Towards a peace process
IS there a way to start a peace process in Jammu and Kashmir? Is it possible for the central government to be able to initiate a course of action that could help create the conditions for durable peace in the state? After more than ten years of militancy, during which thousands of Kashmiris have been killed or displaced, it is my belief that it is still possible to kick-start such a process if New Delhi demonstrates unprecedented sensitivity, subtlety, imagination and foresight. An imaginative Kashmir policy rooted in what might be termed as ten commandments can still make a difference. The rest of this paper identifies and describes in some detail these commandments.
Commandment one: Kashmir is unique, and must be dealt with specially. Jammu and Kashmir’s uniqueness is obvious for a variety of historical reasons recognised even by the Supreme Court. In 1984, in Khazan Chand versus the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the court unambiguously held that the state holds ‘a special place in the constitutional set up of the country.’ The 1983 Srinagar Declaration adopted by the Opposition conclave that included Jyoti Basu, Inder Kumar Gujral, Chandra Shekhar and Prakash Singh Badal stated that ‘the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir should be preserved and protected in letter and spirit.’
More important, however, is Kashmir’s singular importance to the very idea of India, which is often forgotten. A Muslim majority state that voluntarily acceded to India in 1947 lent tremendous strength to the construction of India as a vibrant, secular and pluralistic state. The battle, therefore, to win back the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people is critical not just for the recovery of the ideals that inspired Indian nationhood, but is central to the war against obscurantism and fundamentalism. In other words, Kashmir must no longer be dealt with the kind of political ineptitude and bureaucratic inertia that has often characterised the centre’s policies towards many other states over the last decades.
Instead, the union government must take cognizance of the serious situation prevailing in the state and give it the attention it deserves. A special task force, which is constituted by the highest political authority of the country and enjoys its confidence and is dedicated full-time to Jammu and Kashmir, must be appointed immediately. The task force must be made responsible for initiating and furthering a political dialogue and monitoring and assisting in governance and developmental activities.
Commandment two: Autonomy must not be viewed as a dirty word, and an ‘autonomous’ Kashmir could become a model of cooperative federalism. Autonomy is about empowering people, making people feel that they belong, and about increasing the accountability of public institutions and services. It is synonymous with decentralization and devolution of power, phrases that have been on the charter of virtually every political party in India. In Jammu and Kashmir, autonomy carries tremendous resonance with the people because puppet leaders from the state colluded with the central leadership and gradually eroded the autonomy promised by the constitution. There is no contradiction between wanting Kashmir to be part of the national mainstream and the state’s desire for autonomous self-governance.
Separatism grows when people feel disconnected from the structures of power and the process of policy formulation; in contrast, devolution ensures popular participation in the running of the polity. Bluntly put, autonomy is the only recipe for good governance in the 21st century. If autonomy weakened states, the United States of America would have disintegrated many decades ago. If this balance is struck, Jammu and Kashmir could become a model of ‘co-operative federalism’, a special model that could be gradually applied to other states in the union.
Restoration of autonomy in Kashmir, however, does not require elaborate reports or reference to past agreements and accords. They obfuscate rather than clarify the issue of meaningful self-governance. Autonomy can be achieved in the state through a simple six-point plan. First, restore the nomenclature. The terms Sadar-I-Riyasat and Wazir-e-Azam, which were used until 1965 for the governor and the chief minister of the state, still have important symbolic value for people of the state. Literally translated the terms stand for head of state and prime minister. This nomenclature should be restored. In substance, this change will neither enlarge nor diminish the powers of the governor or the chief minister. This will also not lead to a shift in their order of precedence.
Second, give the state a role in the selection of the governor. According to Article 155 of the Indian Constitution the ‘governor of the state shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.’ Until 1965, the Sadar-I-Riyasat in Kashmir was elected by the state legislature, but it was clear that he should be a per son acceptable to the centre and be appointed by the President. The governor is widely viewed in Jammu and Kashmir as an instrument through which the centre – and more often the political party in power – has furthered its interests in the state. The office of the governor, in whom the Constitution vests the executive power of the state should be above narrow partisan politics. The governor could be elected by the state legislature and be appointed by the President and, by virtue of Article 156(1), hold office at the pleasure of the President. Or alternatively, the state government could submit a panel of names for the President to appoint as governor the person he finds most suitable from the panel. The appointee would hold office at the President’s pleasure.
Third, prevent misuse of Article 356. This article deals with ‘provisions in case of the failure of the constitutional machinery in states.’ The misuse of Article 356 is a matter that has caused widespread concern in all the states. The matter is being considered by the Inter-State Council and some agreed modifications and safeguards might emerge. While some might argue that it would be imprudent and impractical to exempt Jammu and Kashmir from the purview of the article altogether (although the state was brought under its purview only in 1964), it is still possible to modify it significantly to prevent misuse without compromising on measures that might be needed to deal with real emergencies. In case of a constitutional breakdown, provisions should be made for holding elections within a maximum of three months, and for the appointment of an eminent persons group from within the state to review the situation in case elections cannot be held within three months because of violence or other disturbances. The verdict of the group should be final.
Fourth, give state services more authority and increase their quota in the All India Services. Part XIV of the Constitution which deals with the services did not apply initially to Jammu and Kashmir. But the provisions of Article 312 relating to All India Services were extended in1958. Under the scheme, entry into the IAS and the IPS is both by direct examination and selection of promotees from the state civil service by the Union Public Service Commission. In most states the state quota has been around 33%, but in the case of Kashmir this has been 50%.
The bulk of direct recruits to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Forest Service (IFS) are from just about 25 colleges/universities in India. There is reason to expect that, as elsewhere, with improvements in the quality of education in Kashmir, the number of direct recruits from the state will increase in the years ahead. Even otherwise, the Jammu and Kashmir selection quota (from within the state services) should be increased for a period of 20 years to 75% given the disruption that the educational system in the state has faced over the last decade. The Kashmir Administrative Services and the Kashmir Police Service have suffered severe neglect and marginalisation over the last decade. Part of the problem to has to do with training but it is critical that KAS and KPS officers are given promotions and positions of authority and have a career track similar to IAS and IPS officers.
Fifth, appoint a regional election commissioner for the state. The impartiality of the Election Commission has come to be gradually respected despite certain past electoral aberrations, particularly in Kashmir. However, it would be prudent if a regional election commissioner is appointed for the state as provided for in Article 32(4) of the Indian Constitution, to assist the Election Commission in conduct of elections in the state. This appointment should be made on the recommendations of the state government before each election.
Sixth, provide guarantees for the future. Many people genuinely feel that even if a package of autonomy is worked out, a future central government may, in collusion with state’s political leaders, renege on an agreement that is made today. This is based on the past experience of the state’s relationship with the centre. It is essential, therefore, that special constitutional guarantees are introduced to ensure that the state’s autonomy is not eroded. It may be necessary, for instance, to introduce a provision in the Constitution, which would provide for a referendum in the state before any major amendment that would affect its ties with the union becomes a law.
Commandment three: The admission of mistakes is the first step towards restoring trust between New Delhi and Kashmir. Over the years, the centre has made a number of appalling mistakes in Kashmir. Several elections have been rigged, genuinely elected governments dismissed, puppet leaders installed, and, in the last decade, the ordinary Kashmiri has faced tremendous harassment from security forces. Some of these mistakes were avoidable, others inevitable given the complex situation on the ground. Admission of these mistakes will not be construed as an expression of guilt, but will signal recognition that fresh initiatives towards Kashmir will be based on an awareness of past mistakes and a genuine desire not to see them repeated.
Commandment four: The recovery of Kashmiriyat is vital to sustained peace. While there does seem to be a genuine, all-pervasive desire within the state to recover the social capital lost in the last decade, and to restore Kashmir’s traditional society based on ideas of peaceful coexistence and the common syncretic identity of Kashmiriyat, the centre must make the recovery of this ethos central to its efforts to build peace in the state.
Commandment five: Ensure greater regional balance, but rule out a division of the state. There are powerful forces demanding a trifurcation of the main regions of the state – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – into separate administrative units.
Posing as an imaginative solution, this demand, if conceded, could lead to violent social disruptions in the state and create a communal polarization that would not just irretrievably destroy the cultural and social fabric of the state, but have perilous consequences for communal relations in the rest of India. In addition, trifurcation would forever end the possibilities of reviving the plural traditions of communal harmony in the state that had once made it a symbol of the very idea of India: unity in diversity.
The demand for a division of the state, per se, is not new. The UN mediator Sir Owen Dixon had recommended a partition of the state in 1950, and elements within the Praja Parishad agitation of the early 1950s had also sought that Ladakh and Jammu be detached from the valley if full integration of the state was not achieved quickly. But, in its new avatar, several factors have coalesced to produce a potentially explosive situation. Most important is the widespread feeling within Jammu and Leh of deprivation as well as political and economic discrimination by politicians from Kashmir.
While this feeling of deprivation may have some grounds, it is being exploited by sectarian political groups who are demanding separate statehood for Jammu and union territory status for Ladakh. They argue that not only will separation from Kashmir ensure better governance, more economic opportunities and a greater share of political power, but Jammu and Ladakh will also be able to distance themselves from the militancy. In its most extreme form, ideologues of this demand suggest that it is in the national interest to limit the ‘area of operations’ of the security forces to Kashmir, and that division will ensure that only one-sixth of the state will then remain troubled.
This logic is dangerous for at least four reasons. First, trifurcation will destroy the composite identity of the state, which has existed as one unit since 1846, and send a dangerous message to the whole nation. If Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists cannot live together in one state, can they do so in a larger entity? Second, it will most probably lead to a transfer of Muslims from various parts of Jammu, including parts of the city but also Doda, Rajouri and Poonch, assuming that the entire province is made into a separate state. Finally, it will lead to such deep communal polarization that bloody communal riots will inevitably follow. It is no coincidence that the only group in Kashmir that has supported the idea of the division of the state is the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Regional harmony, it should be clear from experience, cannot be ensured through partitions, but through a decentralization and devolution of financial and economic power that will treat the panchayat as the primary unit of governance. Jammu and Kashmir is not Assam or Uttar Pradesh where the carving of smaller states will provide for better governance; it is a recipe for disaster.
Commadment six: Ensure the return of the Kashmiri Pandits. The return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley is vital for the revitalization of the traditions of pluralism and communal harmony. A visit to Pandit camps near Jammu indicates that there is still a deep desire to go back to the Kashmir, and that the values of Kashmiriyat are by and large still intact, even within those on the margins of the displaced community.
Pandits must be encouraged to come back to Kashmir for festivals, pilgrimages and other special occasions and adequate logistical and security arrangements must be made to ensure this happens. A dialogue between civil society leaders of Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims must be promoted and facilitated. The return of Pandits is essential for the revitalization of Kashmiriyat, and their return – on terms acceptable to them – must continue to be a top priority of the state and central governments.
Commandment seven: Ordinary Kashmiris must be viewed as neither militants nor separatists nor even as being enamoured by Pakistan. In Kashmir today there exists an overwhelming sentiment against violence, irrespective of its origin. Militancy may not be down and out, but it has lost a great deal of popular legitimacy. Indeed, there is virtually no enthusiasm or sympathy for the foreign militants. Reports that Afghans belonging to the dreaded Lashkar-e-Tayyba may be dominating the militancy has generated deep discomfiture in significant sections of the valley. Kashmiris have always had an uneasy relationship with the Afghans, rooted in the history of the tyrannical Afghan rule over the valley.
Similarly, there is an equally strong disillusionment with Pakistan. The political and social conditions prevailing within Pakistan have not gone unnoticed in the valley. The near total absence of a civil society, the deep ethnic conflict in Sindh and other areas, and the almost Orwellian control that is exercised in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, has gradually left a deep impression on the Kashmiris. The coup by General Pervez Musharraf has strengthened the growing feeling in Kashmir that a country whose own commitment to democracy is so weak and imperfect can hardly be a real supporter of the democratic aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Commandment eight: A dialogue between the centre and the Kashmiris should be as inclusive as possible, and no group or individual must be considered untouchable. No conditions must be attached at the beginning of a dialogue. It is quite obvious that any negotiations the centre conducts can in no way compromise the unity and integrity of India. Even separatists realise this, but any explicit conditionalities make it difficult for many to take the initial leap from the streets to the negotiating table. Similarly, even militants who are willing to give up arms and eschew violence should be given a place at the negotiating table, as must representatives from minorities and different regions of the state.
Commandment nine: Attempt to revive the ceasefire. The few days of the ceasefire by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen were greeted with enthusiasm all over the state. The centre must make an attempt to revive the ceasefire, even while it continues the fight against those who do not give up violence.
Commandment ten: A dialogue must not be for merely buying time or for transferring power to a new leadership, but for arriving at a modus vivendi that can ensure long term peace in the state. It is essential, therefore, that this dialogue is carried not through dilettante Track II wallahs, but by a specially constituted negotiating team that has the backing of the top political leadership of the country. A specially constituted task force, as earlier indicated, on Kashmir may perhaps be needed to carry out negotiations, as well as to address other pressing problems in the state.