Special Powers Act is fast emerging as the scapegoat to wriggle out of this critical situation. The embattled Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who camped in Delhi to get this important concession, which he feels will take some of the heat away from his inept handling of the situation, has termed the withdrawal a “unique solution to the Kashmir problem”, saying, “some calculated risks have to be taken in the larger interests of peace”.
This brings us back to a pertinent question – who is the guarantor of peace in Kashmir? Who will give the surety that after such a major concession, this un-ending cycle of protests, stone-pelting – strikes and arson will stop once and for all? Will the Hurriyat stand up and say “thank you, we unilaterally call off the protests”, and thereafter come to New Delhi for talks towards a lasting solution !
The reason being cited in justification of the Act’s withdrawal is the reduced and in some cases negligible levels of violence in districts like Kathua, Samba, Srinagar, Ganderbal etc. But, if one goes into the background of Kashmir’s violence that commenced in 1989, the common factor that has helped in controlling militancy and thus reducing the violence levels in some parts of the State is that Armed Forces have been free to operate and flush out militants under the legal protection provided by the provisions of the AFSPA. In case the protection is withdrawn, militants and their mentors across are bound to re-strategise and thereafter regroup and establish their Peace has revisited Kashmir after more than more than three months of orchestrated violence, planned strikes and arson, methodical protests and sit-ins-all aimed at targeting Omar Abdullah’s government in Srinagar, and through him the Central government in New Delhi. The schools have reopened with highly reduced attendance and the city is limping back to normalcy. This is the result of a number of confidence measures that the Centre has announced after the visit of the All Party delegation to Kashmir. Some more concessions , most significantly the partial revocation or dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) are expected in the near future.
The Armed Forces presence in the areas from which they had been hitherto been hounded out by the Army’s relentless operations. The regrouping will take place in safe havens that will be provided in the areas from where the Army’s presence and domination will be reduced because of revocation of the Act. As it is the infiltration of terrorists from across the border is unabated and Jehadi Tanzeems that continue to have a presence in J&K are making desperate attempts to regain the initiative. It may come as a surprise to many but even as parleys for revocation of the AFSPA were on the Indian Army had killed as many as 30 terrorists in the month of September alone. Fifteen of these were killed along the line of control and fifteen in the hinterland. Despite this we hear noises about revocation of the AFSPA.
As it is , without making too much noise the army has over a long period of time been handing over important towns and cities as well as the districts to the CRPF/JKP, thus establishing their dominance and presence, and totally removing the ‘Olive Greens’ from these areas. This in itself constitutes a fair dilution of the AFSPA in large swathes of real estate within the Valley itself not to talk of other regions of the State. Hence, purely from a political perspective, it can be seen as a step in the right direction provided the follow up is equally swift and effective. That is to say that the areas are properly taken over by the PMF/JKP.
At this stage, instead of remaining engaged in non issues like revocation of the AFSPA or seeking the resignation of the Chief Minister it would be prudent if someone gets to the separatists and pressurizes them to leave their hawkish tendencies behind and come forward to discuss the larger issue of lasting peace, naturally, with the rider that no more protests/violence will be orchestrated. The good of Kashmir lies in the separatists withdrawing their agitation and directing their cadres to go back to work and then coming forward for discussion to resolve their apprehensions. As is being popularly said, the Indian Constitution has all provisions to address genuine apprehension of the people of the Nation and everything can be achieved by sustained dialogue provided the concerned parties have the will and the inclination to go for it.
The J&K government is now under the scanner, and hence needs to get its act together. Instead of blaming the Army, as do the separatists routinely ! The first step in this direction could be limited withdrawal of the Disturbed Areas Act, next should be a development and compensation package and simultaneously announcement of the long pending talks. Any delay will only add to further alienation of the people and give an open opportunity for both the separatists and the terrorists to mislead them to doom. Hope wiser counsel will prevail and we can prevent it !