New Delhi has always looked at Kashmir and Kashmiris with a prism of suspicion

Spies and security agencies

Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh’s assertion that security agencies and spies are dictating the policy on Kashmir and that Centre is not quite sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people in the valley is significant. However, it sounds more like a plea of helplessness rather than the beginning of a new chapter of addressing the anger and alienation of the people, coming from a person who is very much a part of the central government he holds responsible for inadequate action on Kashmir. Of course, he has hit the nail on the head by analysing much that is wrong with Indian state’s policy vis-à-vis Kashmir and even confessed that it was political vacuum that allowed the growth of militant, secessionist groups. This indeed, is a welcome departure from the past when national leaders have been in complete denial of the indigenous genesis of the turmoil in Kashmir and simply shifted the blame to Pakistan for all that is wrong in the Valley.

Barring the brief period of a peace process that did not cross the barrier of some half baked confidence building measures to facilitate movement between the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir divided by the bloody Line of Control, successive governments in recent decades have shown little spine or sensitivity in dealing with Kashmir and even Congress led regimes, in their bid to outdo the hyper-nationalism of the Hindutva Brigade when it comes to Kashmir, have been ultra-nationalistic in their approach and treated the Kashmir issue and the Kashmiri dissent with obsessive paranoia. The net result has been a bid to excessively control people through repressive measures and curtailment of their civil liberties.

While excessive militarisation of the Valley and rest of the state may be a much more recent phenomenon, necessitated by the rise of armed insurgency in 1988-89, even in the decades before that, spies, intelligence and security agencies have had unprecedented and unmatched presence in their surveillance operations and their interference in matters that are political, social and economic. The intelligence inputs of the security agencies have played a very vital role in shaping the politics of control pursued by New Delhi ever since 1947, particularly after 1952 when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested. Unfortunately, their feedback has been treated as far more sacred than the views and reports of academic and political experts and the former has had a more discerning role to play. That the centre has always looked at Kashmiris from a prism of suspicion has a great deal to do with the overwhelming role that security agencies and spy networks, genetically at odds with the basic essence of democracy, have carved out for themselves in the most complex political tangles of South Asia. Similar is the fate of the part of Jammu and Kashmir administered by Pakistan. These agencies have become monstrously powerful after insurgency and have performed a role beyond the simple strategic role of combating militancy, enriching the fabric of Kashmir with chaos, confusion, repression and dehumanization. The agencies are well entrenched and sizeable population of the state is marginally or fully co-opted to play the second rung role of informers and collaborators, a policy that has given birth to the disastrous action of creating VDCs, arming renegades and recruiting adhoc appointees in police and security forces, and thus pitted people against their own.

Such a policy does not only lie at the core of human rights abuse, it also lies at the nucleus of complete political inertia simply because this thriving networking of intelligence and security agencies has developed a vested interest in stalling any move towards resolution of Kashmir issue and restoring meaningful peace. The successive prime ministers – from men who talked about sky is the limit on Kashmir to men who have promised zero tolerance to human rights violations – have never played an assertive role by questioning the intelligence briefs provided to them, either due to their indifference and insensitivity or their powerlessness. Chief minister Omar Abdullah recently displayed a show of tears on the floor of the state legislative assembly talking about his woeful tale of helplessness against brutal killings by security forces.

The power vests to a great extent in the union home ministry but does this ministry ever overstep the dotted line provided as per the traditional feedback coming through security agencies and intelligence networks? It is no small wonder that despite much political noises, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), far from totally revoking it cannot even be put under review only because the army openly opposes it. Finance minister P. Chidambaram, who held the home portfolio not so long ago, provided some legitimacy to the claims of the army recently by stating that it was only army getting in the way between Kashmir and AFSPA revocation. This so, even as the Act came as a piece of legislation, stamped by the parliament. Only the parliament should have the right to revoke it, as per the law. But facts appear otherwise, reflecting that when it comes to a state like Jammu and Kashmir, it is virtually the control of the uniform in every aspect, and the policy is simply sugar-coated with a pseudo democracy that does not extend beyond the right to vote. Jairam Ramesh is right in his jargon but as part of the most powerful elite of the country does he have either the power or the temerity to challenge this trend and get the Centre to genuinely address the political issue as well as the socio-economic problems of the state?