Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Inspector General N C Asthana has made an important assessment about the situation prevailing in Kashmir. Generally an officer does so after his retirement and many of those associated with security establishment and having served in Kashmir thrive as experts on the subject. Some of them land up in security and strategy related think tanks to partake their expertise in advising the government as to how the situation could be contained in Kashmir. But here the situation is different.
Asthana is a serving officer in India’s biggest paramilitary force and has served in Kashmir twice. He was handling the unrest in valley in 2010 as well. In an interview to respected newsmagazine Tehelka, Asthana whose book “India’s Internal Security: The Actual Concerns” is hitting stands this week, has been candid in admitting some harsh realities about Kashmir. Asthana accepts the fact that Government of India had failed in making a turnaround in situations such as Kashmir, North East and Maoist hit areas despite pumping so much of resources and continued fight against the opponents in these areas. “Whether it’s Kashmir, Maoist-affected areas or the Northeast, the returns are dismal. In Kashmir, we have 70 battalions of the CRPF, an equal number of BSF forces, three corps of the army, and yet insurgency has been on for 23 years. Northeast insurgencies have been on for 58 years,” says Asthana (Tehelka Delhi, Sep 1, 2012)
While New Delhi has been grappling with the challenge of wiping out insurgency in North East for nearly 50 years now, the Maoists have given a severe blow to its capability and made a dent to its image as a growing economic power. However, in case of Kashmir, New Delhi might have succeeded in containing the militancy related violence as the number of militants had gone drastically down. This could be true partly because of the fact that the source of this militancy had dried up due to the internal strife in that country, continued international pressure, lack of ground support from public and the intense operational strategy to neutralise them. However, the fact remains that in last 21 years of turmoil, the government could not bring back the permanent peace to the state.
Despite the fact that the influx of tourists is soaring high for last two years, developmental works are in full swing, panchayat elections were held and the normal businesses are moving upwards, political unease in Kashmir does not show any signs of recession. Asthana’s assessment, that in-spite of huge security apparatus spanning over 140 battalions of CRPF and Border Security force, besides three Corps of Army and 1.2 lakh strong force of Jammu and Kashmir Police, the “insurgency” is on, is not out of place. The way the government has taken steps to crush the militancy, inviting flak for human rights violation in the form of killing of innocents in fake encounters and thousands getting disappeared in custody, the militancy should have been history the way LTTE is now in Sri Lanka.
But the strong political element in this sense of disillusionment has kept Kashmir alive. Kashmir’s transition from violence to non-violence has made the political movement more strong on the ground and when the stone pelting is responded with the killing of 120 civilians, it surely makes a different case for Kashmir. The level of disappointment in Kashmir is so high that even for a foreign militant’s killing there is strong resentment from public. I remember when four foreigners who attacked the Srinagar airport in 2000 where killed in an encounter, a strong crowd of 5000 people struggled with the police for many hours to retrieve their bodies and gave them a decent burial. This sense has also been vouched by Asthana is his interview. “For instance, we conduct anti-terrorist operations in a village in which a terrorist may be killed, who probably doesn’t even belong to Kashmir. If a local boy is killed, some resentment is understood. But even when a man patently from outside Kashmir is gunned down, there is very strong protest action.” (Tehelka Delhi, Sep 1, 2012)
Going by Asthana’s interview, his book must be exploding. The way he has come out with the assessment about Kashmir, hardly any other top official in the establishment has dared to unravel the reality. Asthana’s account may not be taken as the last word about the Indian perspective on Kashmir but he has served at a very sensitive position from where the reality must have dawned upon him. For example see this statement “There is a strong undercurrent against India. Even in minor accidents involving outside vehicles, people start shouting slogans: Naare-e-takbir. That’s still fine; they’re asserting a religious identity. But, when it is followed by Hum kya chahate hai… azaadi, how does it make sense? As we write in the book, are we to treat them like spoilt brats? Even Naxalites don’t put up slogans like ‘Go [away] India’”. He clearly differentiates between the problems in Naxal hit areas, Northeast and Kashmir, which the political establishment in Delhi continues to ignore. He goes further by saying the elections are not the seal on relationship between Srinagar and Delhi but “Our contention is that elections don’t prove that people are reposing their trust in the Indian system. People want representatives to help them with their day-to-day issues — a word with the local sub-inspector or local patwari”. The elected Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has even endorsed this and many other pro- India leaders who enjoy the privileges under the Indian system but in same breath try to portray themselves as “separatists”.
What Asthana has brought to the fore must serve as a food for thought for policy makers in Delhi who see Kashmir through the prism of law and order. Even the former Home Minister P Chidambaram declared Kashmir as a unique problem, which demands unique resolution. But he miserably failed in addressing it that way. Appointment of interlocutors was done by him and the decision lacked clear vision. After playing with galleries for over a year, they added to the long list of lost processes New Delhi had been initiating for many decades now. Taking cue from a serving IPS’s officer’s experience, the policy makers in Delhi would be doing good for their country by moving towards a sincere and serious approach on Kashmir.
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