With the holding of polling in Shopian and Pulwama districts and Ladakh on Monday, the parliamentary polling exercise in Jammu and Kashmir is over. In the valley it remained a dismal exercise with only a small number of people making it polling booths. In Pulwma and Shopian districts 97 among every 100 voters boycotted the elections. But that is how elections are being held in Kashmir since the eruption of a widespread movement in late 80s of the last century. In 1989 parliamentary elections when people of Kashmir boycotted the elections first time at the call of separatist militant and political leadership, just 2.5 percent voters defied boycott to cast their votes. The low percentage of voters never made a difference to the prevailing democratic system in the valley. What, however, effects the situation is the atmosphere in which elections are held. Despite a defiant mood, parliamentary elections, by and large, remained a peaceful exercise. The only major incident that occurred during the whole exercise was the killing of a BJP leader in Kokernag area of Anantnag district. However, it had little to do with the elections. Governor’s administration can claim all the credit for holding parliamentary elections successfully and peacefully. Last year when almost 99 percent people boycotted the local body elections, Governor’s administration gloated to have done what elected governments had failed. It is believed that Governor Sat Paul Malik, unless he has developed some interest, would urge for holding assembly immediately. The state is currently under President’s rule. Right from Governor, who heads the government, to chief secretary and to other all important position holders in the government, the state has been put under an alien raj. Common people have no access to the government. This has not only multiplied the ever-growing problems of the people of the state but is also adding to the alienation of common people from the system.
There had been speculations that the elections could be held after parliamentary elections and before AmarnathYatra sometime in June. However, there is no official word on the matter. Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir are in favour of holding assembly elections without delay. NC, PDP and BJP have been demanding that elections should be held as soon as possible. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. But the Commission is yet to make a clear call for the elections. The elections are delayed under garb of ‘situation not being conducive’. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not evoke as much ire as in the past. There is a section of people who believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard whatever little special status the state enjoys. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With state under central rule, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.
Handle with care
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has said the migrant Kashmiri Pandits would be settled in separate townships of their choice and setting up such habitations is a “not a matter of choice but out of necessity”. In an interview with an English national daily, he said that the government has identified the places. “We are working on those places. There are several that are there, In Pulwama and in other places. We won’t just settle them anywhere but in nice places of their choice.We will give it to them for free.” He said, “I am just trying to provide them (Pandits) an alternate accommodation so that they have a home, a school and security.
Separate township is not a matter of choice but out of necessity. We have to give them a nice place to stay, of their choice.” Bringing migrant Kashmiri Pandits back to the valley is a welcome step. It would not only help restore Kashmir’s heterogeneous culture but would also help mitigate the problems of Pandits. The migrant Pandits not only suffered at economic front through their migration but their social fabric also got weakened. Successive government’s at the centre and state, since, 1996, devised and discussed various plans to bring migrant Pandits back to the valley. Huge financial packages, in terms of relief and repairing and reconstruction of their houses, were announced to lure Pandits back to the valley. However, it did little work, though, the situation on ground and security environment has substantially improved.
A keen study reveals that growing employment opportunities and financial security in outside states comes in the way of many migrant Pandits, more particularly younger ones, in returning to the valley. Many members of the older generation, who had the yearning for returning to their homes, have either passed away or have compromised with the growing new situations. That has made the issue (return of Pandits) merely a political slogan. The demands for separate homeland by a miniscule section of Kashmiri Pandits represented by Panun Kashmir has added all the more political colour to the issue. Bringing Pandits back to the valley is a dream project of BJP-led government at the centre. But the way the issue is being played up and debated raises more questions than answering the one. For the politics being associated with the issue by vested interests, the return of Pandits is likely to assume serious proportions, which needs to be handled with extra care.
Setting up of separate cities and townships for Pandits is not something that could bring the required results. It would rather defeat the very purpose of bringing Pandits back. It would deepen the societal wedge between them and majority community than bringing them together. The government appears to be ignoring this fallout. According to official data, 24202 families migrated out of the valley after the armed conflict broke out. Presently a total number of 38,119 families comprising 1, 42,042 Kashmiri migrants stand registered with the Revenue and Relief Ministry. But the media reports suggest figures quite exaggerated. This makes the whole issue doubtful. The state and central government are already working on a project for granting state subject status to non-state residents, more particularly West Pakistan refugees settled in Jammu. That is most unlikely proposition to be acceptable to the people of the state. Many sections view the move as changing the demographic character of the state.
Last time the government made similar attempts that ultimately culminated in six-moth long public unrest. The state government is again treading the same path.
Government, both, at the centre and state, need to understand the intricacies and sensitivity involved in the issue. Instead of dividing people on communal lines, the effort should be made to unite them culturally and socially. That could be done only if majority community in the valley would be taken into confidence, and Pandits settled among and alongside their Muslim neighbours. Rehabilitating them in separate colonies would only destroy further the social fabric and peace in the valley.
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.