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AFTER THE KASHMIR ELECTIONS

Now that the elections in Jammu and Kashmir seem to be going as planned, it seems certain that a democratically elected government would assume office in the state shortly. Such a government should be stable; that is, no attempt should be made to destabilize it from New Delhi. And after the new government takes over in Jammu and Kashmir, all negotiations — whether about autonomy or devolution of powers — should be conducted with the elected government of the state.

The Hurriyat was given a chance to prove its representative character in the elections but, under Pakistani influence, blew it. If, after the elections, New Delhi insists on talking to the Hurriyat directly, it will have to talk to anybody who possesses 200-odd guns anywhere in India — in Maharashtra, for example, it would have to talk to Dawood Ibrahim about the problems of the state instead of the chief minister of the day.

In a democracy the man with the longest sword does not and cannot have the last word. The only condition under which New Delhi can take into account the views of the Hurriyat would be if the government in Jammu and Kashmir says so. For that the Hurriyat would have to talk to the elected government of the state first.

The need to install a democratic government quickly after the elections and not destabilize it is necessary to give a further impetus to the political process in the state. India has invested far too much in the elections in Jammu and Kashmir to start playing favourites. Therefore, the Centre should unhesitatingly back anyone who forms a majority, minority or a coalition government. No attempt should be made to pull it down through defections to install a government of New Delhi’s choice. Any such act would render the political process and the mandate of the people in the state infructous.

Only a stable government can devote its energies to meeting the economic and other aspirations of the people. Among the immediate tasks before the new government would be: to work out a political arrangement with the regions of Jammu and Ladakh to end their alienation from the administration; to reinstate the faith of the people in the administration by weeding out the corrupt and politically compromised elements; and to initiate economic reconstruction and recovery.

Priority ought to be given to projects that are visible and have a high employment generation potential. Several suggestions have been made in the past in this regard but none was implemented. These include the expeditious completion of the Jammu-Udhampur rail line, examining the feasibility of a Udhampur-Srinagar railway and a Valley railway scheme, setting up a petroleum products pipeline from Jammu to Srinagar to ensure reliability of supply while freeing road capacity, developing the alternative Mughal Road from Batote to Srinagar, the construction of a base-tunnel linking Banihal and Kazigund, developing the Manali-Leh highway as a major artery and the rehabilitation of schools and hospitals. Economic reconstruction ought to be given top priority after the elections if people have to feel the benefits of participating in the democratic process.

As for the Centre, it must cease all those activities that have alienated the people of Kashmir. The army and the paramilitary forces must be pulled out of the law and order duty in the state, with the army being deployed only on the borders. The policing in the state must be left to the civilian administration. The Jammu and Kashmir police may need retraining and considerable expansion. The twin advantages of this would be that even minor problems of law and order would not be seen as a conflict between New Delhi and the local population and new jobs would be created. The army should be called in to assist the civilian administration only in exceptional circumstances and that too through an express request by the local government.

Where does all this leave Pakistan' There are two analytically separate issues here — one of democratic governance in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the disputed nature of the entire region, including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the so-called Northern Areas. After these elections, it should be clear that Pakistan has nothing to do with the governance of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir — this is a matter which has been sorted out internally through elections by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

But this still leaves a Pakistani dimension. Kashmir is a contentious issue between the two neighbours and a military flash-point. To address this issue, after the peaceful conduct of the assembly elections, it is incumbent upon India to offer Pakistan talks on all issues including Kashmir, provided it puts an end to its sponsorship of violence in the state.

Having made the offer of talks, there are two extreme ways of looking at the Kashmir issue and both are impractical in the short run: one, maintaining the status quo position under the Shimla agreement; and two, waiting till the relations between India and Pakistan become so highly developed economically that Kashmir becomes a peripheral question. The former means doing nothing and the latter is a residual position, hoping that some day boundaries between India and Pakistan would become as irrelevant as in Europe today.

However, to resolve the Kashmir issue in the short to medium run, in principle, three alternative perspectives can be used: historical; legal; and good neighbourliness. In the historical perspective, Pakistan can talk about the two-nation theory and Kashmir being the unfinished agenda of Partition. However, the two-nation theory applied only to the partitioning of British India, for the princely states instruments of accession were signed. There is nothing to be learnt here from the Junagarh and Mendhar examples for resolving the Kashmir issue because their rulers were removed before these principalities became a part of India. India’s position would be that Maharaja Hari Singh, after all, signed the Instrument of Accession.

Going back to history will never resolve the Kashmir issue. Trying to resolve it within a legalistic framework would also not work. Going to the international court of justice may not help as the issue may be time-barred. A plebiscite also would be meaningless because of changes in the demographic profile of the region.

It seems that the only way the Kashmir issue can be first made manageable and then finally resolved is within an overall pursuit of good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan. There may not be much room for manoeuvre for either side in terms of settling the border. But clearly, there would have to be considerable give and take to provide a sense of security to both the countries, especially Pakistan which is the smaller of the two neighbours.

Whether this accommodation of interests of the two sides is around the line of control or whether the border demarcation is done using linguistic, cultural or watershed management principles is immaterial as long as the overall goal is one of building good neighbourly relations. The international atmosphere today is more propitious than ever before for settling the Kashmir issue and the aftermath of the assembly elections would be the right time to begin talking to Pakistan on this and other outstanding bilateral issues.

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