The deadlock over Kashmir has to be broken and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is right in stating that status quo is not an option. Manmohan Singh, while addressing the top commanders of the armed forces, expressed concern on the unrest and emphasised on the need to address the grievances, provide better delivery of services and generate avenues for economic advancement of the people of the state. He also reiterated the willingness of the government to talk within the framework of the Constitution to every person or group who abjures violence. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) also came out with a dialogue prescription to address issues like trust and governance deficit. An all-party meeting is slated for today. Where do we go from here?
A large, silent majority of people in Kashmir had eagerly awaited the results of the CCS meeting. They had expected that a solution would be found. They were disappointed that it ended with nothing more than the oft-repeated willingness of the government to hold a dialogue. True, the CCS couldn’t have ignored the fresh spate of violence after Eid prayers and the protests against the alleged desecration of the Koran. It was compelled to defer a decision to gain some more time to gauge the situation.
However, the all-party meet does provide the government an opportunity to work out a consensus on the future road map. Going by the outcome of similar earlier attempts, we should not expect miracles from an open house discussion. Political parties will go along their stated positions. They will be critical of the central and state governments for their handling of the situation. The fact of the matter is that eventually the government will have to take the call and it can’t be delayed for long.
The question now is will we have to wait for violence to end before the government announces some confidence-building measures? The ‘internal’ dimension can be addressed through a dialogue between New Delhi and the people’s representatives of J&K. All cases of detainees under the Public Safety Act can be reviewed. Those not involved in heinous offences can be released. Youngsters involved in stone-pelting incidents can be considered for release if their parents and community leaders vouch for their future conduct. However, the cases of the masterminds of violence and pro-Pakistan ideologues will have to wait.
The most-talked about issue in Kashmir remains the fate of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The point in issue is its phased revocation depending on the ground situation. Let’s not talk about its dilution at this stage, as it is a legislative exercise and can’t be done in a hurry. It is known that the army is not deployed in Srinagar and law and order is looked after by the local police, which is helped by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
The reduction in volume and intensity of terrorist violence over the years has to be kept in mind while re-visiting our deployment strategy. The situation in 2010 is very different from what it was in 1990, when the AFSPA was introduced. One day we will have to relieve the army of its duties. This hard political decision can’t be endlessly postponed. It is time to consider a phased withdrawal notwithstanding media reports of its opposition by the armed forces. The J&K Police, with the Central Paramilitary Force (CPMF), is capable of handling the situation in Srinagar. While considering this, it’s advisable to not be overawed by the past two days’ violence, which, though indicative of the fragility of the situation, wasn’t, strictly speaking, part of the ongoing turmoil.
There is a broad consensus that dialogue is the only way forward. Return of peace can’t be set as a pre-condition for moving towards the dialogue process. Without lowering guard on the security front, the government has to be magnanimous in announcing some confidence-building measures. It’s supposed to not only provide an exit route from the current cycle, but also give a clear signal of its willingness to go by the judgment of an elected state government. The all-party meet should support the government to announce confidence-building measures to break the impasse. All eyes are on New Delhi.
Ashok Bhan is a retired Director General of Police, J&K The views expressed by the author are personal