If the Centre Can’t Speak in One Voice, How Is Kashmir Supposed to Listen?

If the Centre Can’t Speak in One Voice, How Is Kashmir Supposed to Listen?

If those within the Central government continue to contradict each other on Kashmir, a meaningful dialogue on the conflict is impossible.

Khurram Parvez

The cessation of hostilities is a basic requirement for any meaningful political foundation for resolving the Kashmir conflict. Home minister Rajnath Singh’s statement on halting anti-militancy operations appears to be yet another half-hearted political statement instead of an initiative which can be categorised as an effort towards the cessation of hostilities.

The minister’s statement has come in a manner similar to the Dineshwar Sharma’s appointment as the special representative for Jammu and Kashmir. Before Sharma could even start his work, the minister of state for the prime minister’s office, Jitendra Singh, sullied the initiative by saying that Sharma would only talk to elected representatives and not Hurriyat leaders. Sharma has since made several visits to Jammu and Kashmir, but so far the Centre has not bothered to publicly specify what his terms of reference for engagement are.

Singh’s statement on halting the anti-militancy operations has emerged in response to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s request for a unilateral ceasefire. Just three days before Singh’s statement on the non-initiation of combat operations (NICO), defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected any possibility of a ceasefire.

Prior to her rejection, deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Kavinder Gupta, an RSS worker and a BJP politician, also trivialised the ceasefire proposal.

More recently, Amit Shah, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stated that this ceasefire is not meant for militants.

These discordant voices from senior government representatives are a replica of what transpired after Sharma’s appointment. Kashmiris perceive this to be a deliberate ‘confusion’, furthering a lack of transparency and the politics of deception.

The initiation of NICO is not exactly the kind of bold political decision required to help create an atmosphere for conflict transformation in Jammu and Kashmir. But if there is openness in New Delhi, efforts can still be made to make this a first step to further consolidate it into a permanent ceasefire mechanism between all the sides. Improvising NICO into a meaningful ceasefire is very much dependent on the conduct of the armed forces stationed in Kashmir.

On the ground, the armed forces are the ones who will translate into reality the statements of the political elite. Since the announcement, newspapers have reported around nine militants, one civilian and one soldier have been killed in various combat operations. We have witnessed firing at D.K. Pora, Shopian by the army when people refused to attend their iftar party. The firing resulted in injuries to four young girls. In a recent incident, residents of the Sugan hamlet in the same district have accused the forces of ransacking residential houses and damaging properties and vehicles after an IED blast. In north Kashmir’s Sopore, a nine-year-old child was reportedly hit by a rubber bullet. At Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, the police used excessive force against the peaceful protesters, leading to injuries for nearly 70 protesters. The police fired pellet shotguns and tear gas canisters inside the Jamia Masjid compound.

So far, it appears the armed forces are working unabated on their sustained agenda of imposing the writ of the Centre in Jammu and Kashmir through all violent means available to them with impunity.

The militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is a response to militarisation and the choking of political space for all dissidents. Therefore, NICO must be followed by the release of political prisoners, an end to the house detentions of senior Hurriyat leaders and, most importantly, an end to the daily restrictions, humiliations and violence suffered by civilians.

This will certainly create conducive conditions in which the Hurriyat and militant leadership will find a credible and persuasive atmosphere to reciprocate positively to the political initiatives emanating from New Delhi.

The scepticism in Kashmir on any Central initiative is based on the reality that the state’s actions and words thus far have been riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. On the one hand, all governments from past to present have always stated that through violence no issue can be resolved; yet they justify the presence of the armed forces, who have only engaged through violent means in Jammu and Kashmir, even against civilians and political workers.

At this stage, the operations by militants have not stopped, because NICO is a one-sided affair, which has not been negotiated with militants. The militant leadership has formally rejected it.

It is certainly very important that India, Pakistan and the militant leadership should agree on a cessation of hostilities from all sides, but for that to happen, instead of egoistic policies, the government has to engage with the stakeholders in a dignified manner and negotiate the terms of reference of the ceasefire. There has to be a proper mechanism for monitoring the ceasefire, which may be negotiated.

After the initiation of NICO, the Union home minister has made a public announcement for dialogue with the Hurriyat and Pakistan. This statement came days after the statement made by the Pakistani army chief that Pakistan favours a resolution of the Kashmir dispute through a meaningful and comprehensive dialogue with India.

However, even before the Hurriyat and Pakistan could respond to Rajnath Singh’s statement, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj contradicted him by saying that with regard to Pakistan, there cannot be any dialogue as ‘talks and terror can’t go together’.

The people of Jammu and Kashmir and various stakeholders can effectively reciprocate the statements made by Singh only if there is substantive clarity and conflicting statements from various Central officials stop. The Centre has to speak in one voice and take bold political decisions. Addressing the Kashmir problem through dialogue, while also catering to certain extremist sentiments in the country simultaneously, is impossible.

For the purposes of rhetoric, politicians may say anything. But it will be impossible to find a solution to the Jammu and Kashmir conflict while sidelining any of the parties – be it Pakistan or those whom the people of Jammu and Kashmir regard as their leaders. Pakistan has to be on board on any initiative which is taken for the final resolution. The fact that Pakistan has a caretaker government and the general elections are to be held very soon is an important factor which should be considered before expecting any substantive forward movement from their side.

In the developing political situation, if the Centre clarifies and further builds on these initiatives, as has been desired by the joint resistance leadership of Jammu and Kashmir (JRL) in a joint statement issued in Srinagar, it will be incumbent upon the militant leadership and the JRL to show statesmanship, rather than brinkmanship.

In a recent positive development between the Indian and Pakistani armies, both have deliberately decided to implement mechanisms for observing a complete ceasefire along the Line of Control and the working boundary as per the ceasefire agreement of November 2003.

Though its implementation will face hurdles, the effort to observe the LoC ceasefire is encouraging. One can only hope that the two governments will also speak in unison and make efforts to assuage the suffering of the people in Jammu and Kashmir.

Khurram Parvez is a human rights defender, chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance and programme coordinator at the J&K Coalition of Civil Society.