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The Jammu & Kashmir elections and after

By Amitabh Mattoo


Source: The Hindu, New Delhi


New Delhi must not view the elections as signalling a return to “business-as-usual” in the politics of the State.


Elections in Jammu and Kashmir are much more than a democratic ritual. In the popular Kashmiri imagination, they have been powerful symbols: of faith and betrayal; of resistance and accommodation; of hope and disillusionment; of confidence and uncertainty.


Through the 1950s and the 1960s, stage-managed elections were seen as a betrayal of the ‘trust’ of 1947. The 1977 elections, the fairest the State had witnessed since Independence, became a leitmotif of faith and accommodation. The 1987 election, neither free nor fair, paved the way for militancy in the State. Confidence in the democratic process was restored to a considerable extent when for the first time the electorate was able to dislodge the then ruling party in 2002.


The 2008 elections will also be recognised as a marker in terms of its inclusiveness and credibility, despite the considerable odds. While 43.69 per cent of the electorate voted in 2002, this time the figure was 61.49 per cent — respectable by any national or international standard. More significantly, all the districts of the Kashmir Valley (outside Srinagar) witnessed a healthy turnout of more than 45 per cent. Kupwara and Bandipora, once at the heart of separatist politics, registered 68.22 per cent and 59.66 per cent respectively.


The real long-term importance of the 2008 elections, however, will lie in the manner in which New Delhi and the State government respond to the aspirations of the people and to the multiple challenges that exist within the State. That the people of the State, who took to the streets in Kashmir a few months ago in a mass Intifada-like uprising (or on the streets of Jammu shouting Bam Bam Bhole) should turn out in even larger numbers to vote in the elections may be seen by cynics as evidence of fickleness. This would be a mistake: the “ordinary” citizen is seizing every opportunity to achieve peaceful change from the politics of the street to the politics of the ballot.


New Delhi must not view the elections as signalling a return to “business-as-usual” in the politics of the State. The triumph of democracy should not be a moment of triumphalism. By acting in a statesmanlike fashion now, New Delhi and Jammu/Srinagar will demonstrate a willingness to reward participation in the democratic process and will not be seen as capitulating to extra-constitutional pressure.


For New Delhi, the Working Group reports offer a perfect starting point. Set up during the second round table conference called by the Prime Minister in May 2006, the five Working Groups had a specific agenda. The elements of this agenda were confidence building measures (CBMs) across segments of society in the State; strengthening relations across the Line of Control in Kashmir; economic development; ensuring good governance; and Centre-State relations.


Apart from the Working Group on Centre-State relations, all the other Working Groups submitted their reports in April 2007. The government had, in principle, accepted the recommendations and virtually committed itself to implementing them. But little has been done. New Delhi must signal its sincerity by first acting on the recommendations of the Working Group dealing with CBMs across the State.


Chaired by Hamid Ansari, that group had recommended, inter alia, several steps. These included a review and revocation of laws that impinge on the fundamental rights of common citizens, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act; a review of cases of persons in jails and general amnesty for those under trial for minor offences. It recommended effective rehabilitation policies for Kashmiri Pandits and a comprehensive package to enable them to return to their original homes and to help the Kashmiri youth in Pakistan-controlled areas who may have joined militancy for monetary considerations or misguided ideological reasons. Another recommendation involved measures to strengthen the State Human Rights Commission and the setting up of a State commission for minorities.


The Centre must consider revamping the Fifth Working Group on Centre-State relations which failed to arrive at a consensus. A new expert group can consult with all stakeholders to forge common ground on issues such as autonomy, self-rule, regional balances and sub-regional aspirations.


The State government must pay attention to the recommendations of the Working Group on ensuring good governance in the State. These include the appointment of a Chief Information Commissioner for the effective implementation of a more robust Right to Information Act, the introduction of e-governance — to make government at the district and tehsil level more efficient, accountable and transparent. Another recommendation was for the extension of the 73rd amendment to truly empower the panchayati raj system.


However, the immediate priority must be to devise and implement a comprehensive policy for the young men and women of the State. The State has had consistently high levels of educated unemployment and low levels of vocationally skilled human resources. With more than 2,00,000 unemployed, and in many case unemployable (other than as white collar workers for the government), the youth have formed the bedrock of the militant movement over the last two decades. The challenge is to use this energy of the young Kashmiri to build peace.


Re-training hubs must be established in all the district headquarters to ensure that a significant section of the educated but unemployed youth become employable within a period of six months to a year. With the extensive use of Information and Communication Technology, it should be possible to annually produce more than 20,000 skilled and employable workers from the 22 district re-training centres. These centres could be established through public-private partnership or by creating a special purpose vehicle (SPV). Public-private partnerships are also needed to enhance international connectivity by extending broad band access — with stronger incentives provided through the existing universal access funds for telecommunications. In the long term, given the geography of the State and its growing endowments of skills, electronic exports of services may play a more significant role in revitalising its economy than the traditional sectors.


The youth of the State can become its greatest strength, its soft power. Investing in the right kind of education, training and skill development have therefore to be part of the fundamentals of the new government if it has to take advantage of the huge demographic dividend. It is vital that the gross enrolment ratio in higher education rises to at least 15 per cent in the next 10 years. This calls for a massive expansion in education: more universities, more off-site campuses, more colleges, more Industrial Training Institutes and more polytechnics that extensively use the revolutionary new instruments of Information and Communication Technology to deliver world-class course-ware content.


The State government must consider building a knowledge city where there is a seamless transition from studying to training to working within the same geographical space. The Dubai Knowledge village is one, but it is not the only example. The raison d’etre was a long-term economic strategy to develop the region’s talent pool and accelerate its transition into a knowledge-based economy. The benefits for partners include 100 per cent foreign ownership, 100 per cent exemption from taxes, 100 per cent repatriation of assets and profits, and effortless visa issuance. Imagine a knowledge city in a valley on the foothills of the Himalayas where potentially the best and the brightest young men and women from all over the region can come and study, live and work together in a setting that offers world-class infrastructure.


Will the State and the Central government respond to this new peaceful assertion of the people of J&K for real change? Unfortunately, the announcement of the highest civilian awards on Republic Day-eve was a grim reminder that the bureaucratic stronghold on policies towards Jammu and Kashmir may not be easy to dislodge. Hashmat Ullah Khan may or may not be a deserving awardee. But the incident is a powerful metaphor for the New Delhi establishment’s traditional patron-client mindset towards Jammu and Kashmir. Bureaucrats in the corridors of Lutyen’s Delhi, long out of touch with the reality on the ground, use their power of patronage to craft policies that have no resonance with the majority of the people of the State. This mindset has to change if the people of Jammu and Kashmir have to be rewarded for having overwhelmingly expressed their faith in democracy.


(Amitabh Mattoo is Professor of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is a member of the National Knowledge Commission and honorary president of the Public Policy Research Group.)



Time to give J&K its promised autonomy

Govind Talwalkar


The Asian Age, New Delhi


Feb.3: PRESIDENT OBAMA has appointed Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr Holbrooke is an experienced and efficient diplomat. But the task which has been given to him is daunting as he has to deal with two states which, if not failed ones already, are definitely failing.


Several problems haunting Pakistan and Afghanistan are the outcome of American policies, while others are the creation of the leaders of both the states. Moreover, some knowledgeable people in the US are afraid that Mr Holbrooke might be surrounded by official and non-official advisers who, in the apt words of Robert D. Blackwill, former US ambassador to India, are "ayatollahs".


It is now official that the US administration would triple its financial aid to Pakistan and give more military aid.


The Bush administration abandoned the policy of "hyphenisation" and decided to deal with India without juxtaposing it with Pakistan. Mr Obama’s administration is following the same course but it is concerned with Pakistan. It thinks that more military and financial aid would pave the way for peace and stability in the region. But history suggests otherwise.


About a year ago, the Democrats in the Senate were criticising the Bush administration for not holding Pakistan accountable. They also accused Pakistan of using US aid to purchase weapons which were used against India and not Taliban and insurgents. But they have now changed gear.


It would be better for Mr Holbrooke to give some thought to the observations of those who have studied the problem for years. After the deadly attack on Mumbai, the prestigious Brookings Institution held a symposium in which Stephen Cohen and Bruce Riedel discussed the problem in a larger context. Mr Cohen has written a couple of books on Pakistan, and Mr Riedel is an author of books on terrorism and Pakistan.


Mr Riedel drew attention to the appeal issued by Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to their followers about the danger posed to Islam by "crusader-Zionist- Hindu" alliance and the need to go after economic targets. The Mumbai attacks were a part of this strategy. Mr Riedel pointed out how Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was founded and funded by ISI and Bin Laden and warned against harbouring the thought that the "LeT would be satisfied by the end of India’s occupation of Kashmir or by creating an Islamic state in the Muslim majority parts of South Asia... It seeks the creation of a caliphate to dominate all of South Asia, something akin to the recreation of the Mughal Empire". So even if Kashmir becomes independent, terrorism would not end. Mr Riedel has coined a new phrase when he says there is "Pakistan-isation of Al Qaeda" whose reach stretches to Western Europe.


The disturbing fact, according to Mr Riedel, is that this group has extremely close links and is very active in the Pakistani diaspora — especially in the United Kingdom which is 800,000 strong, and in the Persian Gulf which has almost two million Pakistanis — where it raises much of its funding. A plot to blow up 10 jumbo jets over the Atlantic, en route from UK to US and Canada, was discovered and foiled in August 2006. Those involved in the plot were descendants of Pakistani immigrants in UK who had British passports and could easily enter and exit the US.


Mr Cohen thinks that China would eventually intervene as it would not like Pakistan to be ruled by Islamic extremists who would pose a threat to the Muslim-dominated region in their own country.


Ahmed Rashid and Barnett Rubin wrote a joint article in the winter issue of Foreign Affairs discussing the Kashmir problem. I am one of those who admired Mr Rashid’s book on Taliban which speaks of his scholarship. But this article is partisan and is an advocacy of Pakistan. But it is also true that this side of his was revealed in his latest book in which he says that the Kashmiri people revolted against India in 1947-48. The fact of the matter is that tribals from Pakistan invaded Kashmir and Sheikh Abdullah mobilised people against the invasion.


Both Mr Rashid and Mr Rubin have made several demands of the US, casting the whole burden on the US, while Afghanistan and Pakistan are not expected to do much. They demand that the US satisfy Pakistan with regard to the Durand Line and initiate a dialogue between Pakistan and India along with the four permanent members of the UN Security Council, Nato and Saudi Arabia. This, of course, would be an exercise in futility. Now Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has asked Washington to stop lecturing and instead give priority to the Kashmir problem, which alone, he says, would bring stability to Pakistan.


Mr Obama had talked of mediation in the dispute between India and Pakistan. But before Mr Holbrooke rushes to mediate, it would be advisable for him to listen to the advice of another retired diplomat, Howard Schaffer. Mr Schaffer served in the US foreign service for 36 years and spent a few years in Delhi holding high positions. He is considered an expert on Kashmir.


Mr Schaffer has, in several of his articles, discussed how the Kashmir problem has become very complex and insoluble. In one of his articles he advised the US administration not to assume that it would be easy to mediate in the Kashmir dispute. He says the US should play the role of a facilitator. Mr Schaffer says that no government in India would dare to accept "independent Kashmir". So the US should persuade Pakistan to accept the Line of Control as the permanent border and let Kashmir enjoy real autonomy.


The state of Kashmir is not confined to the Valley, it includes Jammu and Ladakh. The Valley, therefore, can’t be be allowed to decide the fate of Jammu and Ladakh. And dismemberment of the state would bring in its wake untold misery and violence.


India has, on several occasions, promised autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir — which essentially means that all subjects would be transferred to the state except defence, currency, foreign relations, communications and the Supreme Court. We should not keep postponing this. It is obvious that nothing would happen before the Lok Sabha elections, but once the new government is formed it should act on this and not just set out on the same road which leads nowhere.


The separatists were not triumphant in the recent elections to the state legislature in Jammu and Kashmir. But till the promised autonomy comes into force, they will keep gaining strength.