I am sure the Home Minister meant well when he said that he expected the situation in the Kashmir Valley to return to normal soon, but it has not and there are no signs it will. The Home Secretary was sending a message of support to the security forces when he said that the situation was improving, but it is not and there are no signs it will.
The Northern Army Commander was pointing the way forward when he said that the government should talk to all stakeholders, but it is common knowledge that the government does not include the separatists (Mr Geelani et al) in its definition of ‘stakeholders’. Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad allowed sufficient space to the government when he said that it is for the government to specify who the stakeholders are, but it is pretty clear that the government has rebuffed the offer to support the government if it enlarged the definition of stakeholders.
Drastic change in situation
The all-parties delegation went to Jammu & Kashmir to the coldest reception in memory. No one came forward to meet the delegation except the local units of the political parties that were part of the delegation. No chamber of commerce, no non-government organisation, no student body, no trade or employees union, no association of professionals such as lawyers or doctors, no eminent citizen — practically nobody — was willing to meet the delegation. This was in sharp contrast to the huge number of persons and organisations that met a similar delegation in 2010.
Clearly, things have changed between 2010 and 2016. In fact, there has been a drastic change in the situation between 2015 and 2016. The normalcy that had, by and large, returned in 2010 endured until 2014 and continued after the NDA government was formed at the Centre. It continued until March 1, 2015, when the PDP-BJP coalition government was formed in J&K under Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. There were great expectations of the new government, but there were also grave apprehensions.
How rapidly the situation in the Kashmir Valley has deteriorated since July 8, 2016, has been well chronicled. Why did the situation deteriorate so rapidly is a matter of debate. Let me keep that debate aside for the present and focus on the possible solutions.
More of the same…
One possible solution is to continue with the same approach as before: place the responsibility for internal security in the hands of the Army and the central armed police forces, continue with the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, send more forces to the Valley, impose curfew, shun the separatist leaders and detain them if necessary, apprehend the ‘leaders’ of the agitation, use force to quell protests, and blame Pakistan for instigating the protests in the Valley. In short, administer the same medicine (it hasn’t worked so far) in the hope that it will, in due course, contain and cure the affliction.
Another possible solution is to look at alternative medicine. Allopathy is a great system of medicine, but alternative systems of medicine have also gained wide acceptance. Likewise, why not try an alternative approach to the situation in J&K?
I do not intend to be provocative. I do not challenge the intentions of the governments (past and present). I accept that everyone genuinely desires to find a durable solution. If I indeed provoke, it is to provoke a constructive debate.
Or alternative approach?
Let’s begin with AFSPA: I have two suggestions. Firstly, announce the repeal of AFSPA, assure the armed forces that AFSPA will be replaced by a more humane law (not leaving a vacuum), and appoint a group to draft a new law quickly. Secondly, withdraw the application of AFSPA from select areas as an experimental measure.
Deployment: Instead of sending more troops to the Valley, withdraw some units from the populated areas of the Valley and send them to the border to strengthen the defence against infiltrators and potential terrorists. Send the message that the government trusts the people not to violate law and order.
Governance: Retrieve the report of the interlocutors appointed in 2010. There are many suggestions and proposals that can be implemented without opposition from any quarter. Identify them and begin their implementation.
Reiterate the stand of the Northern Army Commander: Appoint a small group of interlocutors to begin talks forthwith with stakeholders. It will take time, patience and persuasion but, eventually, different groups of stakeholders will come forward to meet the group of interlocutors.
Review of laws: Many laws were extended to J&K. Such extension is considered by the vast majority of the people of the state as unwarranted and in breach of the Instrument of Accession as well as Article 370 of the Constitution. So, why not ask the state legislature to do a comprehensive review of the extended laws and make laws on the subjects where it feels state legislation will suffice? Nothing will be lost if the state legislature makes laws to replace the
*Advocates Welfare Fund Act;
*Apartment Ownership Act;
*Ayurvedic and Unani Practitioners Act;
*Water Supply Act, etc,
… most of which can be replaced by state legislation. Our fears about state autonomy in legislation are grossly exaggerated.
Given a fair trial, the alternative approach may work like alternative medicine. If nothing, it will bridge the present, and rapidly widening, trust deficit between the people of the Kashmir Valley and the governments (at the Centre and in the state).