Conflict & Justice

Solving Kashmir? Not likely -- a new report notwithstanding


Indian paramilitary troopers stand guard during a one day strike, to commemorate the killing of dozens of local youth in alleged police actions during the 2008-2010 civilian unrest, called by hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar on June 11,2012. Geelani accused Indian authorities of allegedly inflecting atrocities on the people of Kashmir as part of 'repressing measures'. An armed insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir has claimed 47,000 lives since 1989 with separatists putting the toll twice as high.

So do you want the good news, or the bad news?

The good news: India will throw open the doors to Walmart a heck of a lot sooner than it will solve the Kashmir problem. 

The bad news: It's more than likely that it won't solve the Kashmir problem at all, despite a new willingness to figure out what the problem is to begin with.

According to an Outlook magazine editorial by Navnita Chadha Behera, the author of "Demystifying Kashmir," the recent fact-finding mission from New Delhi (dubbed in shorthand as the Kashmir interlocutors) made some solid inroads into understanding why Kashmiris continue to resent the Indian government and demand greater autonomy -- if not independence.

The trouble is it doesn't look like anybody with any real power is going to listen. "The Indian government’s decision to release the interlocutors’ report without making any commitment to accept its recommendations and choosing, after a seven month long wait, a date that precludes an immediate parliamentary debate on its findings, has cast a further shadow on its chequered record," Behera writes.

OK, that's a bit wordy. But you get the gist: There's a good chance this report is going directly into the round file, unless there are some doors that need propping open in the capital.

Here's Behera's assessment, though, just in case:

In terms of substantive recommendations, the report lacks focus because it seeks to address everything, ranging from constitutional amendments to protocols of media reporting and promotion of cultural interactions among the youth of three regions within J&K. This detracts the value of the much more serious and far-reaching recommendations of political significance. Here, it’s important to take note of two significant points of departure in the interlocutors’ report. Unlike most of their predecessors whose main preoccupation was to somehow bring the separatists to the negotiating table, the interlocutors succeeded in breaking out of this Valley-centric mode of thinking and explore political formulations that address differing political aspirations of all its communities. It’s their understanding of the structural dimensions of the conflict that holds the potential of being a game-changer.

The report looks at devolving power further from the state level to village councils, or panchayats, as one way of establishing greater autonomy (presumably without ceding too much power to separatists). But even though that's where Behera sees the most potential for a solution, it's an idea that all the other stakeholders hate.

Ironically, that’s perhaps why the interlocutors’ report has attracted such stringent criticism from across the political spectrum, ranging from the BJP, both factions of the Hurriyat along with the Hizbul Mujahideen as well as political groups, including the Panun Kashmir and the Jammu State Morcha. Among the mainstream political parties, PDP has maintained a cautious silence on salient issues and chief minister Omar Abdullah has reserved his verdict. That is because most [legislative assembly members], irrespective of political affiliation, would loathe sharing their powers with the proposed regional councils.