By Sumit Ganguly
13 Aug 2008,
Once again, after several years of relative peace, Kashmir is burning. The ostensible issue that set off the present conflagration is well known: the transfer of a mere 40 hectares of land to the Amarnath Yatra Board. Unfortunately, the underlying sources of discord go well beyond the now rescinded land transfer. They are woven into the warped fabric of the domestic politics of the state as well as its strained ties with the rest of India.
Unless the government of India manages to deftly contain this crisis, it has the potential to expand and precipitate a larger, more dangerous conflict. Far too many parties to this conflict are seeking to manipulate and exploit it to meet their parochial political ends. Unfortunately, none of them realise that they may be setting in motion events that they could eventually fail to control with disastrous consequences for themselves as well as others.
The principal miscreants in this unfolding crisis are, of course, a small group of Islamist zealots who chose to shamelessly exploit a highly emotive issue. One could, of course, hardly expect them to act with rectitude. Increasingly marginalised in recent years, they were on the lookout to seize upon an issue that could easily capture the popular imagination and stoke fears.
Once they set this process in motion, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which has long confronted the prospect of political irrelevance, simply could not resist the opportunity to seize this issue. All the while it has expressed its misgivings about every initiative on the part of the government of India while boosting some vague, undefined notion of self-determination. Fastening public attention on the land transfer issue suddenly gave this moribund organisation a new lease of life.
Sadly, given the questionable track record of various governments in New Delhi in breaking faith with the Kashmiris, it is not entirely shocking or surprising that this twisted tale quickly found sympathetic ears across much of the Valley. As we well know, once the agitation started to gather steam, a group of extremists from the other end of the political spectrum, most notably the RSS, entered the fray.
Whether or not they actually pulled off a blockade of the Kashmir valley is not at question. There is no way in which they can possibly match either the rhetoric or the actions of those who refuse to abide by the prevalent norms of democratic political conduct. Despite the loss of life, the commercial disruption and the inflated political rhetoric, it is not too late for New Delhi to prevent a widening of the gyre.
To begin with it must firmly urge the BJP to call off its dogs in Jammu. Contrary to their calculations there is limited political capital that can be gained from any further agitation. Most importantly, the BJP needs to be firmly reminded that continued troubles in Jammu will only inflame passions further in the Valley and feed directly into the hands of the otherwise hapless regime in Islamabad. Unless the government can lower the temperature in Jammu it will be impossible to prevent them from rising in the Valley.
This, contrary to knee-jerk, hyper-nationalists, is not a strategy of appeasement. Instead, it is a counsel of prudence at a time when India's critical national interests could easily be compromised thanks to careless rhetoric, feckless choices and thoughtless actions.
(The writer is director of research, Center on American and Global Security, Indiana University, Bloomington)
Source: The Times of India, New delhi