On many occasions in the past, I had cautioned that the Kashmir issue or problem (or by whatever name it is called) was a festering wound. Every government in the past had, in different degrees, recognised that the festering wound had to be attended to. The agreement between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, the Tashkent agreement, the Simla agreement, the agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah, the Agra summit, and the Lahore Declaration were, among others, genuine attempts to find a permanent solution to different aspects of the issue. None of the attempts, however, succeeded in finding a permanent solution. All outcomes left one or more stakeholders dissatisfied. The wound continued to fester. Of the stakeholders, the most difficult, unpredictable and intractable were the young men who took to militancy. The other stakeholders had at different times shown different degrees of reasonableness.
The Central government — under every party and every prime minister — had always attempted to reach out to one or more stakeholders. I am afraid that the position of the Central government seems to have decisively changed since the year 2015-16. The current Central government has to be described, regretfully, as equally difficult; its rhetoric is unpredictable; and only time will tell if it is also intractable.
Just as the militants have taken a maximalist position that has to be rejected out of hand, the Central government has taken a maximalist position that has aggravated the problem. The people of the Kashmir Valley are caught between the two maximalist positions. As a result, with every passing day, the security and political situation in Jammu and Kashmir has worsened. Facts stare in our face:
What has changed
Earlier, young men came out into the streets and pelted stones; now young women are also coming out into the streets. Earlier, parents restrained their children; now, a mother says (as one mother actually said), “I cannot ask my child not to join the protesters because he believes that he is fighting for his future and his freedom.” Earlier, the Central government and the J&K government tried to be on the same page and to speak the same language. That was so even if they were not in a coalition. Today, the Central government and the J&K government have taken diametrically opposite positions though the two parties (the BJP and PDP) pretend to run a coalition government in the state! Earlier, the Central government and the J&K government had the same view on deployment of security forces. Today, the two parties (the BJP and PDP) are daggers drawn on the question of deployment of security forces.
Earlier, the Unified Command meetings were chaired by the Chief Minister of J&K and his view was usually decisive. Today, although the Chief Minister chairs the infrequent meetings of the Unified Command, it is the view of the Army, represented by the Northern Army Command, that is decisive. Earlier, if talks were held with any stakeholder, the Central government and the J&K government supported such talks. Today, the J&K government advocates talks with all stakeholders (including Pakistan and Hurriyat) while the Central government is implacably opposed to talks with any stakeholder.
Earlier, except on one occasion, Amarnath yatris were safe. That was so for nearly 15 years. Today, the Amarnath yatris do not enjoy that comfort and the terrorist incident of Monday last has put in question the capacity of the government to secure the yatris. The Deputy Chief Minister of the state (a BJP leader) has admitted to security lapses. It is useful to remember that fatalities in violence by terrorists hit a peak of 4,507 in 2001 before declining to 2,542 in 2003. Thereafter, it declined dramatically to 117 in 2012 and 181 in 2013. That story seems to have changed.
On the two sides of the present aggravated situation of confrontation are the militants and the BJP-led Central government. I am afraid that the maximalist position that each one has taken is pushing the other to the brink and further hardening the positions of both. The casualties are the people of J&K (especially those in the Valley) and the future of the state.
Permanent Solution or Permanent Disruption
The responsibility for the present acute crisis lies on three parties: (1) the militants and their masters, undoubtedly terrorists, who will never succeed in snatching the Valley from India; (2) the BJP-led Central government that believes in a military solution and has no understanding of history or of the complexities of conflict-resolution; and (3) the PDP that has shamelessly surrendered every principle it had stood for under Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and clings to office as a vassal of the BJP.
The odd man out is the Home Minister who makes intriguing statements like ‘we have found a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue’. Will he please tell the nation what it is and what his government has done to achieve that permanent solution?
Nothing that we say or write will change the hard (and wrong) position of the militants; they have to be defeated by the strength of our security forces. But if nothing that we say or write will change the hard (and wrong) position of our government, it appears that we are on course not to a permanent solution but to a permanent disruption.
(Written by former Union Minister P Chidambaram)