Home Minister Chidambaram recently put forth the proposal for a phased withdrawal of both paramilitary and armed forces from Jammu and Kashmir to be replaced by the local police. Instead of welcoming this move various voices, especially from the right wing, have challenged this proposal.
In response to the Home Minister’s recent statement about troop withdrawal from Kashmir the present day successor of the Jana Sangh, the BJP stated that "This step could lead to a dangerous situation as law and order situation is already disturbed in the state.”
Home Minister Chidambaram also promised that the center would also “relook” into the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) which gives special powers to the armed forces. In response the state unit of the BJP threatened mass agitation if the central government repealed the AFSPA.
As Indians we pride ourselves on our secularism and our democracy. Right from Prime Minister Nehru onwards our leaders have always insisted that Kashmir is a part of India – and Kashmiris want to be part of India – because of these very attributes.
The official Indian view is that Jammu and Kashmir ‘lawfully acceded’ to India when the Maharaja of Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession to India in 1947. Indian leaders insist that India has treated Kashmir and the Kashmiris fairly; they have constitutional protection under Article 370 and have experienced ‘free and fair’ elections as part of a democratic secular country. And the belief goes that given a choice Kashmiris would choose India over Pakistan.
In 1947 after centuries of autocratic monarchical rule in Kashmir the masses were informed that they would get democracy. Very soon powers and rights granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution pertaining to more autonomy to the state were gradually eroded on the ostensible grounds of the need for integration with the rest of India.
Ironically the need to win the argument against Pakistan in the international community and to emphasize Kashmir’s inseparability led to the increasing control of the central government over the state.
Sheikh Abdullah, a popular Kashmiri leader who was also a close friend of Premier Nehru, was in favor of Kashmir’s accession to India. However, soon a democratically and popularly elected leader was put in jail off and on for the next three decades only because his views did not agree with the powers at the centre.
Instead of letting the people decide which political party is better for them, the Indian central government, under fear that an unfriendly (read non-submissive) party might come to power in the state, has frequently exerted the right to dismiss governments and rig elections.
Perhaps, if democratic institutions had been set up, elections had been held on time and dismissal of Chief Ministers and Governors had not been so frequent this centralization would have been seen in a different light.
The massively rigged 1989 elections provided the pretext for present violent phase of the Kashmiri insurgency. Without the context of these elections the insurgency would not have spread and gained support among the populace, notwithstanding external backing.
Once it had begun, the insurgency was dealt with an iron fist and led to increased police and paramilitary presence in Kashmir. Foreign intervention by Pakistan only strengthened the case for a harder line against the insurgents. Operations against insurgents stopped being surgical and instead affected the larger Kashmiri populace.
Maintenance of law and order is the primary responsibility of the local police and not of either paramilitary or armed forces. The military is trained to find the enemy and wipe it out. The army thus faces problems when it is called into an area where it is surrounded not by enemy soldiers but by civilians who are fellow citizens. The army is not trained in how to deal with its citizens on a day to day basis. Continuous interaction between the armed forces and the civilian population not only politicizes the army but also leads to human rights violations.
The recent protests in Sopain in Kashmir are not new and neither are the human right allegations against the security forces. Amnesty International and other Human Rights agencies have routinely criticized the Indian government especially with respect to excesses by security forces in Kashmir.
India has always reacted negatively to reports about human rights violations in any part of the country. The reaction has been visceral whenever the issue happens to be Kashmir. Attempts are made to either brush the issue under the carpet or to blame ‘undisciplined’ or ‘rogue’ elements in the security forces. Sometimes blame is assigned to the state government.
The security situation and the intrigues or stratagems of the ‘foreign hand’ have also been routinely blamed. The argument is that those who violate the integrity of the country and those who support them do not deserve human rights.
Yet the basis of the Indian state has always been the ‘moral high ground.’ In his ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on the midnight of August 14, 1947, Premier Nehru talked about the need “to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.”
Instead of treating every policy decision of the government as solely a vote-gaining mechanism there are certain issues which ask for political unity. As Indians and as human beings it is the right of every Kashmiri to live in a non-garrison like environment and it is India’s obligation to provide the same. Let’s hope that when the central government puts forth a proposal for a phased withdrawal of the armed forces the opposition parties indulge in a health debate but in the end take a decision which is in India’s – and Kashmir’s – interest.
Aparna Pande is a doctoral candidate and lecturer in political science at Boston University.