Perpetuating Confusion

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Appointed at the peak of 2010 unrest by the Home Ministry, three interlocutors were mandated to “to identify the political contours of a solution and the roadmap towards it”. The report made public has ended up proposing a new committee and a slew of CBMs already suggested by earlier committees, A KASHMIR LIFE report.

Sending an all party parliamentary delegation to Kashmir was the main and perhaps the only response by Government of India to the 2010 unrest. It led to hiring of journalist Dileep Padgoankar, academic Prof Radha Kumar and a bureaucrat M M Ansari as members of a team of interlocutors. After more than a year of monthly visits to J&K, the interlocutor’s report was finally out last week.

The response (see Deafening Dismissal) was on expected lines. Contents of the report were sharply reacted to by the separatists, who (barring Molvi Abbas Anari) had boycotted the initiative. But what is surprising is that even the unionists were negatively surprised by the report. Obviously they expected something substantial in the 176-page ‘New Compact for J&K’ that MHA uploaded on its website after creating hype for weeks.

Apart from raking different issues (see boxes), the report has delivered its recommendations under three categories. Firstly, it has seen Kashmir in the backdrop of centre-state relations and identified certain possible interventions including regional developmental councils and suggested a constitution committee (CC) to look into these issues.

Secondly, it wants certain initiatives at the LoC front to address the external dimension of the Kashmir issue. And finally, it has suggested a number of CBMs, mostly listed by earlier committees, like scrapping of AFSPA and humanising the Public Safety Act.

The report comes in direct conflict with one of the Working Groups that had opposed the idea of regional councils. On Article 370 the interlocutors are in direct confrontation with the report of Justice (late) Sagheer Ahmad who wanted J&K to decide over the article so that it can be deleted to pave way for integration of the state with the federation.

“The clock cannot be set back,” the report has tersely said. The report sees remedy to Kashmir’s maladies in the Article 370 that it says needs to be restored by re-examining all the central extensions after Delhi agreement of 1952.

The interlocutors want the CC to be led by “an eminent personality” enjoying “the esteem of the people of J&K and of the people of India as a whole” with members enjoying the confidence of “all major stake-holders”. It will review the extension of central laws to the state after 1952 and its recommendation will be binding on all sides. The report has actually drafted the CCs terms of reference as well. With an emphasis on special status, the proposed CC has to be future oriented and solely address the political, economic, social and cultural interests, concerns, grievances and aspirations of the people in all the three regions of the state. It has to reach to its conclusions by consensus (state assembly and Lok Sabha included) within six months.

The report says that retaining many of the innocuous central laws beneficial to the people made applicable to the state post-1952 may not be objected to, at all. Parliament’s lawmaking will be reduced to internal and external security dimensions and natural resources like water. Likewise, the report says the national interest will not be adversely affected if certain subjects from List III of the Seventh Schedule are transferred to the state. These include issues related to transfer of property, civil procedure, contempt of court, vagrancy, nomadic and migratory tribes, lunacy and mental deficiency, prevention of cruelty to animals, protection of wild animals and birds, adulteration of foodstuffs, economic and social planning, population control and family planning, trade unions, social security and social insurance; employment and

Unemployment, education, subject to certain exceptions, relief and rehabilitation of persons displaced, vital statistics, factories, archaeological sites and remains with certain exceptions, acquisition and requisitioning of property, recovery of claims in respect of taxes, and inquiries and statistics.

Interlocutors want a status quo on Article 356 (under which the governor can suspend an elected assembly), appointing governor in consultation with state’s ruling and opposition parties (and not elected by state legislature), reducing deploying IAS-IPS combine to state to half of the total requirement, and effecting a linguistic shift in the nomenclature  of chief minister and governor in Urdu (!!) besides creating regional councils for Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir that eventually will do away with the durbar move.  

It has also listed some of the functions that the state government can transfer to the regional councils. The interlocutors want financial arrangements between the state and centre to be negotiated afresh in the wake of the new realities at regional and sub-regional levels in the state. Then the President will takeover.

Within the powers of Article 370, the President would issue an order incorporating the recommendations that would be ratified by both houses of the parliament and the state legislature. Once the president gives assent to the law, clause (1) and (3) of Article 370 shall cease to exist. Article 370 would be upgraded from ‘temporary’ to become ‘special’.

The interlocutors have taken Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s repeated statements on the LoC as the final binding on itself and insisted that the dividing line must become a symbol of Concord and Cooperation.  The report has talked about in detail the ‘other Kashmir’ that exists in two different political positions – the PaK and the Gilgit Baltistan. In the latter part, it has mentioned the demographic changes being affected.

The interlocutors want a regional and sub regional set up to extend to the other side of the LoC as well so that it  eventually would lead to development of joint institutions on development, resource generation and other common matters of cooperation. It suggests easing of travel across LoC and opening the dividing line for pilgrims, tourists and patients. Apart from Kargil-Gilgit road, the interlocutors want Jhangani-Mirpur, Mendhar-Kotli, Jammu-Sialkot, Turtuk-Khapulu, Chamb-Nonian to Mirpur (across Munawar-Tawi), Gurez-Astoor-Gilgit and Titwal-Chilham (across the Neelam Valley) to be opened in near future. It has also identified potential areas of cooperation between the two sides.

The trio of interlocutors has come up with a slew of CBMs, some of which have already been identified by various working groups and earlier committees. These are part of the report’s roadmap.  Some of the suggestions, like withdrawing police cases against a select category of people have already been implemented. Though part of the suggestion regarding the PSA has also been taken care of, the issues raised by the report on the law may require a lot debate in the state legislature. Besides, the interlocutors want fast track implementation of the recommendations that various working groups have made.

The interlocutors want an intra-Kashmiri dialogue to promote reintegration of the state’s three regions on civil society and institutional levels to prevent re-occurrence of instances like the agitation over the Amarnath land row. The trio have admitted that a “political settlement in J&K must be achieved only through dialogue between all stakeholders, including those who are not part of the mainstream” without disturbing the unity of the state as a “single entity within the Indian Union”.

Finally, they recommend the search for solution should not be made contingent on India-Pakistan talks. If the stakeholders in J&K are willing to entre into a settlement, the door can always be kept open for Pakistan to join in.  The three interlocutors believe their proposed political settlement takes into full account “the deep sense of victimhood prevalent in the Kashmir Valley”.

A Grave Commission
The Group of Interlocutors recommends that a Judicial Commission be set up to establish and supervise the best procedures for identification of the bodies buried in the unmarked graves. The first step for the Judicial Commission would be to set aside those unmarked graves that are identified by their families as having died of natural causes (marking of graves is not a universal practice in Kashmir). The next step would be to see whether any of the bodies match the DNA of disappeared persons, as reported by their families.

The final step, which would be to try to identify all the bodies buried in the unmarked graves, depends on cooperation from Pakistan. The exercise will be a massive and time-consuming one, and all concerned should be prepared to face the fact that they might not, in the end, have the full closure that they need.

In this context Chief Minister  Omar Abdullah has proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Even if justice cannot be provided for all victims of violence, if some of those guilty of human rights abuses, including militants, were to ask forgiveness from the families of their victims, it would provide closure for many. The spirit of truth and reconciliation has a powerful resonance in Jammu and Kashmir, and should by extension have the same resonance in India. However, such a mechanism has never been tried in India, and it remains to be seen whether it would be acceptable. Little has as yet been done, too, to see whether armed groups and surrendered militants would agree to participate in a TRC, though such a mechanism could actually speed up their reintegration. Finally, a TRC would also have a large impact in Pakistan, altering the “Kashmir narrative” in fundamental ways.

On the other hand, justice is also a powerful need, especially in relation to rule of law reforms. The judicial institutions of the State have suffered the most severe casualties, with judges acting under intimidation and Bar Associations polarized even over so basic a right as the right to legal defense. Judicial reforms are clearly an important requirement, to be discussed by the people and authorities of the State.

We Want Freedom
‘A New Compact With The People of Jammu & Kashmir’!
Interlocutors have talked about the demands – ‘a lethal mix’ of various “political, economic and cultural freedoms” which can only be experienced if the leaders and people of India and J&K join in a common enterprise to make them happen. These freedoms, the interlocutors believe are envisaged in in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ‘comprehensive vision’, presented at the first meeting of his Round Table Conference in 2006 – to free the people of the state from physical, psychological, economic, social and cultural insecurity.

In specific terms, this means:
Freedom from all forces of religious extremism, ethnic or regional chauvinism and majoritarian conceits that disturb communal and inter-regional harmony;

Freedom from an opaque and unaccountable administration;

Freedom from economic structures, policies and programmes that frustrate efforts to promote inclusive economic growth and balanced development of all parts of the State;

Freedom from social structures and policies that are detrimental to disadvantaged social groups, minorities and women;

Freedom from harsh laws, or laws harshly applied, and judicial delays that curb the space for legitimate dissent;

Freedom from the kind of intimidation and violence that compel people to flee their habitat;

Freedom from threats to the religious, linguistic and cultural identity of all communities;

Freedom from pressures on the media and on media persons, RTI activists, civil rights group and cultural organizations.”

A Consensus They Traced
A political settlement in J&K must be achieved only through dialogue between all stake-holders, including those who are not part of the mainstream. Their commitment to democracy and pluralism must be above board.

J&K should continue to function as a single entity within the Indian Union.

The State’s distinctive status guaranteed by Article 370 must be upheld.
Its ‘erosion’ over the decades must be re-appraised to vest it with such powers as the State needs to promote the welfare of the people on its own terms.

People must be able to exercise their democratic rights without the strains and stresses of the past, both as State subjects and as Indian citizens. Transparent and accountable governance cannot be ensured otherwise. Nor can freedoms and the safeguarding of cultural identity, honour and dignity of every individual.

The diverse aspirations of the three regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – and of sub-regions, of various ethnic and religious groups, of people uprooted from their homes due to wars or endemic violence – must be addressed. This calls for political, financial and administrative empowerment of elected bodies at the level of the region, the district, the block and the Panchayat / Municipality.

To promote the State’s economic self-reliance, a fresh financial arrangement between the Centre and the State is required. This would include a special dispensation for hilly, backward and remote areas and for socially disadvantaged groups.

A hassle-free movement of people, goods and services across the Line of Control and the International Border must be swiftly ensured leading to institutionalised cooperation between the two parts of the erstwhile princely State in all areas of mutual interest and concern.

This would be best achieved if institutions of democratic governance are established at the level of the State, the region and the sub-region in those  parts of Jammu and Kashmir that are presently administered by Pakistan.

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