A Manmohan Decade

The soft spoken economist Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh led Congress to a rout in 2014 summer. Tasavur Mushtaq revisits his Kashmir doctrine that dominated the strife ridden spot for 10 years during which Dr Singh visited J&K 16 times

Manmohan Singh, former Indian PM at a function in Valley with the then UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

At the fag end of Dr Manmohan Singh’s decadal stint in PMO, his special envoy Satinder Lambah landed in Srinagar to dispel certain impressions in circulation. “Dr Singh has consistently advocated a solution that does not seek to redraw the border or amend the Constitution, but one that makes the boundary irrelevant enables commerce, communication, contacts and development of the Kashmiri people on both sides and that ends the cycle of violence,” Lambah told a specially organized gathering.

The ‘revelation’, almost a variant of Musharraf formula, was seen as UPA-II’s ‘last-ditch effort’ to claim ownership of the contours of a possible under discussion with Islamabad for a long time. A general belief is this ‘vision’ could remain the template for the Modi government to build on.

But separatists as well as unionists here were vocal in registering their disappointment with UPA in contrast to Vajpayee-led NDA. This makes an analysis of Manmohan’s actions on Kashmir, both on its internal and external axis, vital for the sake of contemporary history.

Dr Singh reclaimed the ‘Naya Kashmir’ slogan of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah during most of his Kashmir visits. “Effective counter-infiltration measures and mobilizing the support of the people in the war against terrorism have led to a visible improvement in the situation,” Dr Singh said in Srinagar on November 11, 2004. “In recognition of the improvement in the situation in the state, the Government has decided to reduce the deployment of troops this winter. If the levels of infiltration and terrorist violence increase, more troops as necessary will be redeployed”.

A week later on November 17, 2004, he called for building ‘Naya Kashmir’, in his address at SKIMS that he termed ‘Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS)’. He announced a high-powered Advisory Council on Economic Development to implement an integrated plan of long-term development of J&K. “I have come to you to say that we can make that new beginning, with dignity and self- respect. Kashmir was safe in our hearts, our minds and our souls, and, therefore, the people of the State should feel safe in our secular, plural and democratic framework,” he said.

In the same visit, he announced his Rs 24000 crore Prime Ministers Reconstruction Plan (PMRP). It shocked the state expecting a plain Rs 8000 crore help but pained it later as PMO had resorted to a sort of jugglery by involving various projects from defence and power and throwing it at the face of J&K.

For the second round table conference, Dr Singh flew to Srinagar in May 2006.
For the second round table conference, Dr Singh flew to Srinagar in May 2006.

“Kashmiri people have gone through a traumatic experience over much of the last decade and a half. Nearly every family has witnessed a tragedy, hundreds have been killed or injured and thousands have been displaced. My heart goes out to those innocent mothers and sisters, sons and daughters. I share your grief and understand how difficult it can be to believe that a better future lies ahead,” Dr Singh said. He offered an “unconditional dialogue with anyone and everyone in the State who abjures violence.” He emphasized that those people “who are willing to give up negative emotions, and shed the hopelessness and pessimism of the past” should be “empowered”.

On Pakistan, Dr Singh was clear: “Our Government is committed to a purposeful dialogue with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues. Our only condition is that, as agreed to by Pakistan, territory under control of Pakistan should not be used to promote cross border terrorism directed against us.”

The economist Prime Minister announced setting up of a high level task force on April 04, 2005 to prepare a long term plan for J&K’s social and economic development. Well before, it could submit the report deadly earthquake struck Kashmir in October 2005.

Continuing engaging Kashmir, Dr Singh chaired Round-table Conference on J&K on February 25, 2006.  Dr Singh offered to work for “A Naya Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, which is symbolised by peace, prosperity and people’s power.” Concluding the first round of the conference, Dr Singh requested Home Minister to form a high level group of officials to examine all current cases of detention and see the possibility of releasing all detainees against whom there were no serious cases. “I am sure, this will go a long way in assuaging the feelings of the people,” he said.

In terms of intra-Kashmir connectivity, launching Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service in April 2005 and the opening up of two erstwhile trade routes will undoubtedly be Dr Singh’s most visible contribution to the process.  His keenness of this initiative could be understood by the statement he made in Punjab, where he said, “I visualize a day when people from Srinagar can drive to their other home in Muzaffrabad.”

He flew to Srinagar for flagging the maiden historic bus that bridged the divide after more than five decades. In his book, former media adviser of Dr Singh, Sanjaya Baru details how the PM was adamant about inaugurating the bus despite National Security Adviser and Intelligence Bureau advocated the trip cancellation.

“This is the first step on the long road of peace. The road ahead is quite difficult. But if we remain committed, we can find solutions to all issues in a spirit of friendship and cooperation,” Dr Singh said in Srinagar. “I hope and believe that J&K can, one day, become a symbol of India-Pakistan cooperation rather than of conflict. As I have stated earlier, borders cannot be changed, but they can be made irrelevant. There can be no question of divisions or partitions, but the Line of Control can become a line of peace with a freer flow of ideas, goods, services and people.”

For the second round-table conference, Dr Singh flew to Srinagar in May 2006. On May 25, in a highly tense situation, Dr Singh talked about “need to overcome animosities and moving forward in restoring normalcy in the state.” This time, he was clearer on the issue of detentions. “Let this now be not linked to meetings and conferences but an ongoing process. My own office will monitor this every quarter,” he said.

Dr Singh attacked militants for the “inhuman acts” but was hopeful on the Hurriyat front. The dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference was positive, he said. “They are prepared to take this forward and are ready to prepare specific proposals. I hope that at the appropriate time, they will also join the series of Round Table Conferences so that they can share their views with all of us.” It was at the conclusion of this round that five working groups were set up.

By then, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was replaced by Ghulam Nabi Azad under the agreement that Dr Singh had drafted in 2002. Now, Mufti wanted reduction in troop level. They met on March 24, 2007. On March 30, 2007 Delhi decided to set up ‘mechanism to examine some of the problematic aspects of the current situation,’ including measures to determine “whether there is need to relocate and reconfigure Security Forces. While making its determination, the Panel should ensure that cardinal aspects of security are not compromised in any manner.”

“History will judge me more kindly than the voters,” Dr Singh said.
“History will judge me more kindly than the voters,” Dr Singh said.

“A Review Committee to undertake a review of the application of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to different areas of J&K. This would conform to legal requirements for a periodic review of the application of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.” A Nodal Officer was appointed to review “action to return several of the properties, buildings and orchards occupied by the Security Forces for logistic purposes.”

Certain comments in the third round table conference (October 24, 2007) were significant. He raised ‘security’ related issues. “I do admit that there are problems. There is considerable inconvenience as well because of the prevailing security scenario. But we will continue to take steps to ensure that violation of human rights are minimized; and, that life proceeds more smoothly without undue harassment. This is the surest way of winning the hearts and minds of ordinary people.”

Presiding over the convocation of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Katra on April 25, 2008, Dr Singh candidly confessed to have “strayed into politics by accident”. But he was satisfied by his initiatives. “The cross-LOC connectivity that has been established by our government has also contributed to a new sense of empowerment of the ordinary people,” Dr Singh said. “I believe we should draw inspiration from the success of the initiatives taken so far and move forward to take more such initiatives to strengthen the bonds that exist between the people on both sides of the LoC in J&K.”

During this visit he announced the Rs 1600 crore package for the return of Kashmiri Pandits, which is yet to be availed by the second family.

After Azad’s government was devoured by the 2008 land row, Dr Singh chaired All Party Meeting on August 06, 2008 in Delhi and suggested: “Immediately initiating the process of a dialogue that would facilitate the suspension of the agitation and its peaceful resolution.”

The all party delegation visited Kashmir as well. It lacked an outcome. Dr Singh personally flew on October 06, 2008. “It is always a pleasure to come to Kashmir and meet you. But there is a tinge of sadness this time because of the recent incidents of violence in J&K which have caused concern to all of us,” Dr Singh said. He justified inevitability of curfew imposition. “I also feel sad that curfew had to be imposed on many occasions causing a lot of problems to the people. But it was necessary to do so to prevent violence and loss of life and property.”

It was the same sadness that he recorded while chairing the All Party Delegation on August 10, 2010. Then Dr Singh had grief in his heart and hope in my mind. “The events in Kashmir over the past few weeks have caused me great pain. I share the grief, the sorrow and the sense of loss of every mother, every father, every family and every child in Kashmir. I can feel the pain and understand the anger and frustration that is bringing young people out on to the streets of Kashmir. Many of them have seen nothing but violence and conflict in their lives and have been scarred by suffering,” Dr Singh said.

“Our Government, more than any other government in the past, has invested heavily in the peace process in Kashmir. The brave rejection of militancy by the people opened the door for us to pursue an unprecedented and intensive internal and external dialogue on the issues that have bedeviled Jammu and Kashmir for six decades.” He urged the people of J&K to “give peace a chance.”

“We understand the prevailing public sentiment on the issue of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Eventually the J&K Police has to take on the burden of normal law and order duties.” In response, he announced expert group to formulate a Jobs Plan for the State, involving both the public and the private sectors!

Dr Singh would always express his sadness over the happenings in Kashmir. “Friends, we meet in sadness,” Dr Singh told an all party meeting in September 2010. “Sadness over the loss of lives, sadness over the injuries suffered by the people, the police and the security personnel. Sadness over the huge disruption in the daily lives of the common man.” He was shocked over “some of our people have forsaken this path”. And then he would go asserting the inevitability of “dialogue and discussion” as the “only path for lasting peace and prosperity”.

Tensions settled down, so Dr Singh’s concerns were over. It was back to politics, development and jobs. “Our security agencies are forced to act in the wake of such incidents,” Dr Singh responded to the 2010 civil unrest. “During the process sometimes innocent civilians have to suffer, but whenever such incidents happen it becomes necessary to act against those responsible for them.”

Promises apart, Dr Singh failed to repeal Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, even from areas where the Army doesn’t operate. There was no movement in helping the victim families of 2010 unrest get justice. The low point in Dr Singh’s era would remain the hanging of Afzal Guru who was denied one last meeting with his family.

Dr Singh engagement with Pakistan also exhibited the same pattern: wish it but do not have it. “We had come very close to a non-border, non-territorial solution, and I regret that we didn’t go ahead with it due to certain events at the time,” Dr Singh famously told CNN-IBN. His handling of Pakistan shall remain a major barometer of his decade in power.

Dr Singh once said “his administration had come very close to striking a peace deal over Kashmir, only for the agreement to be scuttled by the ouster of General Musharraf, who was replaced by Asif Ali Zardari in 2008.” Analysts credit Dr Singh for keeping the flickering process on. Wilson John, the vice president of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, said by email that “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intent on building bridges with Pakistan was never in doubt,”  In fact, for most of his tenure, Mr. Singh pursued his Pakistan goals with an uncharacteristic passion.”

His Pakistan engagement started soon after he took over. He met Parvez Musharraf in New York on November 24, 2014 for an hour. Both the leaders agreed that “possible options for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the issue should be explored in a sincere spirit and purposeful manner”. They agreed that CBMs will contribute to generating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding.

During his India visit in April 2005, Dr Singh told Musharraf that “India, Pakistan and especially the people of J&K have paid a heavy price in terms of peace and development because of the persistent conflict of the past half century. The time has come to find an enduring solution to all the problems between the two countries. The people of our countries need a positive outcome and must not remain trapped in a zero-sum situation.”

Keen to have more points of connectivity, on March 24, 2006 Dr Singh while flagging off the Amritsar – Nankana Sahib bus service, proposed a bilateral Treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship. Asserting the possibility of having a “meaningful agreement” on Siachen, Sir Creek and Baglihar, Dr Singh said he is not afraid of discussing “pragmatic, practical solutions” on J&K. He sounded strong when he said: “We are not afraid of discussing J&K or of finding, pragmatic, practical solutions to resolve this issue as well.”

Dr Singh’s way-out was the same as was Lambah saying in Srinagar. “I have often said that borders cannot be redrawn but we can work towards making them irrelevant – towards making them just lines on a map. People on both sides of the LoC should be able to move more freely and trade with one another.”

In his meeting with Musharraf in Havana, on September 16, 2006 amid Mumbai blast tensions, both the leaders reiterated their commitments and determination to implement the joint statements of January 6, 2004, September 24, 2004, April 18, 2005 and September 14, 2005. Foreign Secretaries were asked to resume the composite dialogue.

Both leaders asserted they will “facilitate implementation of agreements and understandings already reached on LoC-related CBMs, including bus services, crossing points and truck service.” There were efforts on both the sides to build ‘peace constituencies’ using energy and, at one level, giving MFN status to India. But nothing much happened.

“History will judge me more kindly than the voters,” Dr Singh said. “If history is indeed kind, it is likely to highlight his constant push for an evolutionary policy on Pakistan.”

“The main takeaway of Singh’s stewardship of relations with Pakistan is a striking one: he will leave office with relations with Islamabad in better shape than those with Washington,” said Mr. Kugelman of the Wilson Center. “And on that note, Mr Singh can only be half satisfied. He’s as big of a fan of good ties with Washington as he is of good ties with Islamabad.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here