Kashmir is on the tenderhooks again. There are widespread protests against the “Indian Occupation” and Omar Abdullah has dutifully scooted to Delhi to get advice from the central government. And the saga continues.
One must confess that one tends to have a knee jerk reaction on the mess from a rather colored lens of being an Indian. “Those Kashmiris” – always creating problems. What would they rather do? Live in Pakistan? Maybe they should – it would suit them better. And on and on.
On reflection however – one tends to ratiocinate. And on further thought – the problem’s complexity and sheer enormity starts to become apparent.
Pervasive corruption, institutionalized power (read the Abdullah family), mass dis-enfranchisement is certainly one aspect. Then there are the exogenous factors (read Laskhar-e-Toiba) and their fundamentalist ilk. And then finally, there is the huge question about the pandits. Between 1985 and 1995, almost half a million pundits were forced to leave their lands, homes and livelihoods and migrate within their own country by the same Islamic fundamentalists.
So, Kashmir, 25 years after the insurgency started, continues to be a mess.
Looking forward, what solutions can be proposed. The first and primary is governance. Thankfully, India today isn’t what it was in 1985. Its a different country. Its proportionally more affluent. And that allows for the government to undertake public projects of the scale that would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. The central government and the Kashmiri government should partner with local level structures like the Panchayat to disburse public development projects. Keynesian principles are critical to the creation of jobs, infrastructure and provide opportunities for the local people. Clean transparant and honest governance is always the first, most important first step in reconciliation.
Create tax free zones for industries. In Kashmir, they have to be the types that can co-exist with the environment. But provide incentives for industries to set up manufacturing plants in the valley. Create jobs. Get young men off the streets.
Second, security forces’ excessive use of force has to stop. Period. As we have now seen with America’s ill-advised forays in Iraq – overwhelming use of force against the population does not work. Question then is the same that has been plaguing America’s policy makers – what’s the efficacy of the Army – put there to fight an insurgency often mixed with the population. The author has a recommendation – learn from America’s experience in Afghanistan. Use targeted lethal strikes against the un-reconcilable elements (they, for the most part, are from Pakistan and other places). Combine that with using the armed forces for public development / afforestation / environmental cleanup activities. E.g. The Army Corps of Engineers (where the author’s father used to work) can provide critical advice and help (coupled with funds from the government) with better building and physical infrastructure advice).
Third – Provide the Kashmiris a timetable for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (from civilian areas) – assuming some conditions of stability are met. This does two things – a) it provides the Kashmiri local population tired of living under the threat of the militants’ and the security forces’ guns an incentive to maintain peace (and allows for additional information to the Indian Army about the real bad seeds). Second, it provides a framework for the Jawans stationed in Kashmir for the last 25 years that the end is near assuming they comply with the preconditions – of winning over the local population by helping with their expertise, cleaning up the environment and afforestation (these are not trivial – the state has been ravaged by violence and as always, the environment has suffered the most).
Third – Issue an unambiguous Israel like notice to all insurgents – we will hunt them down and kill them. There can be no compromise on this. People who kill innocents and those that sympathize with them have lost the right to reconciliation.
Fourth – provide a timeline for the Kashmiri Pundits’ return to the valley. This will be complicated due to property issues. But any reconciliation of the Kashmiri problem has to deal with the pundits return issue.
And finally, the government of India should issue an unconditional apology – to the generation of Kashmiris that have been mistreated. First for rigged elections (engineered by the Congress, no less), then for the excesses of the security forces.
Simultaneously, the Indian government needs to thank our Armed Forces for protecting the state from the maundering extremists, louts and fundamentalists from Pakistan. The Indian Army had the very unenviable role of policing its own people – and barring a few exceptions, it did its duty. And we need to let the soldiers know that we shall be eternally grateful for that.
Kashmir is not intractable. It can be resolved. But unfortunately, the author doubts if Indian political leadership has the strategic foresight to do the right things and look beyond short term political gain.