Are we losing the plot in Kashmir?
Pakistan ranks 151 and just below Yemen on the UN’s human-development indicators. On schooling, it has found a place just below Sudan. “Growth and investment will continue to be constrained…,” Pakistan’s budget-eve Economic Survey said on June 4. Its economy is expected to grow 4.5% in the year starting July 1. India expects to grow 8.5%.
Therefore, Kashmir’s separatists should not remain hinged to Pakistan or tie their future to a country that is only descending into chaos.
Now, let us turn to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Its economy is 10 times behind Orissa, the poorest Indian state, according to the last National Sample Survey (with 40 per cent people living on less than $ 1 a day).
In the 2001 legislative assembly elections of Azad Kashmir, when some pro-independence groups tried to put up candidates, Pakistani authorities cracked down hard with random arrests and torture. According to the Pakistan-imposed Constitution of Azad Kashmir, in force since 1974, election candidates are vetted to ensure only those who support Kashmir’s unification with Pakistan get to contest.
Many Kashmiris have told me it is a myth that they are fighting for accession with Pakistan. They want a completely independent Kashmir. However, they should draw some fair lessons from their other half just across the line of control. Azad Kashmir is neither free nor emancipated. Pakistan will only wolf down the Indian part of Kashmir if it were to be ceded.
For those who have an opinion on Kashmir, the issue however remains tilted on an unequal footing. It is very easy to critcise the separatists but not the government’s approach.
We want Kashmir to remain a part of India, but we are just not doing enough to ensure it does. Repeated violation of human rights is stoking anger, giving yet another reason to step up the conflict.
Such infringements hit a new low with the disturbing Shopian case, in which two women, Neelofar and her sister-in-law, Aasiya, were allegedly raped and murdered by security forces in May 2009.
This past week alone, three young men were killed in clashes with security forces, back to back, leading to massive uprisings all over the state. The current bout of protests was triggered by the death of 17-year-old Rafiq Bangroo in police firing.
We cannot keep separatists with us by holding a gun to their heads all the time. We are simply not breaking new ground.
There is an economic strategy that is sometimes deployed to control prices caused by hoarding of essential items. It entails taking the incentive out of hoarding, because punitive measures, such as prosecuting hoarders, usually don’t work. So a better solution is to improve supplies — availability eases inflation — so that hoarding no longer becomes an attractive option. Likewise, taking the incentive out of separatism should be the central doctrine of our Kashmir policy.
Custodial killings, summary executions and arbitrary arrests shamefully remain on the forefront of our counterinsurgency strategy.
Unfortunately, the government seems to have virtually outsourced decision-making to security forces, who can only think from the barrel of their gun. There is a need to turn a corner. An utter respect for human rights would be the first step.
It is high time we hold the security forces to account for human rights violations because this is critical to the ongoing conflict. It is an important confidence-building measure and key to maintaining peace.
Internationally, rights violation in Kashmir has only worked to our disadvantage, often by prompting comparisons between Israel’s occupation of Palestine and Kashmir, unfairly as India would say.
Recently, Israel’s foreign minister, inadvertently, referred to violence in India while trying to deflect the situation arising out of the flotilla fiasco. The reference — expunged immediately by Israel’s foreign ministry as a corrective measure — was obviously to Kashmir. It’s a different matter that Kashmir is not Gaza, and India isn’t Israel.
Our democracy, indeed like all modern democracies, stands on the principle of civilian control over security forces. That is why President Obama recently sacked Gen. Stanley McChrystal. According to the president, the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan undermined “the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system”.
The army in Kashmir has always resisted any curtailment of its powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, particularly its immunity from prosecution.
India needs to carefully balance its security needs with a respect for human rights, whose violation has become one of the necessary conditions for perpetuating Kashmir’s unrest.
Security forces have got a difficult job to do in Kashmir. But they cannot be given a blank cheque to do this job, or indeed any job that is required of them. If we do that, we do not remain a democratic country anymore.