Kashmir Today

17 Mar, 1998    ·   74

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee while analysing the Kashmir situation links normalcy with free and fair conduct of polls

After three elections in two years the Kashmir Valley today bears all the attributes of normalcy. Schools opened in the middle of March after the long winter recess. Towns and cities witness the hustle and bustle of daily routine. Rural areas today are largely free of 'cordon and search'. Electricity is available throughout the Valley after the Uri Hydel project went on stream. The Charar Sharief shrine of the Sufi patron saint of the Valley, destroyed by the militants in 1995, is under reconstruction and is likely to be completed by autumn. Cricket is played vigorously in village greens on a clear day. The winter has been comparatively mild and spring has set in early.



There are discordant notes as well. Srinagar and some of the major towns still shut off when the Huriyat calls for a bandh. This is not very unusual among peace loving Kashmiris, ever keen to avoid giving an excuse for unnecessary violence. Anti-militant operations are still pursued, though less frequently, in the main by the special teams of the local police and the para-military. Is it then the end of insurgency in Kashmir , comparable to 1993 in the Punjab ? What is the political situation in the State after the elections? What options should the Government follow?



Insurgency, as we know it, will end in Kashmir by the end of 1998. Popular support to the movement has abated to a point where spontaneous acts of violence by terrorists are no longer possible. The people are both wary and full of mistrust. The militants' propaganda does not carry conviction. Press in the Valley now attempts to provide both sides of the story rather than routinely issue statements on behalf of the militants. But, acts of terrorism will not come to a sudden end, unlike in the Punjab . The local police are yet to establish themselves, although they have come a long way. The terrain allows militants a degree of freedom, as in the hills of Northeast India , which will permit them to carry on their desperate acts for some time. There is still no shortage of volunteers from the Islamic world or from Pakistan . It is true their costs have doubled. From an amount of two lakhs of Rupees for a two-year contract in the Valley, the sum is now four lakhs. Increasingly the persons are hard core serving or ex-soldiers of the armed forces from across the LOC, such as those involved in the Wandhama massacre near Ganderbal on the eve of the Republic Day. The ISI handlers today monitor their activities even more closely than before.



The Security Forces job, then, is far from over. This summer will witness a desperate attempt by Pakistan to escalate violence. Border infiltration has been substantially curbed. Foreign terrorists now enter the State through neighbouring countries and not across the LOC. Their tactics will increasingly rely on use of improvised explosive devices, acts of violence against minorities and selective and random killings of key persons. To prevent such acts will require all the skill and commitment that the security forces can muster. There can be no question of a reduction of forces for the time being. Equally, this should be a priority for the coming winter, to provide them rest and respite.



It is time then to think of the next stage in Kashmir . The real solution lies in the ability of the State to provide "good governance". A phrase much overused today, but which in reality encapsulates the responsibility of the State to its citizens. It is a sad commentary that this continues to be largely absent in the Valley. There are many excuses perhaps. Most important is that the Administration has become used to non-performance and non-accountability during the long period of President's rule. Yet, the utter lack of commitment of local politicians is a cause for concern. Corruption has again reached the levels that prevailed earlier. Faith in politicians, not politics, is very low. This was reflected both in the people's generally spontaneous participation in the elections, this time with no state coercion and their strong warning to the National Conference.



There are signs of the possible emergence of a new political force in the Valley. One that is independent of the National Conference, but by no means extremist in its orientation. This was reflected in Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's success at Anantnag. Credit goes to his daughter Mehbooba, herself a state assembly member, and her dynamic mobilization of the people. This was further reflected in the near success of Muzaffar Beg, an independent candidate in Baramula and an emerging political personality in the State, against Saifulla Soz. If elections in the future continue to be genuine and the people's desires are truly reflected in the poll results, there is no cause for undue concern.