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The Kashmir Region has been afflicted recently by a rapid upsurge in civil violence. On the military front, exchanges of fire across the Line of Control have increased significantly, threatening to escalate into a broader scale confrontation between India and Pakistan. There are few signs of an impending resolution to the Kashmir dispute despite recent confidence-building measures and local leaders remain embroiled in a vicious cycle of distrust, fear and recrimination.

This discussion aimed to evaluate measures to mitigate further deterioration of the security situation in Kashmir and provided a comprehensive analysis of the circumstances which fuel violent extremism in the region. A panel of well-known experts identified measures to curb a descent towards another full-scale conflict in Kashmir.

Themes for discussion were:

  • A current assessment of violence in Kashmir
  • The Kashmir dispute and South Asian regional security
  • Internal political dynamics in India and Pakistan
  • The potential for spill-over in the ‘war on terror’ in Kashmir

Speakers:

  • Gen Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan’s former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee
  • Senator Shafqat Mahmood, Senate of Pakistan 
  • Ambassador Arif Kamal, Global Studies, ISSRA, NDU Islamabad 
  • Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Professor Sumantra Bose, Professor of International and Comparative Politics, London School of Economics
  • Professor Richard Bonney, Chairman, Public Policy Research Institute

These edited remarks were delivered by Ambassador Arif Kamal at the conference:

The contemporary Kashmiri scenario through the prism of security and human dynamics

A review of the contemporary Kashmir scenario through the prism of security will be unfulfilling without due consideration to the unresolved status of the state. Moreover, the security scenario carries differing connotations depending on whether it is viewed from the standpoint of the state apparatus – a threat to ‘law and order’ – or from the standpoint of the populace –oppression under occupation and rejection of the status quo. Our journey through the contemporary scenario should therefore keep this central aspect in full view while spotting the potential for unfolding violence.

Kashmir today is experiencing a climatic change, caused by a unique popular upsurge in the valley and its periphery. The upsurge has attracted world-wide attention for its spontaneity and scale, the attributes of its ranks, its impact on inner Kashmiri politics affecting the so-called ‘separatists’ as well as the ‘mainstream’ forces, and its refusal to be held hostage to the pace of the India-Pakistan peace process. The situation is not, however, a repeat of the militancy of the 1990s. The massive defiance is indeed characterised by a glaring absence of any tools of violence. It is anything but violent.

The new situation was first triggered in August by the Amarnath land transfer from Kashmiri hands to a religious trust perceived as alien, so to speak, Indian. In the popular perception, the move was analogous to the well known Israeli tactic of implanting settlements and thus changing the demographic character of the state. This perception is very much rooted in ‘Kashmiri exclusiveness’ (as the Americans call it), and is enforced by a Kashmiri law of 1927, jealously guarded on both sides of the Kashmiri divide, that limits land ownership only to the subjects of the state.

Again, the street action was certainly not in a sectarian mode, in as much as it related to the bulk of the state. The communal manifestations in parts of the Jammu region appeared to be an exception to the overall scenario. Evidently, the apparent cause or the trigger was soon relegated to irrelevance and overtaken by the larger context of ‘Azadi’.

The recent upsurge ought to be seen as a renewed expression of Kashmiri identity and as a massive rejection of the status quo. The slogan of ‘Azadi’ is central to the makeup of the movement. The cry: ‘Ham kya chahtay hain: Azadi’ (What do we want? Freedom) is more than a catch phrase and a rallying point. It speaks of the Kashmiri impatience with, if not disregard for, what is cooking for them in the India-Pakistan peace process. It calls into question aspects of the process to which they are not a party. It also carries latent fears of another ‘imposition’ that may come soon.

Essential ingredients of the new climate in Kashmir are recounted to establish the correct context for our discussion.

• First, a small land issue mobilised the entire valley against what continues to be seen as an alien rule. It revived the fervor of the 1990s, though without any of its violent tools or manifestations.

• Second, the spontaneity of the movement has been most pronounced. ‘The traditional Kashmiri leadership (Hurriyat included) were made to follow the people instead of masses following them’.

• Third, the make-up of the new cadre, once again, is significant. ‘Almost 80 per cent of the participants in all protests were youngsters below twenty-five years’. They are well educated and hold political skills to advance the struggle. To quote a front-ranking Kashmiri leader: ‘’the torch of freedom struggle has been passed to the younger generation.’’

Interestingly, the upturn in popular defiance coincides with an Indian and Pakistani preoccupation with issues other than Kashmir. It also with what some Kashmiri intellectuals see as inadequacies in the new South Asian leaders’ familiarity with the human dynamics of the situation and the cultural ethos of Kashmiris as a distinct people in the region. For example, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly talked about making the borders ‘irrelevant’ while continuing to maintain the pressure of 600,000 troops on the habitat.

Similarly, the new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly compared the Kashmir issue with the unresolved Sino-Indian dispute over their uninhabited border and of the possibility of postponing the date of its settlement to the next generation. The pronouncements not only overlook the human factor in the situation, but run counter to what Kashmiris perceive as their own primacy in the way of a settlement.

The unique aspect of the current scenario, when compared with the 1990s, is the transformation of Kashmiri resistance to a non-violent mode. This signifies that, in contrast with the decade of militancy, the Kashmiri political scene has attained political maturity and is now well-connected globally. In the 1990s the entire youth joined militancy, found a cross-LOC dimension, and thus became the target of a fatal crackdown. The street action today has come without the firing of a single shot, anda violent Indian response has failed to elicit a similar reaction from Kashmiris. Interestingly on this occasion the United Jihad Council, an amalgam of militant organizations, announced restraint from their military action and allowed a freer hand to the political leadership.

Significantly, the situation has created new compulsions for inner Kashmiri politics: the so-called ‘separatist’ leadership, who appeared to be a divided house, closed ranks so as to respond to the street. The ‘mainstream’, who are now in election mode have unfolded agendas that range from ‘greater autonomy’ to what has been pronounced as ‘shared sovereignty’ over Kashmir.

In the wake of the communal reaction in parts of the Jammu region and the economic bLOCkade of the valley en route to Indian markets, all political parties in the state were united in demanding open trade routes with the other side of the Kashmiri divide. The situation also necessitated that Indian and Pakistan move faster to open, at least symbolically, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad truck service.

The electoral process for the legislative assembly, arriving in tandem with the political upsurge for self-determination, presents an interesting spectacle. The state machinery is relying upon a staggered schedule and siege-like tactics to bring about limited participation. Nevertheless, the militants, unlike the past, opted not to obstruct the process.

Moreover, the boycott of the polls by the moderate separatist coalition the Hurriyat Conference is more in the nature of indifference to this track. The so-called mainstream, while participating in the process, spoke a language closer to that of the ‘separatists’ by promising a two-track process: ‘bread and butter’ as well as facilitation to unknot the Kashmir issue.

It is a matter of interest that the two stakeholders India and Pakistan have successfully maintained their ceasefire along the Line of Control (LOC) throughout this period of turmoil in the disputed state (the sporadic incidents of firing that were witnessed in the period should not be over emphasised).

The instances of cross-LOC movement of any hostile elements also remain marginal, and are certainly not driven by Islamabad. Amidst the popular upsurge in the valley, Islamabad has also shown unprecedented restraint by opting out from the war of nerves as well. Similarly, the Indian government did not attempt to point any finger on Pakistan.

Some negative developments sequential to the uprising in the valley are noteworthy. First, the reaction in parts of the Jammu region and the bLOCkade of trade routes was seen in the valley as a stage-managed response designed to bring the protesting Kashmiris to their knees. It has indeed re-kindled communal-based approaches to politics in these districts, a reminder of the 1940s, and enlarged cleavage between the valley and these districts.

This factor, if not contained, carries the potential of violence. Second, the state machinery’s counteraction of the protest movement echoed a mindset drawn and groomed during the period of militancy. This entailed military crackdowns, police firing and killings of unarmed protesters, arbitrary arrests and wide-spread detentions. Undeclared curfews became the norm rather than an exception. The entire Hurriyat leadership is currently under detention.

Non violent protests have led distinguished intellectuals into what is seen as an ‘‘exasperated reckoning of Kashmir’s cost to India’’. The Indian journalist Swaminathan Aiyar sees India’s insistence on Kashmir as its ‘atoot angh,’ (inseparable part) as comparable with the British colonial view of India as the permanent jewel in its crown. The Hindustan Times’ Vir Sanghvi questions: ‘Why are we still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris don’t want anything to do with us?’

Futhermore, a frank analysis of ‘the collapse of Indian legitimacy’ in Kashmir given by Arundhati Roy has moved the human conscience on a larger canvas. We are still hearing the echoes of her famous quote: ‘India needs Azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs Azadi from India’. The pronouncements are very revealing and instructive in regard to bringing about a positive appreciation of the nature of the crisis and what it entails for a way forward.

The inception of a non-violent movement as against the past wave of militancy ought to be viewed as a positive development that holds the promise of a qualitative change and brings hopes in this ‘blind spot in regional security’.

If the ceasefire announced by the militants persists for a few more months, it would sustain the political track and diminish the course of militancy. This calls for a change in the Indian outlook so as to provide greater political space for the dissent. However, regretfully, hopes that India will give greater space to the non-violent struggle are actually dying down. The violence of Indian actions on the ground runs counter to this objective.

The current non-violent struggle has in fact sidelined the militant class of leadership that had led the 1990s wave of militancy. However, we should not forget that the cadre of the current street defiance was actually raised in the midst of ‘militancy’. They are the ‘children of war’ opting for a peaceful resistance. There is no doubt that a denial of political space to the non-violent struggle would provide a germination ground for the re-emergence of violence. If the current struggle is pushed into a corner, it would indeed be a vindication of the erstwhile Jihadi culture.

It is critical that the international community and two immediate stakeholders India and Pakistan see through the inevitable linkage between the human dynamics of the Kashmir situation and efforts to stem out violence in the environment.

For this, it is important to keep in mind that today an average mind in the disputed state looks at the Kashmiri existence in a three-fold light: Kashmiri ownership of the state and, therefore, of the process that would decide its fate; the organic unity of the state in spite of political divisions and ethnic diversity and rejection of the status quo and of notions to impose a solution to which they are not a party. In essence, the Kashmiri mind reflects aspirations that, regardless of the implementability or otherwise of the UN resolutions for a plebiscite, the peace process should uphold the primacy of Kashmiri people.

Kashmiri ‘exclusiveness’ is indeed a time tested reality and not an illusion. This factor has to be accounted for in the search for a way forward towards sustainable peace. It is, therefore, important that the new generation of the political elite in India and Pakistan is called upon to re-visit the past - anthropological roots and historical experience - that shaped Kashmiri identity in the region.

Article 370 of Indian Constitution, though deformed, serves as one reminder of this. Yet another case in point is the provision in Article 256 of the Pakistani Constitution that whenever the people of Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the terms and conditions of accession will be decided by the Kashmiri people. If there are any lessons to be learnt from history, the accent should now be on the 'primacy of Kashmiri people' and not on 'territoriality'.

Undoubtedly, the peace process should indeed serve as an alternative to the re-birth of militancy if it promises hope to Kashmiris after decades of neglect and denial. There has been loud talk about the prospects for 'demilitarisation' and 'making borders irrelevant'. However, in the past years, no significant progress on confidence building with Kashmiris, beyond the initial steps, has actually taken place. Regrettably, the steps like Srinagar-Muzafarabad bus and truck services are only symbolic rather than substantial to date.

It is time that barriers on Kashmiris within their state are eased drastically, if not removed altogether. Trans-regional and trans-LOC links amongst political, social and cultural forums should come unhindered. More importantly, intra-Kashmir dialogue in the real sense should now take place on Kashmiri soil so as to allow the emergence of a consensual Kashmiri position.

To recap the discussion, a recipe for way forward ought to be traced in the ingredients listed below as five points:

• First, the root cause of the continuing crisis in Kashmir and the potential for violence there should be located in the Kashmir situation and, specifically, in non-Kashmiri/alien control.

• Second, the current upsurge reconfirms the indigenous nature of the movement for self determination. The Kashmiri urge for an acknowledgement of their identity and role can no longer be dismissed as a ‘spillover of terrorism’ from the neighbourhood or by pointing fingers across the LOC.

• Third, the crisis does not relate to governance issues or ‘law and order’ as such. Participation in elections or otherwise is not, therefore,an issue. What Kashmiris look for is participation in the India-Pakistan negotiation process and a say in the future status of their state. Let us keep in mind that the population of Jammu and Kashmir is greater than the entire population of the Gulf States put together.

• Fourth, the Kashmiris’ non-violent movement for self determination should be given due political space if a re-emergence of militancy is to be avoided. In this context, Indian democracy, if it is not ready to benefit from contemporary models, should revisit its own past: the relationship between the British and the Indian Congress, and the political space which then existed to stem violence in the process.

• Fifth, India and Pakistan can show even greater responsibility in peace-keeping along the Line of Control and co-operate in steps that discourage violence from non-state actors in the arena. However, given the Kashmiris’ consciousness of identity, the two states cannot preside over the destiny of the state and unilaterally take a bilateral decision.

Kashmiri participation in the process, and their constructive inputs as the first party, is important to shut the door on future violence and bring about a sustainable settlement. A trilateral dialogue is therefore unavoidable.

The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.

For more information please contact Alex Neill on +44 (0)20 7747 2614 or email alexn@rusi.org

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