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Why a political solution will NOT work in Kashmir

Last updated on: August 11, 2010 11:18 IST

Image: A group of women and a child watch the funeral of a protestor
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

The problem in Kashmir was not created in a day and it will not go away in a day. Neither are there any easy solutions or prescriptions. Just because there is a lull in agitations, that should not let anyone, especially the North Block mandarins, imagine that the issue stands resolved, at least for this year. Writes Salim Haq.

There is talk about another economic package, about a political package, the prime minister calling for an all party meeting and so on.

This all sounds bizarre. It just shows how out of sync both the state and the central governments are with the ground situation, despite the entire paraphernalia of the state machinery being at their disposal. Weren't the screams of the agitators loud enough for the governments to hear? Were they asking for an economic package? Or a political package? Or prescriptions from discredited politicians?


Text: Salim Haq/ANI

No economic or political package can work now

Image: A Kashmiri youth at an anti-India protest
Photographs: Sheikh Umar/Reuters

While the slogans were furiously anti-India and of 'Azaadi', what provoked them were pent up emotions, deep-seated hurt, traumatised childhoods and youth, and above all, the courage to pick up and throw a stone at a soldier pointing a gun at them.

No economic or political package can address such an emotional outburst; no meeting of traditional politicians can come up with any prescriptions for this kind of outrage. Moreover, when an all-party meeting is devoid of major components, any prescription is bound to fall flat.

The pent up emotional outburst has to be met with compassion and sensitivity. If anything, what is required is an emotional package, a package that will allow the agitators to give vent to their grief and frustration, their anger and even their hatred; a package that will treat them with respect, restore their dignity and try and heal the accumulated humiliations, all of which have now coalesced and congealed and become a rock. That rock has to be melted, gradually, and with a sequenced approach.


Just listen and bond with their sorrow and grief

Image: Policemen at a barricade in Srinagar
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

The worst thing the government can do is to try and buy the pent-up outrage through yet another economic package. This is also not the time for solutions or any political package. Any political offer or concession, short of total withdrawal, would be rejected. This is the time for healing. Healing, by itself, will not be a solution, but it will be a beginning.

The need of the hour is for India to connect with Kashmiris, emotionally connect with them. To listen to their woes, to their horror stories, to the repeated humiliations, to the assault on their dignity day after day, to life under constant curfew, to life under the constant threat that their loved ones will not return in the evening when they leave home in the morning. Just listen. Don't offer any prescriptions, any solutions. Just listen and bond with their sorrow and grief.

Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have large student/youth wings, as does the Left. How about several delegations from the student/youth wings of all the parties visiting Kashmir and spending time with Gen Next, in their homes, just listening to them?


Mrs Singh, Mrs Advani should visit Kashmir together

Image: Kashmiri children carrying umbrellas walk past policemen during a shutdown
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

How about the women's organisations of various political parties doing likewise? How about ordinary housewives from even Jammu and other parts of India spending time with the distraught women of Kashmir? How about the prime minister's wife leading one such delegation? Or Mrs Advani? Or both jointly? Just to understand why the women in Kashmir could pick up a stone and hurl it at the security forces. Just to hear them.

How about the electronic media, instead of just reporting the violence, organise programmes to listen to what Gen Next has to say? Indian democracy is big enough and strong enough to absorb the frustrations and even the venom that will be spilled out. 

How about Bollywood taking the lead and sending a group of actors to interact with Gen Next? Mahesh Bhatt? Priety Zinta? Shahrukh Khan? The Big B himself?

How about a Lata Mangeshkar concert in the heart of Srinagar where she would sing 'Aye mere watan ke logo'?

Many other options could be added to the above list. The crucial thing at this stage is to connect emotionally with Kashmiris. Solutions and packages can wait.


People of Kashmir made a leap of faith when they voted in large numbers

Image: Kashmiri mourners shout anti-India slogans during the funeral of eight-year-old Sameer Ahmad Rah
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters

One obvious question that arises is of security. How will the security of such groups be ensured? What if some harm comes to any group? Who will be responsible?

The ordinary people of Kashmir made a leap of faith when they voted in large numbers to make the elections a success for India's democracy. They put their security concerns behind them.

Can India and Indians make a similar leap of faith and trust the Kashmiris? Let the Kashmiris take responsibility for the safety and security of any group that comes to talk to them. Yes, there may be a few incidents, provoked by Pakistani agents under orders to ensure that the emotional connection does not take place. There will be bad eggs, but the Kashmiri will never spurn a genuine hand of friendship or treat it with violence.

While the emotional package is the immediate need of the hour, for the medium term the government needs to put in place an educational package. Not formal education, but educating the people of Kashmir about the reality.


India should expose that Azaad Kashmir is a misnomer

Image: A Kashmiri woman prays at the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar
Photographs: Enrico Fabian/Reuters

Take for example Azaad Kashmir (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). Pakistan has sold the idea that Azaad Kashmir is really azaad -- independent.

Hence, the ordinary Kashmiri shouting azaadi slogans thinks that he is going to be independent like Azaad Kashmir. But 62 years on, the government of India has not even tried to expose the myth that Azaad Kashmir is a misnomer and that it is not only not independent, it does not even enjoy the powers of other provinces of Pakistan, let alone the autonomy enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir.

That it is not the prime minister of Azaad Kashmir, but the prime minister of Pakistan who legally calls the shots through the Azaad Jammu and Kashmir Council.

Here are two trick questions for government officials. Can the prime minister of Azaad Kashmir transfer a tehsildar? Or, does a Kashmiri even figure in the census of Pakistan?


Educate the Kashmiri people about the reality of Pakistan

Image: A Kashmiri man crosses a deserted road marked with graffiti
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

Take another example. How many know that it was Pakistan which had objected to the third option in the United Nations resolutions? It was due to Pakistan's objections that the plebiscite options were limited to accession to either India or Pakistan. And yet, Pakistan is seen as championing the cause of Kashmiri independence today and India is on the back foot.

Has the Indian government fully exposed the state of the people in Azaad Jammu and Kashmir or in Gilgit Baltistan? Should not Indian Kashmiris be exposed to what those hapless people have to say about Pakistan? Would they then still want an azaadi that means subservience to Pakistan?

The list could be multiplied many times over. But the moot point is that despite the vast resource of the home and the information and broadcasting ministries, at best, paltry efforts have been made to educate the Kashmiri people about the reality of Pakistan. India has been so defensive about its position in Kashmir that it has always been on the backfoot.


Time has come to think of out of the box and embark on a new track

Image: A protester hits a policeman during a protest march
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters

Even now, it would not be too late to start a sophisticated programme that reaches out to the masses and informs them about the reality. In this day of the electronic media, developing smart programmes should not be difficult.

To conclude, for the last 60 years Indian policy-makers have thought and acted in terms of a coercion-package paradigm. The disastrous results are visible for all to see.

The time has come to think of out of the box and embark on a new track. Let us reciprocate the Kashmiri leap of faith and try and heal the wounds of the Kashmiris.

Let the emotional package be the first step in the long road that both India and Kashmir will need to travel together. It will only be the first step and not a 'solution' but perhaps it will be the most important step.

It must be supplemented by educating the Kashmiri people about the reality of Pakistan and the situation of people in Azaad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

Once such groundwork has been successfully implemented and there is an emotional connect, attention could be turned towards 'packages' of other kinds.

Perhaps then, both India and Kashmir will be able to realise the shared dream of "If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this."