required or used at any point of time as any solution unfolds. Any solution to this complex problem will invariably have many facets and therefore require a multi pronged approach. The approach to finding a solution has to be based on the following premises:

  • Local people in the valley would like to be rid of militancy and terrorism
  • Being part of the Indian Union is likely to be the first preference for most citizens despite today’s anti-India climate in the state
  • Sufism, the original religious preference in Kashmir, would prevail over the more radical forms of Islam
  • Democracy will be the preferred option for the people of the state
  • Being part of Indian Union offers the best option for long term interests of the state

Kashmir

In view of the complexity of the problem and absence of any obvious solution, it may be worthwhile to consider an approach where the focus is on building an environment that may be conducive to finding a solution rather than seeking the solution itself.  Such an approach will have to address many aspects simultaneously. The more important ones will be:

Connecting With People: One often hears politicians say we must connect with people to find out what they want. In actual practice, most political delegations, fact finding missions and other similar initiatives end up interacting with selected representatives / organisations that provide them with orchestrated responses. If the political leadership at state and national level is sincere about establishing connect with people then a different approach is needed. The right way would be to designate a well composed multi party team for each district in J&K with a senior MP as team leader. Team should also have representation from social organisations and media to provide greater credibility and transparency apart from co-opting local district level leaders. This team should travel throughout the district for a period of four to six weeks and interact with the local population in open forums. Their main tasks should be:

  • To understand the thinking and aspirations of local people
  • To convince the locals on where their future and wellbeing lies instead of wishing for the unviable options of independence or accepting Pakistan’s sovereignty
  • To present the true picture of abysmal state of things in POK and the State of Pakistan
  • To expose the double standards of the separatist leadership who lead an opulent lifestyle by accepting blood money from vested interests abroad, instigate local population for anti-national activities and thereby putting their lives in danger but keep their own kith and kin away from the conflict zone.

Build Government Credibility: This is an important step before any solution can be implemented with success. It may be best to put the state under President’s rule for about two years and administer it under able people to establish government’s positive intent. The state administration must be revitalised to provide a fair and pro-active administration with focus on results to win over the populations’ confidence. Basic development needs of the state must be addressed on a war footing and limited investment from other parts of the country be encouraged, in selected sectors, to vitalise the state’s economy.

Neutralise Liabilities: All known separatist leaders be asked to declare their allegiance to the Indian Union. In case they are unwilling then all their Indian documentation, including passports, be cancelled and they be declared persona non grata and asked to leave the country within a stipulated time. An amnesty scheme for local militants / terrorists in the valley can be brought out to seek their surrender. Security forces should be given a clear mandate to neutralise all those who do not take advantage of the same. The government must send a clear message that while it is committed to bring peace and prosperity to the region, any anti-national activity would be dealt with a strong hand in the interest of Kashmir and India as a whole. A phased removal of Article 370 from the valley must be planned over a time frame of three to five years. However state’s resources must be protected from being bought over by outsiders in the near term as any such development is not likely to be in the interest of the state.

Create Congenial Environment: It will be paramount to establish a relatively peaceful environment in the valley so that local population views the government’s initiatives favourably. There will be a need to reduce the presence of the security forces selectively based on the local environment in each district. The state police must be re-trained and re-equipped to be more effective instead of relying on Army or other para military forces. As a corollary applicability of AFSPA too will need to be reviewed selectively but with a rider that wherever Army operates it will be covered under the same. The borders with Pakistan too must be sealed and extra vigil put in place to check and minimise any infiltration.

Isolating Separatist Leadership: It is important that politicians, intellectuals, liberals alike spread awareness about the dual approach of such leaders in the valley who have done hardly anything worthwhile for the people of the state in last six decades. Their high profile personal lives and the safety that they accord to their own families by ensuring that they stay away from the valley must be exposed. The fact that they have used and abused both the largesse of the government and the trust of the people of Kashmir for their selfish motives must be highlighted. Foreign funding to these leaders and their organisations must be prevented in totality.

Empowering Local Population: This will be a critical aspect since getting local population on board, at least a large part of it, will be critical to any solution. This will require a sincere contact at grass root level with people in the valley through various means by people who are committed both to the state and the nation. The focus must be on trying to revive and establish the Sufi culture in the valley as opposed to the more radical Islam that is gaining grounds. This is where local community leaders will be crucial and play the lead role. The youth in the state in particular must be handled with care and patience since that is where the future lies. Motivational speakers must interact with young people in schools and colleges to wean away impressionable minds from the lure of militancy or radical Islam. Discussions and debates must be encouraged to allay fears, clear doubts and misconceptions that prevail in young minds. There are many successful Kashmiri origin people in various parts of the country whose services too can be solicited in this effort.

International Aspects: The government must act freely in its effort to integrate J&K within the Indian Union without worrying too much about International opinion or making too many noises in international forums. The only aspect that needs to be focussed in international forums and diplomatic initiatives is the fact that POK is part of Indian territory and Pakistan must vacate it. Other than that it may be prudent to establish capabilities to neutralise top leadership of key terrorist groups that target India from across the border where they enjoy patronage of India’s hostile neighbour.

In the end what will count is the sincerity of approach, credibility of the government, continuous dialogue with people at grass root level, getting the youth on board and displaying loads of patience while efforts are going on to find a permanent solution to this complex problem. The problem in Kashmir is people specific and therefore a politico-social people centric solution should be targeted. The focus has to be on how to get the local people on board since that will be the key to any solution. If the approach to finding a solution is right, the solution will unfold by itself over a period of time. It goes without saying that any militancy and terrorism that surfaces from time to time must be dealt with a firm hand without any compromise since that by default is an integral part of the whole approach.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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