By Vikram Sood
Amid all the anger and violence that we have seen in Srinagar and then in Jammu, most of us have forgotten the genesis of the problem. There is something quite mysterious about the entire ugliness. On the one hand, it appears strange that the PDP ministers of law and forests had piloted the proposal for the transfer of land and it was the PDP that pulled out of the government, then used the militants and the Hurriyat to raise the temperature in the Kashmir Valley. On the other hand, it is not too strange if one remembers that this is just another case of opportunistic politics.
A few months just short of the October elections, the PDP needed some excuse to dump the government and challenge its main rival, the National Conference. The Hurriyat, which was becoming irrelevant, needed something to regain lost ground. This was at a time when its chief mentor, Pakistan, was temporarily distracted and had little time for the likes of Mirwaiz Farooq and Syed Gilani. Thus, the Amarnath shrine board issue was a heaven-sent opportunity for the PDP and the Hurriyat. Or, if one wants to give Mufti extra credit, then this was a highly Machiavellian move where he got his own ministers to pilot the proposal, using the governor’s desire for this allocation, and then walked out, pretending horror. The Hurriyat used a very willing PDP to recreate scenes that were a rerun of 1990 in the aftermath of the Rubaiyya Sayeed kidnapping case. So with our clumsy handling of the situation, along with clever management of the media by the militants and pronouncements by the bleeding hearts, we ended up shooting ourselves in the foot.
The PDP’s so-called high moral ground was that the construction would damage the ecology and demographic changes would follow. The PDP has never shed any tears for the way the beautiful Dal Lake, the Wullar, the Nagin and so many other water bodies have all shrunk through a combination of official greed and public neglect. What has the PDP done about them? The PDP did not protest when the railways extended into the Valley, destroying forests and using land. Forest land has been used to construct power projects and set up telecom towers. It is also known that Kashmiri terrorists and their friends have denuded the magnificent deodar forests and used the money for themselves and to fund the movement.
As for fears about demographic change, this is equally laughable. Baltal is under snow for eight months in a year and it is inhospitable even for the nomadic Bakarwals. No one lives there permanently, certainly not the yatris, who are Hindus primarily, but obviously the twist is to give this a communal overtone. In an amazing show of convenient amnesia and duplicity, the likes of Mirwaiz were mouthing grave concern about demographic changes. He of course forgot that 500,000 Kashmiri pandits have become refugees in their own country. What has the Mirwaiz done to bring them back?
The role of the Congress-led government has been difficult to understand. Obviously somewhere in their calculation there must be the hope that this transfer of land short of elections would fetch them some seats from Jammu. Policies based on hope and not on reality have a tendency to rebound. The point is: did the state government act on its own, in a vacuum? Did it consult the security agencies about the likely repercussions before taking the decision? Did the government act regardless of the advice? Or was the advice in agreement with the government’s desires? Did the government have any assessment that the reactions in Srinagar would be ugly, and that Jammu would follow? Did the government think this through? A yes or no to any of these questions would give a different complexion to the entire episode.
The action in the Valley is not about demography or ecology. It is about the convergence of interests between the PDP, the terrorists and the Hurriyat. It is about hitting at Kashmiriyat. Fortunately, the reaction in Jammu is not communal; reports even till today say that all communities in Jammu are protesting jointly. They are simply tired of the appeasement that goes on in Srinagar in the name of magnanimity. They have also seen the benefits of the politics of violent protest. Baltal was simply the last straw.
Magnanimity as state policy is a function of strength and victory; otherwise it is appeasement. And periodic appeasement, as in 1989 and now, will only lead to increased terrorism. When we think we are magnanimous by letting Syed Ali Shah Gilani talk secession and not lock him up, we are actually practising appeasement.. When we let Yasin Malik roam around freely after he and his henchmen murdered six Indian Air Force personnel, we are not magnanimous; we are again practising appeasement. And appeasement only breeds delinquency.
This means that this policy must stop. If a decision had been taken to hand over the land by one governor, even if wrong, we should have had the courage and tenacity to abide with it. The first requirement today is to defuse the situation, and for this the PDP and the Hurriyat are not the best-equipped groups. The battle for hearts and minds will not be won by the bullet alone, but by being firm, fair and consistent. It will also require continued psy-war, to counter the terrorists’ propaganda and which will increase along with violence in the months ahead. Pakistan simply cannot allow free and fair elections which would make the Hurriyat and all the other outfits it has nurtured for so long become irrelevant. Whatever be the level of its preoccupation on its western border, Pakistan has neither the courage nor the vision to change its policy on Kashmir.
Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi