The Farce Of Political Process In Kashmir
Lieutenant General V K Bhatt, General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, who leads the army forces in the Kashmir valley, has said that militancy is under control and the army may scale down its operations for the ‘political process’ to begin. With regard to Lt Gen Bhatt’s comments, three questions arise.First, does his assessment of the ground situation in the valley match with the assessment of the Intelligence agencies, the army general and the Defence Minister? Indirect approval of his superiors might be presumed from the fact that he has given interviews to some national newspapers to make his assessment known. He would have been cautious and discreet even if he had reached his conclusion and not given interviews had he not been sure of his superiors’ approval. Second, is his assessment sound? There have been short to long periods in the past when militancy in the valley has looked under control, only to be proven as an illusion. The militant groups withdrew for a time to prepare themselves for yet another burst and push for ‘azaadi.’
The third and most important question that arises from Lt Gen Bhatt’s comments is: Can Kashmir be considered really ready for the political process to begin? When we talk about political process we actually mean a free and detailed dialogue with the separatist groups, starting with the premise of accession of Kashmir to India being non-negotiable. Any solution to the issues raised by the separatist groups has to be found within the Constitution of India which holds Kashmir as an integral part of India. Are the separatist groups ready for a dialogue on this premise? There are no signs of that coming from the valley.
The separatist groups during all these years of militancy have never accepted the premise. In fact, the rejection of the premise is the bedrock of their ideology. They hold that Kashmiris have a unique history, geography, culture and language – an identity different from ‘India’ – to deserve a ‘nation’ of their own.
So the first thing to find out is whether the separatist groups are ready to start a conditional dialogue with the Indian government. So far, none of the separatist groups has agreed to have such a conditional dialogue. There have been three kinds of political groups in Kashmir. Each of these groups is divided into several organisations, but broadly these three groups make up Kashmir polity. The first group is of those who want ‘liberation’ of Kashmir from India and its recognition by the world, including India and Pakistan, as a separate nation. The second group is of those who are proxies of Pakistan that wants to take Jammu and Kashmir on the ground that it had a Muslim majority – the ground on which parts of India, such as West Punjab and East Bengal, were given to it at the time of Partition. The third group is composed of the political parties that do participate in the election process but take care not to be totally identified with Delhi. They keep taking hard positions on issues that agitate the minds of the Kashmiris sympathetic to the first two groups in order not to lose popular support.
Political process has never made much headway in Kashmir because the first two groups never joined a conditional dialogue. They primarily consider dialogue with India pre-doomed. Their view is that they can fulfil their objective only by fighting an armed war with India: Kashmir can be ‘won’ only by arms and not by negotiations. There have been moments in the past when some of the overground separatist groups have agreed to have talks with the representatives of the Indian government or interlocutors, but their participation has proven to be a political mirage as they have insisted that the dialogue must be held tabula rasa – on a clean slate. India’s approach to such dialogues has always been to come with a slate headlined ‘Kashmir inseparable from India’ – “First you accept the headline, then we can together write the copy to the utmost satisfaction of yours.” So, every time we have seen dialogue come into bud, we have seen it nipped by the inability of the Indian government and the separatist groups to water and fertilise it.
There can be no political process as there are no indications that the Indian government and the separatist groups have decided to water and fertilise its bud. We should not ridicule Lt Gen Bhatt for his optimism, for like him all of us want peace in Kashmir, but we would advise him a little bit of caution. In the past dialogues have begun and ended with the political parties that are already in the mainstream. Let us hope no more such a farce recurs costumed as political process.