Events in Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon have drawn widespread surprise since for the first time Arabs have turned out on the streets. After decades of domination by authoritarian regimes, supported by the West in most cases, democratic stirrings have been received with welcome and apprehension, depending on the political slant of the commentator. Why does this article, whose title suggests it is one on Kashmir, need to begin with events elsewhere?
To recall, the outbreak of peoples’ participation in the militancy in Kashmir was at the turn of the nineties. The Berlin Wall had just come down. The upsurge in Eastern European nations had overthrown communist regimes. The Palestinian intifada dating to 1987 had captured minds. Images from these events, far away as they were, unfolded and influenced those viewing them on newly acquired TV screens in Kashmir. All accounts from the heady days of the militancy mention the impact of the communication revolution and globalization, then in infancy, on peoples’ participation in the ‘rebellion’, to borrow from a perceptive title, ‘Lost Rebellion’. Therefore, in case the unrest in Arab lands is to spread, the ripple effects will be felt right up to Kashmir.
The disturbances in the Valley of last summer witnessed considerable participation by the youth. The mobile network and the internet played a part in the mobilization, despite some constraints such as preventing of the SMS feature by the state. The youth, being media and internet savvy, are doubtless receiving updates even as events unfold elsewhere. This means that it could be yet another hot summer in Kashmir.
A reasonable attitude could be that there is no reason to panic. The state, though under an unstable coalition in New Delhi and Governor’s rule in Srinagar, had managed the mass participation of early 1990 adequately. There has been considerable learning done in the disruptions of the last three summers which should find the state better prepared this time round. This would be in terms of better policing methods to take on stone throwing agitators. Therefore, while a heightened opposition can be expected, the state is better prepared too.
A fear-mongering approach would be that the youth, energized by events in the Muslim world, may be more provocative, even if non-violent. This may lead to the use of force. Such force had led up to 114 deaths and over a 1000 injured cops and paramilitary in 2010. Deaths on the street usually occur, witnessed earlier at Gowkadal and during the funeral of Mirwaiz in 1990 and later in Bijbehara during the Hazratbal crisis. The situation gets further enflamed. The death of young Tufail Mattoo when hit by a tear gas shell sparked off the 2010 protests in the Valley. After the winter’s recuperation, youth power could well be back.
Both approaches have utility. The first would help ensure that the necessary changes in policing methods are done well in time. Police and paramilitary can use the interim to get familiar with fresh tactics, techniques and non-lethal equipment. However, a positive aspect of the second is in the apprehensions imparting greater urgency to the current political initiative in Kashmir. This is not to imply that the threat of agitations need to or can impel Indian initiatives, but that the agitations can be avoided and defused by the initiative bearing fruition timely.
The current state of the initiative is that the interlocutors have covered much ground in Kashmir. They have submitted three reports to the government, mostly dealing with confidence-building. A more significant report is due in March. Task forces have ascertained views in the other two regions. The interlocutors await a discussion with the separatists, who are still holding out. The Home Secretary’s announcement of a proposed reduction of security forces presence by 25 per cent was to build trust and a conducive atmosphere for the progression of the political initiative.
Alongside, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are to meet in Thimpu, to be followed by the foreign ministers. Mr. Kasuri, in a lecture at Sapru House, indicated the extent to which India was prepared to go to resolve the issue during ‘back channel’ talks. The position at which the two sides left off apparently had the backing of the Pakistani Army, with Kayani, then ISI chief, privy to the meetings. He implied that this can serve as a potential starting point for resumption of the peace process. Pakistan, considerably on the backfoot due to internal problems, has fewer cards at the moment.
Therefore, India is poised to gainfully proceed on the Kashmir issue at this juncture, both in its external and internal dimensions. In case it is unable to, then it can handle the backlash. The Army remains deployed since according to the Army Chief and his minister, troop reductions would be only of the paramilitary. Even the 25 per cent cut was to be effected over 12 months.
This should help reassure India that since it is not negotiating from a position of weakness, it can afford to go in for a political solution.