Kashmir is slipping dangerously into peace. A bad peace — one that contains the seeds of another war. What are its signs?
First, the adolescent urge to declare that it has arrived when it only means the state has an enhanced control over a situation still seething under the surface. Read through the front page of any decade-old local newspaper in Kashmir. You will find the then chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed declaring that peace has finally come and incidents of violence are mere aberrations.
For him the signs of peace were shops open beyond 9 pm in Lal Chowk, the historic square in Srinagar, where Jawaharlal Nehru promised Kashmiris a plebiscite. Another sign was the arrival of tourists, opening of borders between the two Kashmirs for bus travel and trade, and unfounded optimism in the form of articles written by journalists who wanted to see Kashmir the way it wasn’t.
Today, it seems a replay of Sayeed’s imaginings of peace. The motifs, of course, keep changing. Earlier, it was Srinagar-Muzaffarad Road, today it is the tulip garden, tourists riding a Shikara and magazine articles penned that an upscale cafe declaring that Kashmiris are happy. This spring, rows of more than a million tulips in Asia’s largest tulip garden in Srinagar have been a recurring image in newspapers and on television screens, signifying, perhaps, an optimism to see Kashmir differently from a burning paradise where unarmed young protesters are shot to enforce peace.
What would give this optimism permanence is the yearning for a corresponding flowering of a political process that would make shooting unnecessary in the future.
The appointment of three interlocutors — journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, former information commissioner AA Ansari and academic Radha Kumar — in 2010 by the UPA government in the aftermath of the mass upsurge was showcased as one such process, or the beginning of it. But even before they could embark on an interlocutory marathon involving meeting 700 delegations in 22 districts of the state over a period of a year, their appointment was greeted with predictions of failure. A gist of the major recommendations of the interlocutors’ report appeared in a newspaper recently, even before the Union Cabinet’s clearance.
The home ministry swiftly disowned the leaks. But even the media report was enough to reinforce the ossified stances of all stakeholders in the state. Since then we haven’t heard about it, a fate similar to that of the five Working Groups set up by the prime minister for the same purpose. This is another sign of a hurriedly cobbled peace: forgetting the initiatives the government itself launches to resolve the issue.
Remember when Kashmir erupted over the killing of a 14-year-old boy in 2010, home minister P Chidambaram met some 20 freelance Kashmiri journalists working in New Delhi for feedback and a way out over a period of a week. Such was the urgency. It was followed by the visit of an all-party delegation to the Valley before the interlocutors took over. Now that ‘peace’ has arrived, anything can cut the mustard.
Speaking at a seminar on April 28, ironically titled ‘Enhancing Jammu and Kashmir’s pride’, the General Officer Commanding of the Kashmir-based 15 Corps Lt Gen Syed Ata Hassnain told a gathering of youth that a political solution of the problem was not on the cards.
The general told the youth not to miss the economic opportunities in the wait for a political solution. Now, General Hassnain, as GOC 15 Corps, happens to be the security adviser to chief minister Omar Abdullah in the Unified Headquarters, the largest internal security grid.
A day before the general spoke, Abdullah told a public meeting in Jammu that economic development cannot resolve and replace political issues. He also said the ‘shadow of gun’ would be removed once and for all “when the basic political issues of Jammu and Kashmir are addressed and this needs sustained India-Pakistan talks”.
Here one could go on about how Abdullah, believed to have been elected by a “65% record vote” is left with no option but to crib on Twitter when he is snubbed for, say, calling for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. This is another sign of a bad peace: when a state talks in discordant voices and forgets the people.
If I am allowed a little immodesty here, I want to state that I wrote an article titled ‘Bad Peace’ in Kashmir’s largest English daily, Greater Kashmir, in 2005, when apparently the government of the day had taken it for granted that Kashmir was at peace, finally. Another sign of a bad peace: it is predictable.