Analysing Kashmir: Who failed, where?

It is indeed amazing that respected leaders are still apparently unaware of how to tackle the Kashmir-crisis. Even now, when they are giving the impression of considering a humanitarian approach towards it, it is difficult to take the apparent turn in their attitude seriously for it may be a part of their strategy to cleanse their image for the global audience. They have no choice but to indulge in such rhetoric. The world is not oblivious of what is going on in Kashmir. Statistics of number of innocent civilians having died due to firing from state-controlled bullets together with photographs of unarmed, young and angry people throwing stones are sufficient for the world to see. Why have these people been targeted by bullets? They could be checked, pushed back by use of tear gas, water cannons and other such means.

The governments, central led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and state by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, seemed practically unfazed by loss of lives till it apparently dawned on them that they could no longer remain mute spectators to the Kashmir crisis. Sadly, they are still in the stage of deliberating on what moves should be taken to “win over hearts and minds of Kashmiris”. It simply points that they had given minimal importance to this aspect till date. They have probably started talking now only to improve their image and present a better picture to the world about their policy towards Kashmir and Kashmiris.

It is indeed ironical, that the same people who risked their lives, ignoring the fear of falling victim to militants’ bullets, to exercise their right to vote, are now being targeted by state-controlled bullets. Considering that it has not been an easy road for Indian Kashmiris as well as the Indian government to have reached this stage, it is indeed tragic that the governments have failed to pay the timely needed importance to Kashmir-crisis. Had the correct approach being timely used, the crisis would not have probably reached this stage.

During the July 7 meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security, the government opted for a “maximum crackdown” policy against Kashmiri protestors. During the second meeting (August 1), the CCS decided to send more forces to the state. At the same time, the government decided to initiate dialogue with Kashmiri leaders and focus on a political rather than a military solution to the problem. This was followed by Omar visiting a hospital in Srinagar to meet a few victims and their relatives. Subsequently, Home Minister P. Chidambaram responded to clarifications sought in Rajya Sabha on Kashmir-crisis by saying that “it is important to win the hearts and minds of people of Jammu and Kashmir.” Omar’s visit to the hospital apparently suggested the attempts being made by him in this direction. The media-coverage accorded to his visit certainly indicates that Omar did not want this move to go unnoticed. His aim is to improve his image, damaged considerably, having failed to control the Kashmir-crisis.

Willingly or unwillingly, Chidambaram’s statement exposes the harsh reality that Indian Kashmiris have been subject to. Kashmir-issue has certainly dominated strategic concerns of the government but in the process lives and problems of Kashmiris have not just been sidelined but also considerably exploited as well as abused. The latter point is supported by the callous manner in which young, unarmed Kashmiris have been killed for simply protesting against their fellow beings having been shot dead by state-controlled bullets.

The concerned authorities apparently thought that guns would silence Kashmiris and check others from protesting. They weren’t probably prepared for the frenzy with which Kashmiris would increase their protest caring little for loss of further lives. The Kashmiris have made a point. They have a right to protest and so they will irrespective of whether a few more among them fall victim to firing. It cannot be forgotten, as mentioned earlier, that Kashmiris have exercised their right to vote also without fearing, of being gunned down by militants.

But as Chidambaram’s comments suggest, till now, the Indian government had not given much importance to initiate steps to “win the hearts and minds” of Kashmiris. It is hoped that this statement of Chidambaram and Omar’s visit to hospital is followed by some constructive measures having some relevance for Kashmiris. So far, the “crackdown” approach has only alienated and agitated the Kashmiris further. Bullets can never win them over and/or silence them. The government has accepted the failure of this approach. But this isn’t enough. A crackdown approach is needed against those who have killed unarmed Kashmiris. They must be punished. Besides, relatives of those killed should be given some compensation, even if they don’t demand these!