BG Verghese believes that interlocutors should press ahead with a resumption of the peace initiative by Delhi and Srinagar
Contrary to established punditry, the Jammu and Kashmir "crisis" is bottoming out and could soon move towards normalcy, hope and reconciliation.
One may expect desperate efforts by both internal and external actors to undermine the peace initiative that Delhi and Srinagar are jointly fashioning. This could delay but need not deny progress, provided the government, learning from the recent past, perseveres and does not allow the process to be vetoed by spoilers.
The so-called "intifada" began in June in the midst of a promising tourist season, an untroubled Amarnath Yatra and a resumption of Indo-Pakistan contacts that presaged restarting the dialogue that was interrupted by 26/11.
Islamabad failed to gain much mileage from the bogus water jihad it orchestrated earlier in the year, partly to divert attention from mounting problems at home. In the Valley, efforts were made to restart the quiet talks that the Hurriyat had broken off in panic after an attempt on the life of one of its moderate interlocutors Fazle Haq Qureshi. All manner of vested interests felt threatened by these trends.
The fake encounter at Machhil was a military disgrace and those guilty of such crimes must be brought to book. But this episode alone could not have triggered violence. Earlier, the Amarnath Yatra Board land "scandal" had momentarily aroused passions in the Valley and Jammu on false premises. The alleged Shopian "rape" scandal, too, did not survive hard evidence of its fabrication.
The sudden burst of stone pelting thereafter was attributed to angry youth who have only known conflict and grief. They resent living in a militarised environment and seek azadi, variously interpreted as self-determination, independence or a "political settlement". These could have been the subject of dialogue.
Instead, Friday congregations formed processions that targeted symbols of state and property, provoking a cycle of repression and violence. Processional calendars were issued, routes and targets defined and, with advance planning, stones handily found as and where required.
Those who criticised and mocked the state did nothing to restrain the mobs. Tragically, some innocent youth and passers-by were killed. If the situation was mishandled and non-lethal methods were used to quell the rioters, those behind the agitation wanted blood on the streets.
The Centre finally sent an all-party delegation to Srinagar that circumvented the separatists' boycott by visiting Hurriyat leaders in their homes. An ensuing all-Party meeting in Delhi led to the announcement of plans to relax or lift curfew, redeploy security forces, consider softening the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, downscale bunkers and check points, offer ex-gratia payments and compensation for fatalities, reopen schools, and set up a group of interlocutors to conduct a broad-based dialogue.
Much else could follow, including the implementation of the recommendations of the prime minister's earlier five working groups.
Fear still stalks parts of the Valley with Geelani and the Mir Waiz rejecting the proposed action plan as eyewash. Parents fret that their wards will not be safe going to school. Geelani insists on public acceptance of Kashmir as an "international dispute" -- his way of saying that Pakistan must be fully involved as an equal party.
This is meaningless verbiage.
J&K is a dispute but it is not the fact but the nature of the dispute that is in contention. Under the governing UN Resolution of August 13, 1948, now dead, Pakistan is the aggressor that was to quit Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Gilgit-Baltistan Area, disarm and disband the so-called Azad Pakistan forces and hand over the civil administration to India for governance under UN supervision. Pakistan's wholesale default, its demographic manipulation and the changed geo-strategic environment precluded the proposed plebiscite.
The Mir Waiz and Yasin Malik (of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) posit azadi as the starting point of dialogue. But J&K was in fact independent from August 15 to October 22, 1947. It was Pakistan that altered that fact by force and fraud and, failing, tried again in 1965, and yet again by means of cartographic aggression in Siachen and subsequently in Kargil and through continuing cross-border interventions.
As for greater federal autonomy for J&K and intra-state autonomy, down to the local level through more fully empowered panchayats, the "sky is the limit". Articles 258 and 258-A provide for the Centre and states to entrust powers up and down the federal chain as evident in the rich brew of graded devolution incorporated in Articles 371 and 371 A to 371-I as well as through inter-state devolution to regional and sub-regional units and non-territorial entities extant in the Northeast.
Insistence on talks "within the framework of the Constitution" merely implies that any solution must enjoy sufficient national consensus to win a two-thirds majority in Parliament and, where necessary, to be adopted by one half of all state legislatures.
The BJP is mistaken in thinking that Article 370, a mechanism for adjusting Centre-State relations with reference to J&K, weakens its "integration" with India. This is fully secured under Article 1 and Schedule I of the Constitution.
The clamour to remove Omar Abdullah by fiat from Delhi is misplaced and will only confirm the jibe that the J&K government is a mere puppet.
The internal dialogue now proposed must be uninterrupted. All elements should be invited to join the process. But none can claim a veto and any settlement will have to win popular endorsement through fair and free elections.
India has nothing to fear if J&K is governed by the terms of the 1952 Delhi Agreement with Sheikh Abdullah or even by just the original heads of accession -- external affairs, defence and communications. Most people in J&K would probably prefer a broader rather than minimal association with the Union. Jammu and Ladakh or sub-regions within them can win different degrees of autonomy or association with the Union through the mechanism of Articles 258 and 258-A.
Islamabad may huff and puff as the ascendant military and mullahs underscore their relevance. This will further expose Pakistan as a rogue state, given to doublespeak and unable even after 60 years to patch together a credible identity that defines it as something more than India's "other". Few in Kashmir now look on it with affection or trust. The sorry plight of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan is cautionary.