National English newspaper Hindustan Times, last week, ran a report that central government was looking for arming CRPF with alternative weapons for the dreaded pellets guns. Quoting officials the report says that much-maligned pellet guns will give way to chilli bombs and ‘soft-nosed’ tear gas shells to avoid collateral losses during the paramilitary action. Around 18000 people, majority of them youth, have been wounded by the pellets used by CRPF to control street protests in the valley since the death of Hizbul Mujahisdeen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. Hundreds have attained permanent injuries and dozens have lost eye-sight. The blatant use of pellets caused international concern with human rights and social activists censuring the Indian government. This caused embarrassment for India internationally. Supreme Court of India also urged the central government to consider alternative to pellets guns. It is quite flabbergasting that government of India has come with the answer of Chilli bombs and “soft-nosed” tear gas shells. One wonders that isn’t there any other answer to the peoples’ anger. Is the weaponry only answer to the problem in Kashmir? Can’t the government think beyond killing or wounding people? The people in and outside the government are not tired of calling people of Kashmir as “our people” Do “our people” deserve to be treated with weapons of mass or less destruction? Government of India needs to come out of this power-driven mindset. It is only but adding to the ire of the people. The anger and alienation of the people is increasing in proportion to the force the security forces are using against the local population. This gives the sense that the government has not learned anything from its past experience. Military methods have been a rule to tackle Kashmir situation right from 1990 when the first militant entered here and shot his first bullet. Almost seven lakh soldiers of regular army and paramilitary forces have been deployed in Kashmir to counter the insurgency. Though the militancy was curtailed to certain extent but it could not completely curb it. Many army commanders (former and present) are on record to have said that army can contain militancy but it cannot end it up. Only a few days back army chief Gen Bipin Rawat said that gun is not a solution to the Kashmir situation. He said that neither militants nor army could achieve anything from the gun. He, instead, pleaded for political approach. It is sad that the political establishment has bitterly failed in its responsibility towards its ‘own people’. Kashmir, in essence, is a political problem. Militancy and military approach are the outcome of delay in resolving the issue politically. Government of India should have learnt from the past experience where military action not only failed to restore peace but worked as igniting force to add to the trouble. The tension in Kashmir rose to new horizons after the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani in July last year. For the soldiers, it was a routine operation and killing of a militant commander a common thing. But how it proved counter-productive could be understood from the fact that even chief minister Mahbooba Mufti lamented his killing and said that Burhan Wani could have been captured alive. Burhan was not the first militant leader to have been killed. But his death was indeed first to provoke such a public convulsion. What makes things worse is the arbitrary use of power by the men in uniform while dealing with common people. It is not going overboard to say that armed forces have public approval from the government to use any method to deal with common people. Entire political and security establishment rose in one voice in favor of Major Nitin Gogoi, who violated all laws of humanity and civility by using a Kashmiri boy as human shield on April 9. The Major was not only rewarded for his action that should have otherwise invited punishment for him but was praised for his what was called “innovative idea”. Also came a series of statements from the defence minister to home minister to army chief saying army has been given free hand to deal with the situation in Kashmir. There is a thinking in the political establishment in Delhi that if India exercises power, then Pakistan and the Kashmiris will fall in line. Ajit Doval, the national security advisor (NSA) of Modi is the author and architect of this theory of power. It is perhaps against this backdrop that central government is not ready to talk either to Pakistan or to Kashmiri leadership. This has already caused untold damage to Kashmir. Persisting with it can generate severe militant blowback within the Valley. It is a violent experiment that is destined not only to fail but complicate the matters further. It was expected of the Prime Minister recognize the real problem in Kashmir and reach out to the people with political initiative. But by treading the extremist path, he is not doing any good either to Kashmir or to the country.
Taliban-America peace deal
The inevitable has happened. The mighty America is on way out in Afghanistan. After 18 years of military occupation during which the United States spent trillions of dollars to subjugate Afghans, America had finally to surrender before the Taliban, who it had dislodged from power in 2001 in the aftermath of disastrous 9/11 attacks in New York. After initial defeat at the hands of America-led NATO forces, it took Taliban almost two years to regroup and reorder its cadres to fight the foreign forces on its land. Having earlier defeated the equally might power the USSR, Afghans were confident that they were capable enough to drive out the foreign forces from its land. And the big news came on Monday when United States of America, China, Russia and Pakistan have come together to hammer out a peace deal with the Taliban. Quite at the same time another major development happened in Doha where a group of prominent Afghans, including some government officials acting in a personal capacity, managed to sit through a long — and by all accounts respectful — two-day meeting with the Taliban. Although it was unofficial, they managed to agree with the Taliban a roadmap as to how they might get towards a peace deal. The most important development that happened in Doha is the agreement that soft targets — the schools, women and children who should not normally be part of a conflict– would be off-limits for now. It’s the first time Afghans have made an agreement of this nature. And it comes after weeks of the tougher, preparatory stuff: the direct talks between the Taliban and the United States about the terms and pace of a troop withdrawal. Coming together of the big four—America, Russia, China and Pakistan—to devise Afghanistan peace road map must be viewed in the backdrop of closing in September 1—the deadline to conclude talks with Taliban. That reveals the desperation of America to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Since American President Donald Trump is seeking re-election in coming American elections, he wants to sell Afghanistan peace deal as major victory of his government as he has little other to boast about before the American electorate. In the process Trump is ignoring the concerns of his allies like India and the present government in Kabul led by Ashraf Gani. It is most likely that the presidential elections in Afghanistan which are due in September would be postponed as America would not like to offend Taliban by supporting these elections without making any deal with Taliban.
Americans want to exit Afghanistan quickly. It is for this reason that the US engaged Taliban despite continuous attack by them on the present government. US special envoy on Afghanistan, ZalmayKhalilzad, after conclusion of Doha talks with the Taliban, briefed both Russian and Chinese officials. Taliban has every reason to see it as its victory against America. The defeat in Afghanistan has been starring at American face for several years as the Taliban has captured more than 60 percent area of the country. The American-sponsored Ashraf Gani-led government has been squeezed to the four walls of Kabul and the US was desperate to find a safe way out of Afghanistan. Donald Trump initially tried to terrorize and pressurize Pakistan through intimidating measures to fights his war in Afghanistan, and in the process stopped all the military aid the country was supposed to get as its share for being a partner in America’s war on terrorism. Trump directly accused Pakistan of harbouring and sponsoring the Taliban terrorists. America even threatened Pakistan of military action if it did not comply with the US orders. But the rise of Imran Khan to power saw a new and confident Pakistan refusing to toe the American line saying that Pakistan would no
Revival of back channel diplomacy
It is quite premature to say which way the Indo-Pak relations would go in the days to come but some positive signs are emerging on the sub-continental horizon. The war of words at government level in New Delhi and Islamabad has, at least stopped, and no threats or warnings are issued against each other. Last week, even more positive thing has happened on Indo-Pak front. The track-II diplomacy between the two countries has been revived. Last Friday, a delegation of experts from India visited Islamabad and held a meeting with the members of Pakistani counter-parts. The delegations from the two countries included foreign officers and former envoys besides experts from other fields. The meeting is viewed as a major development towards easing tension and normalizing relations. The talks continued for two days. The second phase of talks will take place in New Delhi sometime soon. Given the level of hostility and antagonism between the two countries, one cannot expect results overnight.
It is a long and assiduous process to bring the two countries on table. However, the beginning has to make somewhere. Nothing could have been more appropriate for this than the Friday-Islamabad talks. This is the first direct or indirect contact between Islamabad and New Delhi after February 14 suicide attack in which over 40 CRPF men were killed in Pulwama. It is most likely that the two countries would open airspace for each other in near future. Pakistan recently opened its airspace for former Indian foreign minister SushmaSwraj to attend the SCO meet in Bishkek. They also opened it for Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Bishkek but he avoided to use the space and took a alternate route bypassing Pakistan. India and Pakistan shut their air space for each other on February 27 after Indian force carried out a strike in Balakote in Pakistan’s northern KhaibarPakhtoon province. Pakistan air force retaliated with similar action on February 29, and captured a pilot besides destroying a jet fighter. That brought the two countries on the brink of nuclear war. However, the international intervention, more particularly from Saudi Arabia, China and America, stopped the two countries from going for war. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party BJP made it a major poll issue and got a resounding support from the people of India in the elections. His re-election has made many people doubtful about any thaw in the relations with Pakistan.
The revival of track-II diplomacy is seen as major departure from the years of hostile relations. It is time that both Islamabad and New Delhi step forward and make it a base for building relations anew. It is quite sad to note that a small but vocal constituency led by mad-media has high-jacked the agenda of the government and they formulate the foreign policy in TV studios. This is a reflection on the thinking and wisdom of the people in office that they get affected by this jingo-brigade. Saner voices in this point of time need to be heard and understood sans preconceived notions. The domestic squabbles and internal political exigencies have relegated the once vaunted India-Pakistan peace process to the proverbial square one. If the drift in Indo-Pak relations is not arrested it would appear that in the not too distant future the process may well be denuded of the proverbial fig leaf that has afforded it a semblance of respectability. Government of India might have a genuine case when they say that talks could be held only after Pakistan stopped ‘exporting terrorism’. But India is not the only country which faces terrorism. Pakistan has faced the wrath of terrorism more than India. Pakistan has publicly accused India of supporting and sponsoring terrorists in Pakistan. A former officer of Indian navy is in custody of Pakistan, who, the Pakistani authorities say, was on a terror mission in Pakistan. The allegations and counter-allegations would go on indefinitely unless some reasonable steps are taken to get people out of the caged mentality. The first step, in this regard, is to restart the dialogue process. That is the only way forward.
Almost 3000 food samples have failed the quality parameters in Jammu and Kashmir in the last three years. This shows how alarming an issue food adulteration is turning into. The increasing number of food adulteration cases has come to the fore despite several court directions to the successive governments to set up proper mechanism on the ground to check the quality of the food consumed by the people. Official data shows that over 300 people since 2016 has been convicted in cases involving food adulteration, and serving and selling substandard food products in the state. As per the consumer protection laws, states have to undertake regular monitoring, inspection and sampling of food items to check compliance of the prescribed standards and take penal action when the products are found adulterated, misbranded or are of an inferior quality. Food adulteration is an issue that encompasses the entire society or at least the majority of its people. The increasing consumerism, which in turn is drastically pushing the demand and supply needs, is one of the main reasons why people resort to food adulteration. Lack of proper quality inspection mechanism and less number of workforce too impacts the overall idea of curbing this menace. If the same continues, the consumers will have to think twice before purchasing chilli powder, edible oils and other daily-used food items in the market, as the city and its suburbs have become a hub for adulteration of various commodities. Though food safety and task force officials are conducting surprise checks, the adulteration is continuing unabated. According to the Food Safety and Standards Act 1955, the chemicals used in food items need to be labelled. But many traders and shopkeepers fail to do so. However, the move to make the labelling mandatory is a step in the right direction. Doctors are warning against consuming such products as it damages one’s health. According to food safety department officials, adulteration of food can occur at various levels such as production, entrepreneurship or sale. Consumer vigilance is the need of the hour. There have been reports of chili powder being adulterated with brick; salt with powdered glass. It is alarming that around 68.7 per cent of milk and milk products sold across India are not as per the standards laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The World Health Organisation (WHO) had, in 2018, issued an advisory to the Government of India stating that if adulteration of milk and milk products is not checked immediately, 87 per cent of citizens would be suffering from serious diseases like cancer by the year 2025. . Consuming adulterated food is one of the major reasons behind increasing number of life-threatening diseases. Kashmir is witnessing an increase in the number of cancer patients. Research shows that there is a clear link between consumption of sub-standard and adulterated food can be one of the reasons of a person falling prey to this dreaded disease. The government needs to take up the issue on a serious level and ensure that any loopholes in the existing mechanism of food safety are properly plugged and safety of the consumers is given utmost priority.