Kashmir violence- possible solution

                                                                      By KC Reddy

                     Last few weeks, escalation of Kashmir violence hit the headlines  of all most all  the prominent news papers  ,prompting the central  government to consider deputing an all party delegation to the troubled state for meeting the locals .India has land borders with other countries like Bangladesh , Nepal and China but the border  conflict with Pakistan remain  unique  not only  in terms of continued turmoil  for  prolonged years but also surpasses all exiting records  of   death and destruction arising out of the border conflict . Lack of proper understanding of the underlying issues , not  having a clear long term strategy  , sincere follow up action  to deal with Kashmir problem on  part of  the policy makers  and general aversion of political parties   not to pursue  the actions initiated by their  predecessors  ,in fact, lead to the present  degeneration of Kashmir situation.

Violent incidents in  Kashmir valley cannot be seen in isolation ,rather  the entire region of Kashmir comprising of 85,714 sq miles,  has to be examined as the areas are all  interconnected . The geographical area of the  region of Kashmir consists   of Jammu and Kashmir with head quarters at Srinagar ,Azad Kashmir with head quarters  at Muzaffarabad ,North areas with head quarters at Gilgit and parts  of Xinjiang and Tibet provinces  .Any  efforts to resolve  the  Kashmir conflict  would be fruitful  only if  the  comprehensive plan of action  includes the  above mentioned areas and the action plans need to be pursued with all  sincerity .  Both India and Pakistan  have realized  after 1947 ,1965 and 1971 wars -that  wars cannot  resolve the  Kashmir conflict except creating  a large scale destruction ,death and displacement of people .

The Kashmir problem is not because it is a Muslim majority area .It is because, over a period of time, particularly form 1980s, Islamization took place in the valley. Kashmir was a Muslim majority   state even in 1947 but by 1980s significant radical islamization took place due to various political and socio- economic developments.

 So far the political developments are concerned , withdrawal of  support by Indian National Congress to National Conference  in 1977 and alleged rigging of  elections  in 1987 brought a remarkable change in the islamisation  and  fanning anti- Indian sentiments in the valley .While the withdrawal of Indian National Congress  support to National Conference  ,made Sheik Abdullah  to turn against Indian initiatives , the alleged rigging of elections in 1987 , drove people like Abdul Ghani Lone and Yasin Mallik  etc towards  insurgency  .

In1970s the Indian National Congress had a coalition with National Conference which gave political stability in the valley. Sheik Abdullah, known for his anti-Pakistan stand due to his differences with Jinnah, did not encourage anti-Indian sentiments .He was critical of organizations like Jammat -I-Islam and even banned Jammat-I-Islam as it was  spreading “communal poison”.

On the issue of Kashmir  joining  Pakistan ,  he openly stated that religion should not  be the deciding factor   as 40 million  Muslims  remained in India  while  Pakistan had 27 million Muslims  in 1947 .Commenting on the accession issue he said “our dispute is not about accession but about the quantum of autonomy to Kashmir  “.

 After the Indian National Congress withdrew its support to National Conference in 1977, the same Abdullah became highly critical of Government of India’s initiatives on Kashmir. Later Abdullah stressed on plebiscite and even independence.  He even mentioned in his” will”that his body should not be cremated in Kashmir as he considers Kashmir to be enslaved territory.

 Article 370 of 1952 is a stark example how the socio economic environment changed in the valley, how the gap between the Kashmiri elite and the common Kashmiris   had widened which ultimately led to present day crisis. Under article 370, a number of financial benefits and tax exemptions were extended to the Kashmiris, but unfortunately these benefits have been monopolized by the Kashmiri elite.  The Urdu and not  the Kashmiri ,was made  official language as the Kashmir elite and their children were all educated in Urdu and it gave them  an edge over others in getting  government jobs and monopoly over  government funding and in implementation of government schemes.  The corruption and misrule lead to the alienation of common people from government and created a sizable hungry and angry youth in the valley.

 The allegedly rigged elections of 1987 which ensured landslide victory to the National Conference and  Indian National Congress at the cost of local popular parties like  Muslim United Front  ,drove leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone ,Yasin Mallik ,Sayyed Sahbuddin  towards insurgency . In this way, wrong handling of political process in the valley indicate that the rulers form Delhi only focused on their short term political gains and created a long term liabilities to the country.

 It is interesting to note   how the radical Islam started in Kashmir . Kashmiris in general were peace loving and, in fact,  Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists lived in harmony for decade’s .Till 1980, only in places of Sopore and Anatanag, some signs of Islamic fundamentalism, were noticed but the rest of the valley cherished the values of peace and democracy. In fact the Islamization of Kashmir started in 1980 with Abdullah government changing the names of 2500 villages from their original names to Islamic names.  With a view  to attract the frustrated youth ,Pakistan  mounted  propaganda  through distribution of pamphlets “Tragedy of Kashmir “ and made  the youth in the valley  to believe  that to be  a true Muslim , they must have  a strict Sharia law and Pakistan is there to help them . Moreover, many scholars from Saudi Arabia visited the valley and Saudi money was pumped to set up madras’s that trained jihadists in the region .Children were taught to fight for Islam and hatred towards non believers. Additionally , the information explosion helped Kashmiris to watch Afghan war  on their TV screens- how Afghan mujahidin’s could defeat a super power like Soviet Union .The developments in Afghanistan raised hopes of getting independence to Kashmir .

Lack of understanding of Kashmiri psyche and their religious sentiments on the part of policy makers at Delhi also contributed to the deteriorating situation in the valley.  The Kashmiri Islam, a variant of Sufism, is different from fundamentalist Islam which is seen in other parts of the world.  In fact Kashmiri Islam has much influence of Hindu Vedanta  in its practices .The policy makers at Delhi neither studied nor encouraged this aspect of Kashmir Islam    so that  Kashmiris  could have developed  their own distinct religious identity from  rest of the world . In absence  of any such efforts , the radical Islam  penetrated  into the valley and the youth  were influenced by its  propaganda .Ironically, in spite of knowing well, that it is not possible for Pakistan  to take over Kashmir  ,Pakistan continue to  meddle in Kashmir issues in one form or other. During his visit to Delhi in 1990s, Nawaz Sharif acknowledged in private to the then Prime Minister Vajpayee“Kashmir ko hum nahi le sakte hai aur app nahi de sakte hai”

Any solution to the Kashmir problem need to incorporate the aspirations of the people of Kashmir,   it cannot be resolved by external actors and that to only by force , rather  the local population have to  be actively involved  in the resolution  efforts .Such involvement of locals will come if there  is an independent economic zone created for the entire region where both and India and Pakistan  can engage in free trade .Though   the creation of an independent economic zone certainly  involves demilitarization of the zone to a large extent ,  the  ground based and air surveillance technology  could ensure the integrity of border as done in the case of Mexico -US border .In the era of Globalization , the  conflict resolution efforts  are assessed from the angle of material advantages and profit maximization. Above all ,to realize these goals , there should be a long term strategic  plan with clear time lines to achieve the objectives ,irrespective of change of  governments and change of  political leaders  at  Delhi .

   (K C Reddy, IPS (retd) is Former Chief Security Advisor to the United Nations. Reddy is a 1974 batch IPS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre and had served as SP East Khasi Hills between 1981-87).

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