If the government is sincere about providing “security with a human face” in Kashmir, it is not sufficient to promise “zero level” human rights violations in the state. Several other steps need to be taken to lend a humane dimension to New Delhi’s Kashmir policy.
One, the government must ensure that militants and political activists from Jammu and Kashmir in jails outside the state are brought back to local prisons in the state. This will ensure a regular right to family visits, which all prisoners deserve.
Two, although 60-odd prisoners have been released up to now, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference claims that very few among them are political activists. The government needs to review all the old cases of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Public Security Act in Jammu and Kashmir. Most of the long-term detainees are imprisoned under the PSA of Jammu and Kashmir. It was a regular practice under the previous state government to re-arrest those released after their maximum detention of two years under PSA was over. This was done by getting new warrants issued from a different police station under the same act.
The chief minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, says that this practice has been stopped. But a thorough review of the cases of detainees under the PSA has still not been undertaken. This ought to be done on a priority basis, otherwise neither Mufti’s “healing touch” nor the Centre’s “security with a human face” would mean anything to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Three, the practice of the security forces’ hiring of local porters has to be reviewed. The hiring of porters must, of course, never be done forcibly, as has happened in some unhappy incidents lately. But what is equally important is that these porters are insured against the loss of life and limb. If soldiers are insured, there is no reason why the porters, who are exposed to the same hazardous conditions and same dangers, should not be.
The Kargil conflict showed that the lack of proper clothing and shoes for porters led to frostbites and loss of limbs. This may have happened to some soldiers too, but they get paid for taking such risks and are prepared to die in a war. Not so the hapless porters. It is the duty of the Jammu and Kashmir government to press the security forces and the Centre to agree to a scheme of insuring the porters hired by the security forces in militancy and war-prone zones.
Four, the state government should set up a joint human rights monitoring committee along with local civil society organizations. Such a body can have nominal representation of the government and the security forces with a majority of its members coming from civil society organizations, political groups and parties.
The joint monitoring committee would provide space for manoeuvre to the political groups in Jammu and Kashmir. If civil society mediation in matters of human rights violations is allowed, the Hurriyat constituents need not threaten a walk-out on the dialogue with the Centre each time there is a human rights violation. The incident can be referred to a credible local joint monitoring committee for investigation before taking any drastic political action that threatens the peace process itself. Such a body could also act as an advocacy institution for grievance redressal. The joint ceasefire monitoring cell set up in Nagaland between the militants and the army could be a good model to look at.
A tangible and recognizable improvement in the human rights situation would make it possible for even those who have walked out of the dialogue with the Centre to rejoin it.
The dialogue between the moderate faction of the Hurriyat and the home minister is a good beginning, but it is an incomplete process in itself. The January 6 joint press statement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf issued in Islamabad leaves no role for the Kashmiri people in settling the Kashmir issue. As of now, there is no third chair at the high table for them to have their say in the matter. However, it would be erroneous for anyone to assume that the Kashmir issue can be resolved only as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. There is a border dispute which needs to be settled but there is also the need to address the political grievances of the Kashmiri people.
The people of the state are bound to ask: why did nearly one lakh Kashmiri youth die if the Kashmir issue were only a matter of delineating a border between India and Pakistan' Unless this question is answered effectively, the present Kashmir leadership, whether inside the Hurriyat or outside it, will be de-legitimized. There would be no lasting solution in Kashmir.
Such a settlement cannot be independence — even the Kashmiri leadership realizes this. Neither India, nor Pakistan wants an independent Kashmir. In the changed geo-political environment after 9/11 and the war against terrorism, nobody, least of all the United States of America, would allow an Islamic jihadi movement to carve out a sovereign, independent territory for itself out of a multi-ethnic, secular country like India. The consequences of this elsewhere in the world — especially in west Asia — would be devastating.
Yet the Kashmiri people would have to be involved in shaping their political future — in attempting to explore what kind of political compromises are possible which may be acceptable but would fall short of sovereignty.
To prepare the grounds for this, a cascading series of dialogues must be encouraged within Kashmir — between India and Pakistan and the Kashmiris, and between the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and those in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. In other words, even if there is no place for the Kashmiris on the high table set up for the India-Pakistan dialogue, a number of smaller tables need to be set up around it to ascertain the wishes of the Kashmiri people in deciding their future.
First, a series of dialogues need to take place within Jammu and Kashmir to heal the fractures caused over time. These internal dialogues for reconciliation will comprise one between the people of the valley and those of Jammu; another between the political groups and parties and the representatives of the major religious groupings (Muslims — both Sunnis and Shias, Hindus and Buddhists); and yet another dialogue between the political groups or parties in the state.
Second, a simultaneous dialogue needs to go on between New Delhi and the Kashmiri leaders in Jammu and Kashmir — only with the Abbas Ansari faction of the Hurriyat but one that expands over time to encompass leaders like Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and even the leaders of the Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to migrate out of the valley.
Third, a similar dialogue should take place between Islamabad and the Kashmiri leaders from PoK or Azad Kashmir.
Fourth, an intra-Kashmir dialogue between the Kashmiris on the two sides of the border (the line of control) should be promoted.
Although there is a possibility that some Kashmiri leaders will still begin by making a symbolic and emotional appeal for independence, it is through this process of cascading dialogues that the people of Kashmir can learn to temper their individual political agendas by accommodating others. In this manner, they can help fashion an approach that preserves their identity, meets their aspirations and also accommodates the interests of India and Pakistan.