Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tackling Kashmir Situation

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has pledged a gradual pullout of troops on counter-insurgency duty in Jammu and Kashmir but refused to give a timetable for their planned relocation along the borders with Pakistan. Chidambaram, who was on a two-day visit to Srinagar following the rape and murder of two young Kashmiri women, allegedly by uniformed men, set off fresh spells of unrest across the Valley.

Chidambaram’s Initiatives
To ease the tension created due to the recent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, Chidambaram has taken a commendable initiative of giving more importance to the State police force in security matters. The presence of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the state for a long time has been the issue of protest by locals, and after the alleged murder of two women in Shopian, tension had suddenly erupted there in the atmosphere that had been calm for a while. Chidambaram’s indication that the CRPF be replaced by the Jammu and Kashmir police in a phased manner and the latter be accorded a greater role in maintaining law and order in the insurgency-afflicted state is a step in the right direction. Given the scale of the Pakistani-fuelled insurgency and terrorism in the State that took root two decades ago, the responsibility of tackling this extraordinary menace has fallen on the Army and other central security forces.

Atmosphere in Kashmir
The current disturbed atmosphere in Kashmir does no credit to the powers that be. Anyone can see that the Indian State has weathered the storm that blew in the Valley for close to a decade starting from the late 1980s. Equally, anyone can see that the State has not learnt to deal with peaceful and peaceable citizens, and applies to them debatable methods that counter-insurgency gurus find handy in coping with dangerous elements.

Over the years, however, the situation in the State has changed somewhat. Electoral politics, which had remained suspended during the 1990s, has since long been restored. Democratically elected governments are now governing the State. It is thus only natural that the State police return to doing what they are trained and paid for — maintaining law and order. This will boost normalcy in the State. It will help in rebuilding this vital instrument of state, which recruits locals who in turn are able to better understand the local citizenry. This measure should also help in reducing public alienation that exists between the local people and the central forces, a phenomenon that is typical in any insurgency-affected area. Significantly, in no insurgency-affected State in the country have the State police been at the forefront of fighting insurgency and terrorism.

Dip in Terrorism
The dip in terrorism in the State coupled with the disenchantment with the separatists is also reflected in the people’s desire to get on with their lives. This can be gauged from the fact that tourism in the Valley, one of the main sources of revenue for the State, is experiencing a huge surge. This is also indicative of the aspirations of the new generation of Kashmiri youth who are increasingly realising the folly of violence and are more concerned about their future and their economic well-being; this is the way it should be.

Ideally, such incidents must not take place at all. If at all they do, they must not be handled ineptly as in this case. The Centre, too, must realise that the holding of elections in the State may be an achievement but it is not a solution to the problems in the State. The old animosities remain and any incident can lead to a flare-up again. Pakistan is there as usual to stoke the fires. The “Shopian march” call given by Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is under arrest at an undisclosed location, may have ended but the separatists have kept life at many places at a standstill for over a week.

Chidambaram's initiative also gives the indication that he understood that the Shopian case was not getting quiet with the routine announcement of investigation, and the Central Government needed to take some steps in this matter. It is also clear from his two-day Kashmir visit how seriously State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah himself is taking this matter, and the Central Government because of him. The forensic examination is said to have confirmed the initial allegation of rape and murder, rather than death by accidental drowning, the version the Chief Minister was made to rely upon. The people are hardly amused. After the wonderful Lok Sabha election on the heels of a remarkable Assembly election late 2008 that surprised everyone with its very high popular participation, adherents of the extremist ideology have once again been handed an opportunity to create disaffection on an extended scale. A round of firing on protesting mobs has already taken place in Shopian. There is every likelihood that Pakistan-oriented troublemakers, although tiny in numbers, will seek to do all they can to induce police firing on protesters in the larger towns in the Valley with a view to getting back their lost élan.

Role of State Police
Such proposals have been given on several occasions in the past that the State police should attend to matters related to security first, and the central forces should be called only when the situation gets out of control, and the Army should be called only when the situation becomes extremely serious. However, for the past few years, the central security forces are being used as an alternative to State police, and it has also created controversies, be it Jammu and Kashmir, northeast states, or Maoist violence-affected Chhattisgarh, and other States. If Chidambaram's statement in Srinagar about the division of duty by the security forces were to be implemented as a long-term policy, we could save ourselves from such unpleasant situations in the future. It should be noted that in the terror attack on Mumbai in November 2008 also, the role of local police had not been very satisfactory.

Time Ahead
The concerning issues of security in Jammu and Kashmir are well-known. The Amarnath pilgrimage starting in the next few days, infiltration from across the border, and the so-called human rights violations by the security forces are some of the important issues. While advocating a greater role for the State Police, Chidambaram at the same time has ruled out both troop reduction and revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSP). For, there is neither evidence nor credible signs to show that the Pakistani establishment has dismantled its jihad factory. Islamabad continues to practice terrorism as an instrument of State policy. Hence, the Army needs to maintain vigil along the Line of Control (LoC) to prevent infiltration. More than Chidambaram's new term, it is necessary for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to immediately take some positive steps. Against the background of the continuous pressure being exerted by the United States on India to hold talks with Pakistan, the internal security of Jammu and Kashmir will become a decisive issue.

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