Most of the prying eyes in Jammu and Kashmir are fixed on the year 2014. For both intelligentsia and common people there are two obvious reasons for the curiosity. One, how the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, to be completed by the end 2014 is going to influence relations between India and Pakistan and if the spillover from the troubled country is going to have any impact on Jammu and Kashmir – and what kind of impact that could be. Two, how 2014 assembly elections were going to shape the future political discourse and dispensation in the state.
For some recent happenings in the state, the primary concern of this column will be examining the coming assembly elections and their implications for the larger narrative. Nevertheless, for state politics dovetailed to geo-strategic and geo-politics in the regions it would be important to understand implications of the US withdrawal for South Asia in general and state in particular. It is now almost for over a decade or so India and Pakistan have been struggling for getting a foothold in Afghanistan more for geo-strategic reasons than anything else. The United States ‘believing that India would be unrivaled regional power with large military – including navel and nuclear capabilities and strong economy,’ competent to arrest Chinas influence in the regions wants to create more space for it in Afghanistan. Now far past over a decade in collaboration with Hamid Karazi government of India has invested heavily in Kabul. Besides training Afghan soldiers, it has undertaken many development projects of strategic importance in the country. Moreover, Pakistan’s worry for the past many years has been Indian consulates and their activities near Pakistan-Afghanistan border. India does not have contiguous borders with Afghanistan- that largely works to the advantage of Pakistan. But, United States for ‘neutralizing Pakistan nuclear arsenal and containing China’ has been supporting expanding of India’s presence in Afghanistan.’ Many geo-strategic researchers are of view that Pakistan future will be shaped by developments in Afghanistan’. Scholars like Stephen Cohen known for their anti-Pakistan writings hold the view that a ‘negotiated settlement between the Afghan Taliban and the Karazi government would be best way for Pakistan to ensure India-free-Afghanistan’. Pakistanis do not hold similar views, but for skirting New Delhi’s influence, they want to see Taliban negotiating a solution from a point of strength rather dictating a solution. Some Pakistan columnists have been connecting the recent the ceasefire violations across the Loc and exchange of fire on the working boundary as an outcome diplomatic war between Islamabad and New Delhi over gaining greater influence in Afghanistan before US troops with draw from Kabul. Notwithstanding, India and Pakistan reiterating their commitment for initiating peace process with full vigor the year 2014 does not hold a bright promise for peace in the region- if there is no war but it certainly is going to be a year of war of attrition. The United States with all its inclination towards India has repeatedly been recognizing importance of Pakistan for peace and stability in Afghanistan. The year may also see a change in the post 9/11 ‘dehyphenation US policy’-when Bush administration separated its India and Pakistan policy and America had shown lack of interest in the resolution of core issue of Jammu and Kashmir that has bedeviled the relation between the two countries for over six decades.
To say that developments in Afghanistan with all its spillover consequences are going to have an impact on 2014 Assembly elections in the state will be stretching it thus far. It may be too early to comment on prospectus of coming state assembly election but there is lots of kite flying about these. Some believe that that the PDP patron seeking mandate for resolution of the Kashmir dispute within the framework of Indian constitution may stir some “pro-freedom camps” and prompt launching of a united front like MUF. It may motivate some within a faction of the Hurriyat Conference to take the lead in supporting a combine like MUF. Leaders of various parties in 2008 elections or before sought election for good governance and ensuring basic facilities like Sadak, Pani or Bajali to people but major opposition seeking mandate for resolution of the problem within constitution of India is making a sort of history in state electoral politics. It is a different debate, if the Constituent Assembly of the state had been denied authority for ‘final disposition of the state’ how can the state assembly enjoy such a power. It is too premature a debate if a united front like MUF is reborn or not, or if youngsters like Sajad Lone and his organization emerge as front-runners in the coming elections. Alternatively, if traditional organization likes the National Conference, the Indian National Congress, the PDP or BJP have a field day in the coming elections. But, some recent incidents of sectarian violence in district Budgam and communal violence in Kishtwar district of Jammu province are largely ominous for the election year and these if not fought back to the finish have the potential of striking back during the coming assembly elections and causing greater damage to social fabric of the state.
The violence in Kishtwar has brought certain inherent threats to communal harmony under sharp focus. Minister for Finance, P. Chidambaram on Friday informed Union Cabinet in New Delhi that that Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of Sangh Parivar, was involved in stoking communal violence in Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir. There are about three thousands Village Defence Committee members of one community armed with semi-automatic and automatic weapons operating in Muslim majority areas of Jammu province. Cadres of a political organizations belonging to a particular religious belief armed by the government and paid from the state treasuries are like live bombs in the society with the potential of exploding at any time. It is hard to believe that these would not be used by their handlers to further their election fortunes of through the barrel of gun. Looking at the happenings in Kishtwar these could be trial balloons of organizations that of late have been looking for improving their electoral prospectus in Jammu province.
To see incidents like August 9 are not repeated these armed outfits need to be disbanded before 2014 elections in the state.