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Time to drastically overhaul our Kashmir policy

By Virendra Kapoor
August 09, 2010 17:24 IST
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Because Indian Kashmiris have not allowed peace a chance in 60-plus years despite thousands of crores of taxpayers' money wasted on mollycoddling them and despite their being accorded a special status under Article 370, the time may have come to totally overhaulĀ our Kashmir policy, suggests Virendra Kapoor.

It is Kashmir once more. A very indulgent Centre and a clueless Omar Abdullah have together messed up the situation yet again, playing straight into the hands of the anti-nationals and other malcontents in the Valley.

If the truth be told, Omar Abdullah lacks the administrative acumen and the requisite mental and physical stamina to handle a difficult state like Jammu and Kashmir. He was okay as a junior minister in the central government, but being in-charge of a state government is a different ball game altogether. The sooner he is eased out of the Srinagar secretariat, the better it will be for taming elements fomenting anarchy in Kashmir.

Frankly, even his father Farooq Abdullah was no great shakes as an administrator. Yet he was better than his inexperienced son whose mishandling of the situation has emboldened the pro-Pakistan groups further to create mayhem in the Valley. Never before in the long history of the Kashmir conflict have so many women and young children been pushed to the forefront of the strife as has happened in recent weeks, thanks to the ineptitude of the chief minister who would rather party with friends and family than attend to the urgent matters of the beleaguered state.

Admittedly, the Inter Services Intelligence-fuelled insurrection seems to have changed tactics, what with young lumpen being made to target security forces so that the latter feel obliged to respond in self-defence. The cycle of provocation and the resulting counter-measures by the security forces have brought life in large parts of Kashmir to a standstill. Some 2,000-odd security personnel are now being treated for wounds caused by the stones thrown by school-going kids. The ISI might have borrowed the tactics Hamas uses against Israelis in Gaza in the name of 'Intifada', but wasn't it for the J&K government to ensure that it does not fall into that open trap?

Unfortunately, the young Abdullah would rather fiddle like Nero than devote his time and energies to the care of the state of which he is the chief administrator. It is notable that when the current round of hostilities began, Abdullah was holidaying with his family and friends away from Srinagar and did not bother to immediately take charge of the situation.

Indeed, the way the situation has worsened in recent days, no patchwork solution can succeed in restoring durable peace. Of course, there will be pontificators galore who would want the prime minister to make a grand gesture, to go to Srinagar and personally apply the proverbial balm on the imaginary wounds of Kashmiris. But all this has been tried umpteen number of times and most rudely rejected by the very Kashmiris whom successive governments in New Delhi have always sought to mollycoddle.

So, ideally, the next step should be to wait for a semblance of calm to be restored, and, rest assured, it will be when the trouble-makers feel the need to take a break from disruptive activities. At that stage, the Centre should seriously consider a change of guard in Srinagar. Being young, it should be noted, is neither a guarantee of a fresh approach nor, for that matter, of a sensible handling of men and matters.

In the case of Abdullah Jr, he has let down all those who had hoped that he would succeed where older politicians, including his father, had failed to heal the rift in Kashmir. If Rahul Gandhi had pushed Omar Abdullah into taking the CM's job in the belief that it would usher in the era of youth in Indian politics, his gambit seems to have failed.

In fact, after watching the young Abdullah mess up Kashmir, it is only natural for popular enthusiasm for the relatively young politicians to occupy key ministerial positions to wane. It may be added here than one shudders at the thought of a wholly inexperienced Rahul being thrust as prime minister in the not-so-distant future, though a stint as a minister could help broaden his horizon and help him understand India and its myriad problems better.

In this context, regardless of concerted attempts by the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress to bestow posthumous greatness on Rajiv Gandhi, any objective student of history would have no difficulty concluding that he was a poor leader of both government and party. When he ascended the prime ministerial gaddi, Rajiv even lacked a nodding acquaintance with important issues confronting the nation, such was his monumental ignorance.

As for the way forward in Kashmir, one cannot help canvass for a familiar two-pronged strategy. One flank should concentrate exclusively on the law and order while the other should concern itself with a political resolution. There is no denying that successive central governments have mishandled Kashmir because they have approached it in bilateral Indo-Pak dialogues as if India was the guilty party. We too should acquire the diplomatic nerve to counter Pak propaganda by demanding that it first vacate the aggression on nearly one-third of Kashmir under its occupation before earning the right to discuss the status of Kashmir.

Admittedly, bleeding hearts of the candles-at-the-Wagah-border brigade, and other obsessively politically correct persons who incessantly talk of grave injustice done to the Kashmiris, would surely point to the historical circumstances. But it should be noted that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is overrun by Pakistanis and other non-Kashmiri elements. Precisely because Indian Kashmiris have not allowed peace a chance in the 60-plus years despite thousands of crores of taxpayers' money wasted on mollycoddling them, despite their being accorded a special status under Article 370, the time may have come to totally overhaulĀ our Kashmir policy.

A well thought-out plan to allow non-Kashmiris from other parts of India to settle in the Valley ought to be rolled out, quietly, if possible, openly, if not, regardless of protests by the locals and the professional liberals, who, in any case, are used to blame all trouble in Kashmir on the alleged excesses of the security forces. It goes without saying that such a step would attract fierce opposition from all political elements in the Valley, but then, the onus to administer the bitter pill lies with the doctors in Delhi whose task it is to revive the fast sinking Kashmir.

The point is, despite having preserved the demographic character of the Valley, if Kashmiris continue to betray this country's trust and abuse its largesse, only a foolhardy administration would continue to pander them even as they behave in a most treacherous, nay, traitorous manner. It should be noted that in the current round of violence, they have forcibly cut the hair of a number of Sikh truckers while mercilessly beating Hindu truck drivers and cleaners carrying essential supplies to the Valley. Clearly, the agitators do not want a non-Kashmiri to step foot in the Valley.

One is fully aware that certain sections used to soft-pedal Kashmir would react angrily at the suggestion to undo the historical blunder enshrined in the Constitution. One is aware too that commentators with an exaggerated idea of their own wisdom would dismiss the above prescription as impractical and difficult to implement.

But history is witness that when appeasement does not succeed, failure to change course and adopt a frontal approach can only lead to a complete capitulation. Not unlike the Project Shakti nuclear tests in 1998, which, despite the initial shock and anger in the Western capitals, forced the world eventually to come to terms with India's status as a full-fledged nuclear power, the time may have come to fully assimilate Kashmir by allowing Indians as much freedom to settle there as Kashmiris enjoy to settle in any part of this vast country.

When the entire political class throws its weight behind the opening up of Kashmir to all Indians, the criticism from the world capitals would inevitably lose its sting. What is needed is a bold and decisive leadership which can lance this wound on India's body politic But lance it must be. There is no time to waste.

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Virendra Kapoor