Developments in J & K- Are the separatists gaining ascendancy?


Introduction

The resumption of “political process” beginning 1993 was a land mark in conflict resolution in Jammu and Kashmir. Though Pakistan sponsored terrorist violence had not yet abated, the security forces had brought the situation under some control. It took a great deal of persuasion and effort to convince the mainstream political parties about usefulness of such an exercise.1 As the subsequent events have shown, this was a decision of far reaching consequences. A process to reduce the ‘democratic deficit’ had begun in the strife torn state. How far have democratic exercises since 1996 taken us to resolve the conflict? How far can the mandate of 2014 Assembly elections be fulfilled by the coalition Government? Are un-fulfilled promises paving way for ascendancy of separatists? Answers to these and similar questions will help understand the current political and security situation in the state.

Democratic exercises and peace process

It has not been an easy journey towards ‘democratization’. Each Assembly poll posed difficult security challenges (see Table 1) but eventually provided choices and threw up political alternatives varying from elected Governments of National Conference (1996); coalition of a largely valley based new political entity People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress party (2002); coalition of National Conference and Congress Party (2008); and now a coalition of PDP and Bhartiya Janata Party (2014). The performance of different Governments can be a subject matter of debate but it can’t be disputed that people’s faith in democratic institutions has taken roots. This is significant in the background of a history of dubious interferences in elections and Government formation in the state which attained notorious dimensions in the 1987 Assembly elections.

In the 1987 Assembly elections the Muslim United Front (MUF), a conglomerate of separatists, decided to participate in the elections “to control the assembly, not for governing J&K but to find a constitutional way out for creating International pressure on India so that it respected the aspirations of Kashmiris”.2 Going by the euphoria and size of their election rallies the MUF expected to sweep the polls in the valley even as National Conference and Congress party under an electoral understanding were contesting 76 seats as alliance partners. MUF put up 43 candidates and despite getting 31 percent of vote share could win only 4 seats including Sopore by the current Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani. National Conference won 40 seats and Congress party had 26 winners.

There were allegations of large scale rigging by the National Conference with the connivance of the centre fearing sizeable presence of hardliners and separatists in the Assembly. Denial of political space to Muslim United Front on that occasion is widely believed to have triggered the conflict in late 1980s with local youth going across for weapons and arms training and Pakistan abetting a proxy war in the State. The case often cited is that of Mohd Yousuf Shah @ Syed Salauddin, Pakistan based supremo of Hizbul Mujahideen. Shah was seeking mandate from Amirakadal constituency of Srinagar city with Yasin Malik as his election agent. The popular perception was that despite Shah leading in counting round after round it was his opponent NC candidate Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah who was declared elected by over 4000 votes.

Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), militant wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, came into existence in 1989 with Master Ahsan Dar as its Chief and Mohd Yusuf Shah @ Syed Salauddin as Patron. HM stood for merger of Kashmir with Pakistan. Mohd Yousuf Shah and Yasin Malik, who had meanwhile created pro-independence JKLF, went across to Pakistan and led their respective terrorist groups to cause large scale destruction of life and property particularly during the initial years of terrorism in J&K. In the wake of Pakistan backed terrorist violence and resignation by the incumbent Chief Minister the state was put under Governor’s/ President’s from January 1990 to October 1996.

The Assembly election of 1996 was the first attempt at “democratization” in the strife torn state to hand over power to the representatives of the people. It has not been an easy journey. In the 1996 polls the focus was on providing a secure environment and ‘facilitating’ all willing voters to exercise their franchise without fear. No party or group was favoured to get an undue advantage. In the 2002 polls, held after post-Kargil aggravation in the security scenario, India firmly opposed the suggestion of international observers for the polls but allowed and facilitated visits of Delhi based diplomats and foreign media persons to constituencies/polling booths of their choice. There was near unanimity among them in certifying fairness of the elections. 2008 elections were held in the backdrop of heightened regional tensions following Amarnath land row and 2014 elections soon after the devastating floods of September 2014. The strict following of election calendar is in itself an increment in the peace process in the state.

Table 1: Levels of terrorist violence during assembly election years (1996, 2002, 2008 and 2014) and poll percentage in Jammu and Kashmir*

Assembly election Year Incidents of terrorist violence
Deaths in terrorist violence
Civilians SF Terrorists Total
Political activists killed
Poll percentage
Jammu province Kashmir province State
1996 4499 1424 189 1209 2822 61 61.3 47.3 53.9
2002 3594 1050 539 1707 3296 104 55.8 30.1 43.1
2008 534 147 85 339 571 03 71.9 30.1 43.1
2014 151 41 47 110 198 07 77.1 57.3 65.2

The marked change since 1996 in the ground situation is clearly brought out by reduction in incidents of violence and deaths in terror related incidents (Table 1). The corresponding increase in voter turnout is also notable. The largely peaceful election to the state Assembly in 2014, fourth such credible exercise since 1996, has put a seal of authority on the people’s faith in Indian democracy. Despite marginal increase in terrorist violence (as compared to 2013), boycott calls of the separatists and heightened tension on the borders due to ceasefire violations and attempts by Pakistan to infiltrate terrorists, there was a record voter turnout.

Defying the separatist’s boycott call in the Kashmir valley was a huge increment to the peace process. Sopore constituency, which separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani represented three times, polled 30 percent votes and returned a Congress party candidate. Similarly, the eight constituencies in Srinagar city, most of which have under the separatists’ influence been boycotting elections, registered a sizeable turnout (28 percent). Some of it may have been prompted to neutralize the impact of postal ballots of the migrant voters through which BJP had thought to open its account in the valley. The constituencies in south Kashmir still affected by residual militancy also registered a healthy voter turnout (Tral- 37%, Pampore- 47%, Pulwama- 38% and Shopian- 52%).

Another significant dividend of the 2014 Assembly elections came from North Kashmir where J&K People’s Conference led by former separatist leader Sajad Gani Lone won seats from Handwara and Kupwara. Though separatists have been participating earlier as proxy candidates it was the first time since 1996 that they have won seats under a party banner. They had realized the futility of violence and politics of agitations.

Election manifestos and Common Minimum Programme: Unfulfilled promises

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) received a resounding mandate in Kashmir in the 2014 Assembly elections winning 25 seats from the valley and 3 from Jammu. In its election manifesto3 the party promised to “create conditions that facilitate resolution of the J&K issue and bring about self sustaining development across the three regions of the state”. The former was to be achieved through “remodeling the political structure” and by pursuing “self rule as the framework of resolution”. The Article 370 of the Constitution was to be used to “restore the original special status of the State” and to “empower the people of J&K and help deal with issues of identity, borders and governance”. PDP’s manifesto enumerated the basics of the ‘self rule’ and institutional set- up to achieve this. Barring absence of any reference to withdrawal of troops, it was a near replica of Musharraf formula of 2006.

The manifesto included commitment to reforms in governance, providing support and opportunity to youth, reconstruction of the economy and rehabilitation of flood victims. However, it was the political content of the manifesto including retention of Constitutional safeguards to restore the ‘original special status’, closer cross LoC ties and making borders irrelevant that consolidated votes in favour of the PDP. Even the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) gave a tacit approval to voters to exercise their franchise. It is significant that PDP wrested five seats (out of 8) in Srinagar city from the National Conference. Each of the constituencies in south Kashmir affected by residual militancy viz. Tral, Shopian, Pulwama and Pampore was also won by PDP.

On the other hand the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) dominated the political discourse in Jammu winning 25 seats out of 37, many with huge margins suggestive of a wave cum polarization of Hindu votes. The party in its vision document for Jammu and Kashmir4 refrained from mentioning the much debated Art 370 claiming that the party was fighting elections on the issue of development and that party’s stand on issues including Article 370 needed no reiteration. This was seen as tailoring up rather quickly by the BJP to the “election dynamics and sensibilities of the electorate in J&K”.5

The party chose dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits, holistic and inclusive development of all three regions, reservation of five seats for PoK refugees out of 24 left vacant in the assembly, reservation of three seats for displaced Kashmiris out of 46 seats earmarked for Kashmir province, 33% reservation for women in the legislatures and relief and rehabilitation of flood victims as main plank of its campaign. During electioneering in Hindu majority Jammu province the party was vocal in raking up issues like abrogation of Art 370, rehabilitation of West Pakistan refugees and accusing Kashmiri leadership of neglecting Jammu. In Kashmir, eying to make a debut, the party was cautious merely focusing on an agenda for development and rehabilitation of flood victim.

The fractured mandate put the PDP and BJP with diametrically opposite political ideologies at the centre stage of Government formation. While both parties were committed to equitable development of the three regions, reforms in governance, economic reconstruction and rehabilitation of flood victims they differed widely on the vexed issues like constitutional relationship between the Centre and the State and mechanics of resolution of the Kashmir issue.

BJP representing the voice of Jammu voters favours ‘assimilation’ of the state into the Indian Union by abrogation of Article 370. The PDP, whose political agenda had made separatists irrelevant, lays stress on irreversibility of Article 370 and through it restoration of the ‘original special status’ (pre-1953 position). The party favours closer ties across the line of control and making borders irrelevant through hassle free travel and trade, economic and social integration and constitutional restructuring. The party is not averse to ‘integration’ of the state to rest of India but realizes that people in the valley will resent and oppose any attempt to obliterate their ‘special identity’ and any attempt at ‘assimilation’ by disturbing the existing constitutional relationship will be unacceptable.

In view of the common perception in the valley that BJP may alter the constitutional relationship between the Union and Jammu and Kashmir, coupled with bitterness generated during election campaign, the single largest party PDP, with support base predominantly in the valley, found it extremely challenging to cobble up an alliance with BJP. After protracted parleys the two parties announced a skillfully drafted Common Minimum Program (CMP) with a status quo approach on contentious political issues and attaching premium on a developmental agenda. The poll promises had begun to recede into the background.

For instance the parties despite their different positions on special status under Article 370 agreed to a status quo. PDP had promised the voters to use the provision “to restore the original special status of the State” and to “empower the people of J&K and help deal with issues of identity, borders and governance”. The BJPs ‘abrogation’ and PDPs ‘self rule’ had been shelved. Similarly, the two parties resolved against taking any decision on AFSPA without a thorough review of security situation in the state, a euphemism seen over the years to put the subject on the backburner as security forces will not back such a move. The coalition Government was expected, according to the CMP, to be empowered to catalyze reconciliation and confidence building within and across the line of control thereby ensuring peace in the state. All such expectations have been belied by the strained Indo-Pak relations.

In the absence of any possibility of resolving the internal dimension of the conflict politically or early resumption of talks with Pakistan, the Government was left with pursuing an agenda of development and slow but definite ongoing process of ‘integration’ of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India. Unfortunately, rumblings within the coalition which began soon after the oath ceremony when the Chief Minister thanked Pakistan and terrorists for not vitiating peace during elections, have not allowed any substantial progress on even these.

In a short period of six months issue like dealing with Pakistan and separatists, Article 370 and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) have brought into open the ideological differences between the coalition partners. The senior coalition partner PDP, due to inherent political and ideological contradictions within the Government, found itself in no position to meet the promises made to the people in its election manifesto.

A series of avoidable controversies have meanwhile further vitiated the environment. These include challenging the legality of Article 35 A of the Constitution ( proviso to protect special rights and privileges to permanent residents of the State with regard to employment, acquisition of immovable property, settlement in the state and right to scholarship even if they are inconsistent with or take away or abridge any rights conferred on the other citizens of India) by a think tank, handling of separatist leader Masrat Alam, arrest and release of Hurriyat leaders on the eve of cancelled NSA level talks and more recently a Government law officer filing a PIL resulting in High Court orders to the State Government to strictly enforce the ban on sale of beef. There have been widespread protests in the valley over the beef ban order and National Conference has announced introducing a bill to ‘decriminalize bovine slaughter’ (sec 298 A of Ranbir Penal Code makes killing of bovine animals and 298 B possession of such flesh criminal offences) which BJP legislators have announced to oppose. If the issue is not resolved, it can create a serious communal divide in the state.

The mandate was expected to address regional aspirations by making institutional arrangement for equitable development and distribution of resources. Unfortunately, the coalition contradictions have rather promoted further distancing of the people on regional and communal lines. To promote composite culture and communal harmony the coalition will have to attend to ‘integration between regions and communities within the state’ in addition to ‘integration with the rest of India’.

Both coalition partners had promised to provide relief and rehabilitate victims of September 2014 floods. The long expected relief package for flood victims still eludes the State. The financial liabilities to the extent of Rs 9,000 crores, allegedly created by the previous Government, have further constrained the Government in pursuing its agenda for development.

These circumstances have adversely affected the performance of the Government on which people had pinned hopes. Noted analyst Brij Bhardwaj rightly attributes this to “the two partners PDP with base in Kashmir valley and BJP whose supporters are in Jammu region working to further their respective agendas which in many cases works at cross purposes”.6 The radical elements on the two sides of Peer Panchal are deliberately raising controversial issues to vitiate the atmosphere. The separatists and Pakistan find this as an opportunity to revive militancy and recoup the ground lost to ‘democratic processes’.

Indo-Pak relations

India Pakistan relations nose-dived to a new low during 2014. The deadly border clashes and stepping up of infiltration bids (continuing right into 2015), cancellation of Foreign Secretary level talks and a war of words between the two neighbours kept at bay any chance of their sitting across the table to discuss Kashmir and other contentious issues. The verbal dual between India and Pakistan reached a high pitch at the United Nations General Assembly when Prime Minister Sharif asked the UN to play a role in resolving the Kashmir dispute and Prime Minister Modi reacted strongly by asking Pakistan to stop terrorism7.

There were strong voices justifying cancellation of talks. Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal commented that “Pakistan has made little effort to create the right atmosphere for the foreign secretary-level talks. Frequent cease-fire violations on the line of control have created a background of tension that erodes the seriousness of efforts to resume political level negotiations”.8

But failure of talks and escalation of tension on the borders was causing untold miseries on people living along IB and LoC. The cancellation of talks was a setback to them. “What all stakeholders fail to realize is the fact that the ceasefire announced in 2003 and followed up with more Confidence Building Measures on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir had yielded dividends for the general public”, wrote columnist and Editor of Srinagar based newspaper Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari9. Strongly advocating steps to put the ceasefire once again in place, he added, “While Pakistan needs to change its policy and not take any step that is provocative; the government led by Modi in Delhi also has to work for bringing peace to the region”.

In this back drop the Ufa meeting between Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in July 2015 and their decision to revive the stalled dialogue came as a relief to ruling PDP who warmly welcomed the initiative. The absence of references to Kashmir did not go down well with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the hard-line separatist group Hurriyat Conference, who told The Hindu10 that both countries lacked the political imagination to resolve the decades-old dispute as “Kashmir is the genesis of all disputes”. Barely three days after agreeing to talk Pakistan Prime Minister’s advisor on security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz asserted that talks cannot take place without Kashmir being on the agenda and asked for more evidence and information from India on Mumbai attack.

The Ufa initiative died before it could take off. The NSA level talks had to be cancelled as Pakistan failed to stick to the agenda approved at Ufa and provoked India by inviting separatists for consultations. “We rightly rejected Pakistan’s attempt, pushed by political bigots at home, to change the agenda agreed at Ufa by including Kashmir. Sartaj Aziz’s insistence on meeting the separatists in Delhi was a calculated provocation”, commented former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal.11 He forcefully argued in favour of breaking the nexus between Pakistan and Hurriyat who have a common agenda of contesting India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and creating instability.12 From a larger national perspective it is difficult to find fault with the argument. But consider how it impairs the Government in J&K from pursuing an agenda that voted them to power particularly in the valley.

Top leadership of PDP, the senior partner in the coalition in J&K, has missed no opportunity to laud the Government for every initiative to engage in dialogue with Pakistan.10&13 Chief Minister Mufti Mohamed Sayeed expressed disappointment over the cancellation of NSA-level talks and blamed Pakistan for it. Advocating dialogue as the only way forward to restore peace and stability in the region he hoped that the “Ufa thaw” in relations between the two countries would “not go waste”.14 The party leadership has generously praised former Prime Minister Vajpayee for his commitment to “improved relations with Pakistan”, positive moves on “political reconciliation in J&K” and starting “people-to-people contact between divided families living on either side of LoC”.15

The PDP leadership is deeply conscious of the ground slipping from under its feet in favour of separatists. The headlines that Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed’s public addresses have made in recent weeks in the local media bring out a state of despondency and helplessness.16 In the hope for peace and better Indo- Pak relations the Chief Minister has gone out of the way even to laud a relatively insignificant agreement between Heads of BSF and Pak Rangers on ceasefire.17

The PDP leadership knows that a mere development centric agenda, even which has not taken off seriously due to absence of any economic package and funding for relief and rehabilitation of flood victims, will neither reduce alienation nor help them keeping their fragile support base from spilling into separatists’ ranks. The party has to deliver on the election promises of the ‘political variety’. Any forward movement in this regard can only be achieved when there is peace on the borders and hinterland and Pakistan is on a ‘dialogue mode’ with India.

Separatists return to headlines

The influence of separatists in Kashmir is declining as democratic institutions take roots in the state. The process of isolating them had reached a crucial phase when Assembly elections of 2014 concluded. It would, however, be naïve to believe that based on a purely developmental agenda, which successive Governments in the state and the centre have followed, a complete and irreversible marginalization of separatists can be achieved. The feeble attempts at engaging separatists or addressing the internal dimension of the problem within the four corners of the Constitution have time and again failed to take off. The recommendations of the Interlocutors and Round Tables, particularly those related to relations between the Union and the State, are gathering dust. The road map for political resolution of the problem put forth by the two most influential mainstream political parties of the valley, ranging from ‘autonomy’ to ‘self rule’, has not been seriously debated.

The separatists got their first lease of life as soon as the coalition was stitched based on a CMP which put politically sensitive issues on the backburner. The contradictions within the coalition and inability of the Government to even attend to relief and rehabilitation of flood victims has provided much needed opening to the Hurriyat. There are incidents of stone pelting and display of Pakistan and ISIS flags every Friday in Srinagar. Three separatist leaders Shabir Ahmed Shah, Nayeem Ahmed Khan and Agha Syed Hassan have joined the hard line faction of Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Newly elected Chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Ghulam Mohammad Bhat has welcomed unity among separatists and stated that the party will consider joining Hurriyat (G).

There is increasing evidence of radicalization of youth in the valley. The hooliganism during an International marathon on September 13, waving of Pak flags and shouting anti-India slogans on an event organised to “Save Dal Lake” has ominous portents. There have been widespread protests and shut down after recovery from Pattan area of north Kashmir of 3 dead bodies on September 14, who police claims to be of Lashkar-e- Islami terrorists killed by rival Hizbul Mujahideen.

Pakistan recognizes the leverage it enjoys through separatists to whip up trouble in the state. The moral and material support to separatists has been stepped up through raising Kashmir issue on International fora with reiteration of demand for a solution in accordance with wishes of the people (read separatists) of the state.

In recent weeks the intensity of protests and whipping of anti- India sentiments by waving Pakistani flags has increased. The State must ensure that a peaceful environment is created for development, trade, tourism and education, to name a few. The State is within its rights to take reasonable preventive measures and ensure peace and normalcy.

The Government has been criticized for putting restrictions on the movement and activities of separatist leaders. Critics argue that in a democratic set up they must get their constitutional right to protest peacefully. There is nothing peaceful about the protests by separatists. These protests invariably end up in stone pelting and retaliatory action by the police and CPMFs. They end up in firing and deaths. The experience of the year 2010 shows that these protests have a spiraling effect. They lead to long periods of uncertainty and inflict untold miseries on the common people. The state Government will have to fulfill this responsibility and also of tackling residual militancy through synergy between police, CPMFs and Army.

Democratization and Demilitarization

India rightly chose the path of ‘democratization’ in the state through successive elections to hand over power to the representatives of the people even when the conflict per se had not ended. In view of the complexity of the problem with stake holders within and outside the country it would have been naïve to assume that the conflict and associated violence will completely end any time soon. The seriousness of the Indian state to strengthen democratic institutions in the State is evident from the timely holding of elections in 2008 and 2014 despite strong contrary arguments for postponement due to adverse situation created by the Amarnath land row agitation and devastating floods, respectively.

The ‘democratization’ has led to gradual transition of power to the elected representatives of the people from a predominantly ‘uniformed face’ of Governance necessitated by the proxy war from Pakistan. There are demands for ‘demilitarization’ as a natural consequence of ‘democratization’, coming periodically from the mainstream political parties as well. In view of the geographical location of the State bordering two hostile neighbours, total demilitarization is out of question as long as territorial integrity of India continues to be endangered. There can be no dilution in the role of Security forces to prevent infiltration of terrorists and dealing with them along borders and in their hideouts mostly in remote hilly forest areas.

The current hostile stance of Pakistan on the borders and their stepping up support to separatists and terrorists puts brakes on even partial demilitarization related to internal security role of the Army by phased revocation of AFSPA from inhabited areas. What appeared doable between 2011 and 2014 is a non starter today due to differences within the coalition itself on the issue. In any case it will require much more ‘political risk taking’ to consider such an option in the current security environment. But the risk has to be taken some day. Infinite continuation of AFSPA is a highly emotive issue in the valley. Its phased withdrawal can be a huge confidence building measure to consolidate on the dividends of ‘democratization’ and a starting point for a fresh attempt to address alienation particularly amongst the youth in the state.

Democratization and Demilitarization

India rightly chose the path of ‘democratization’ in the state through successive elections to hand over power to the representatives of the people even when the conflict per se had not ended. In view of the complexity of the problem with stake holders within and outside the country it would have been naïve to assume that the conflict and associated violence will completely end any time soon. The seriousness of the Indian state to strengthen democratic institutions in the State is evident from the timely holding of elections in 2008 and 2014 despite strong contrary arguments for postponement due to adverse situation created by the Amarnath land row agitation and devastating floods, respectively.

The ‘democratization’ has led to gradual transition of power to the elected representatives of the people from a predominantly ‘uniformed face’ of Governance necessitated by the proxy war from Pakistan. There are demands for ‘demilitarization’ as a natural consequence of ‘democratization’, coming periodically from the mainstream political parties as well. In view of the geographical location of the State bordering two hostile neighbours, total demilitarization is out of question as long as territorial integrity of India continues to be endangered. There can be no dilution in the role of Security forces to prevent infiltration of terrorists and dealing with them along borders and in their hideouts mostly in remote hilly forest areas.

The current hostile stance of Pakistan on the borders and their stepping up support to separatists and terrorists puts brakes on even partial demilitarization related to internal security role of the Army by phased revocation of AFSPA from inhabited areas. What appeared doable between 2011 and 2014 is a non starter today due to differences within the coalition itself on the issue. In any case it will require much more ‘political risk taking’ to consider such an option in the current security environment. But the risk has to be taken some day. Infinite continuation of AFSPA is a highly emotive issue in the valley. Its phased withdrawal can be a huge confidence building measure to consolidate on the dividends of ‘democratization’ and a starting point for a fresh attempt to address alienation particularly amongst the youth in the state.

Conclusion

A series of credible electoral exercises since 1996 have largely diminished the ‘democratic deficit’ in Jammu and Kashmir. The electorate defied boycott calls of separatists, terrorist threats and Pakistan’s escalated firing along borders to vote in record numbers in the 2014 Assembly elections. The separatists had lost ground to mainstream political parties albeit temporarily.

The fractured mandate of 2014 has led to a coalition in the state of partners with diametrically opposite views on sensitive political issues like relationship between the Union and the state, handling of separatists and AFSPA. The strained Indo-Pak relations have put a question mark on Government’s ability to fulfill its election promises to the people of the valley in particular. From the Indian perspective insistence on talking about ‘Pak sponsored terrorism’ is justified but the failure of the two sides to resume dialogue has adversely affected the capacity of the State Government to address alienation and further marginalize separatists. Lack of financial support has dampened the enthusiasm for a robust ‘development agenda’ and ‘relief and rehabilitation’ of victims of 2014 floods.

Separatists have exploited the situation in their favour to bounce back. Pakistan has provided the much needed political and moral support going to the extent of sacrificing resumption of talks on the pretext that India prevented ‘consultations’ with Kashmiri separatists and insisting that there can be no talks without Kashmir being on the agenda. The Hurriyat sponsored ‘hartals’ and protests are once again hitting the headlines. There is frequent waving of Pak flags and incidents of violence are showing an upward trend. These need to be attended to seriously by the state government and the security forces.

The ‘democratization’ in a conflict situation must in due course lead to ‘demilitarization’. In the context of J&K with two hostile neighbours including active border hostilities and infiltration of terrorists by Pakistan, there can only be a limited and phased ‘demilitarization’ of troops deployed on internal security duties in inhabited areas. While initiating such a withdrawal was possible between 2011 and 2014, in the changed security situation including stiff Pak stance in recent months, any such suggestion will not be acceptable to the security forces. Postponement of a decision on this emotive subject will further strengthen the hardliners and dampen the peace process.

The ‘opportunistic embrace’ between the coalition partners has led to a situation jeopardizing even the developmental agenda or their commitment to fulfill regional aspirations. The status quo approach on sensitive issue of relationship between the State and the Union has seriously dented any forward movement of the peace process. The failure of India and Pakistan to resume dialogue restricts the ability of PDP to address emotive issues having bearing to reduce ‘alienation’. This has the danger of paving way for ascendency of separatists which will be a step backward in the peace process. The hard earned gains of ‘democratization’ need to be assiduously guarded.

Endnotes:

About the Author

Shri Ashok Bhan, a former Director General of Police, has deep appreciation of security issues of J & K because of his long years of experience as head of the intelligence department of the State . He is a keen observer and analyst of current affairs with a focus on J & K and contributes regularly to journals.Views expressed in the article are solely that of the author.

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