Tag Archives | Jammu and Kashmir

What you won’t hear from Sopore

Signs of an improving security situation

If you know the importance of Sopore for separatists and militants in the Kashmir valley (if you don’t, then read this post on Why Sopore matters), then you would appreciate the significance of this piece of news. Buried as a small news-item in only one newspaper, Greater Kashmir (at least Google Search doesn’t fetch any other result), is the story of relocation, removal and dismantling of CRPF bunkers in Sopore.

“We have removed bunkers near Town Hall, Shah Faisal road and Damno building General bus stand,” he [Superintendent of Police Sopore Imtiyaz Hussain] said, adding that CRPF has also vacated Kapran cinema. “Besides, we have also removed CRPF from few shops near Plaza,” he added.[GK]

This is the reality of how things are changing in the Kashmir valley. No one can claim that the situation is perfect in Kashmir today. But nor can one deny that things have steadily improved over the last two years.

The improvement is like a car on a damaged, hilly highway — we would all want our car to move faster but the more important thing is for the car to stay on the highway, safe, even if it moves a bit slowly. For, as the cliche goes, the slow and the steady wins the race. Especially if he is on the right path.

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The distorted truth

Malicious report of a so-called Kashmiri Human Rights group

“Despite the hype of peace, people of Jammu and Kashmir have witnessed unabated violence, human rights abuses, and denial of civil and political rights, absence of mechanisms of justice, heightened militarization and surveillance. The figures of violent incidents suggest that 2011 as usual has been the year of loss, victimization, mourning and pain for the people.”[Link]

This is from a report about Kashmir in the past year, 2011, by a so-called “Kashmir-based human rights organisation”, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). It further goes on to state:

“In 2011, a total of 233 people have lost their lives due to violent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir. Out of 233 persons, 56 were civilians, 100 were alleged militants, 71 armed forces personnel and six were unidentified persons and counter insurgent renegades,” the rights body says in the report. “Out of the total 56 civilians killed this year, 11 were students, amongst whom seven were minors. Also amongst the civilians killed six were women,” it adds.[Link]

By providing details of only those cases where security forces were involved, the report creates an impression that every single death in Kashmir in 2011 was at the hands of the security forces. For eg., it cites the killing of a Hindu man Ashok Kumar by BSF, and highlights Mohammad Yousuf’s alleged custodial killing. When it harps on Nazim Rashid’s killing in police custody, the report conveniently forgets to mention that he was accused of killing two other Kashmiri young men in collusion with the militants.

This is not the first time such propaganda has been unleashed by “human rights groups” in Kashmir. Such propaganda has been unleashed incessantly over the last two decades to provide canon-fodder to the separatists and their sympathizers in their anti-India tirade. Of course, many foreign journalists (including those based in India) fall easy prey to such propaganda.

Let’s now look at the facts. Out of the 233 killed persons, 100 were militants while the majority of the balance were either political workers or common civilians gunned down by militants. The report further says that “in 2011… no end to disappearances, custodial killings, rapes and arrests”. But the only rape case of 2011 alleged on the Army was the Kulgam rape case, which also turned out to be a fake allegation. Moreover, when it comes to arrest of minors, a Delhi based Human Rights group had openly accused Syed Ali Shah Geelani of misinterpreting their findings to further his own destructive agenda.

The report fails to mention the killing of Moulana Showkat Shah which was initially christened by Geelani as an “Indian army planned conspiracy”. Later the LeT had claimed responsibility for the murder of the respected Kashmiri religious leader. 2011 also saw two sisters in Sopore being dragged out and shot by militants because they were supposedly indulging in un-Islamic activities. Or the one in December where the separatists bludgeoned a shopkeeper to death when he refused to heed their call to shut his shop during a shutdown call.

A friend provided this blogger a list of incidents from April to July in 2011 which have been overlooked by the report. (If anyone has a list for the complete year of 2011, he or she may leave the list/ link in the comments section.)

  • April 9: Militants shot dead 42 year old Abdul Rehman at Badergund, Ganderbal.
  • April 10: Militants kills 20 year old youth Sajad Ahmad dar at Sopore.
  • April 16: 46 year-old Hasina Begum shot dead for participating in elections. (Many liberals often lament the so called absence of democracy in Kashmir. This is what happens to those who support democracy)
  • April 25: Militants kills 30 yr-old Mohammad Ashraf Dar at Rafiabad, Baramulah.
  • April 28: Bus driver who was attacked by stone pelters, succumbs; accused arrested. (Another manifestation of how separatists allow democracy to thrive in Kashmir. His only mistake was he ferried those employees who were on polling duties during Panchayat elections)
  • April 30: Militants kill 20 yr-old Shamsudin Mir at Sopore.
  • May 2: IED planted by militants kills a street vendor at Udhampur.
  • May 10: Election candidate shot at by militants at Sopore. ( Another one for “Democracy”)
  • May 17: Sarpanch shot dead by militants at Sopore.
  • May 20: Lashkar terrorists behead pro-Democratic worker Abdul Gani Rather in Kishtawar district.
  • May 28: A father and son duo, Ghulam Hassan Mir and Manzoor Ahmad, killed by militants at Bowan, Handwara.
  • June 6:  Militant shoots dead a man, Afzal Khan of Sopore, near Lal Chowk area of Srinagar.
  • June 7: Militants shot dead a cop, Manzoor Ahmad at Sopore.
  • June 15: Manzoor Ahmed Dar shot dead by militants at Shopian.
  • June 27: Militants shot dead Muhammad Yaqoob, 50, at Najwan.
  • July 25: Militants shot dead Mohsin Ahmed Wani, 35, son of Manzoor Ahmed of Jalalabad, Sopore.
  • July 28: Militants kill a man, Mohammad Ashraf Sheikh in Sopore, Kashmir

These, and there are many more unfortunate Kashmiris, for whom no petitions will be signed nor will any protests be staged. Their names will not be found on any list released by a Human Rights  group. No celebrated ‘Kashmiri’ writers sitting in foreign lands and writing about conflict in Kashmir will highlight this aspect. No candle-light protests will be organised to lament their death.

The reason is simple. The Kashmir conflict has created a whole industry, both inside and outside Kashmir, whose livelihood and importance is dependent on keeping the conflict and its memories alive. They are supported in their cause by many ISI-backed NGOs posing as Human Rights groups in Kashmir. Ghulam Nabi Fai was just one of the more direct and blatant ISI agents. But there are many others who do it surreptitiously and indirectly. Then there are some others who do it without even realising that they are being stringed along by anti-India forces.

While the governments of India and J&K have done a good job of containing the violence in Kashmir by bringing it down to the lowest levels in two decades, the challenge of countering Pakistani and separatist propaganda remains as strong as ever. The government must bring the truth out to counter this malicious narrative. It must win this battle to ensure lasting peace, security and livelihood for the average Kashmiri.

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More Kashmir myth-busting

Only 198 detainees under PSA, as per Syed Geelani

Amnesty International claims (pdf) that thousands have been held in Jammu and Kashmir over the past two decades under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law it terms as a “lawless law”. The lie is often repeated by separatists at all national and international forums. This has perpetuated a myth that due to the PSA, even now thousands of innocent Kashmiris are under arrest illegally without any charge. Many gullible and well-meaning Indians very conveniently fall for this myth, and end up propagating the lie.

In a booklet released by hardline anti-India Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar yesterday, here is what he claimed:

Giving details of detainees, Geelani says…198 of them are serving detention under controversial Public Safety Act (PSA).[GK]

Now, you wouldn’t accuse Syed Geelani of under-reporting the number of detainees under the PSA!

Of course, no one ever expected Mr. Geelani to observe the fact that Omar Abdullah government has already amended some of the provisions of the PSA.

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Another good move in Kashmir

Amending the Public Safety Act

While the attention of the media has been focused on the selective revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas of Jammu and Kashmir (this can be done by the state government by denotifying certain areas under the Disturbed Areas Act), the state government has gone ahead and announced amendment to another much-reviled law — the Public Safety Act (PSA).

The state Cabinet which met under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah here okayed promulgation of the ordinance titled “The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (Amendment) Ordinance 2011” thus approving among other recommendations that a minor (under 18 years of age) would no longer be detained under PSA. Besides, the detention period under PSA shall be reduced from the existing one year to three months in case of public disorder and from otherwise three years to six months in a case involving security of the State. However, in both situations there is provision for revision and the detention period can be extended to 1 year and 2 years respectively.

The ordinance was necessitated since state legislature is not in session, it would be now send to Governor for his consent and promulgation. The ordinance provides that a detainee under PSA would be communicated in his/her own language about grounds of detention and all the formalities for slapping PSA on an accused shall be completed within six weeks instead of eight weeks as was given under the existing provisions of the Act. Besides, Chairman of Public Safety Advisory Board can be appointed for two terms only.[GK]

There will always be question marks about the impact of reducing the detention period under the PSA because the state government has been known to invoke the PSA against suspects immediately after they are released, whether on completion of the detention period or by the orders of the court. For instance, state police recently slapped PSA on Dukhtaran-e-Millat’s notorious chief, Asiya Andrabi for the seventh time since 2008. The court quashed her detention orders under PSA thrice and issued release orders in her favour but she has always been rearrested immediately.

But the real plus here is the increase in the age limit of detainees to 18 years.  The state authorities have long been pilloried for treating boys above the age of 16 as adults and detaining them without trial under the PSA (and ordinary criminal law), holding them in regular prisons along with the adult prisoners. This step must be welcomed by all parties, irrespective of their political positions.

The amendment to the PSA  is a good political move by the state government. It is both a reward to the Kashmiris for the peaceful summer for 2011 and an incentive to replicate this normalcy in the following years.

But the question remains. How do we assess this normalcy? What are the indicators of this return to normalcy? The first and foremost is the lack of violence, both due to terror strikes and by street protests in the Valley this year. Second, end of Hizbul Mujahideen as a terror group. Third, elimination of the top Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership in Kashmir. Fourth, the estimated number of active militants in the Valley, which are barely a fraction of the thousands a few years ago. Sixth, nearly 11 lakh tourists visited Kashmir this year. Seventh, Germany revised its travel advisory for Kashmir and other countries may follow suit. Eighth, overwhelming participation by the locals in Panchayat elections.

We can add another indicator to this list now. It is the must-read story in Outlook magazine of ex-militants, who had exfiltrated to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, are hoodwinking the ISI to return to their homes in Jammu and Kashmir. This year has seen at least 16 ex-militants arrive on the Indian side. According to Jammu and Kashmir police, there are some 3,000 Indian Kashmiris eager to return from PoK. This proves that not only is indigenous separatist militancy virtually dead in Kashmir, the hardcore ex-militants are now seeking their future in a peaceful and normal Jammu and Kashmir.

Finally, all these indicators are a testimony to the tremendous effort put in by the security forces to bring the situation to this stage. Only an ungrateful nation would choose to forget their sacrifices and even worse, demonise them, as the counterinsurgency in Kashmir moves towards a political endgame. As we keep moving forward, let us not leave anyone behind.

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The 1994 Parliamentary Resolution on Jammu & Kashmir

The full text.

This resolution on Jammu & Kashmir was moved in both Houses of Parliament on February 22, 1994 by the presiding officers and adopted unanimously by the two Houses. It has neither been rescinded nor amended so far. Here is the full text of the resolution:

“This House”

Notes with deep concern Pakistan’s role in imparting training to the terrorists in camps located in Pakistan and Occupied Kashmir, the supply of weapons and funds, assistance in infiltration of trained militants including foreign mercenaries into Jammu and Kashmir with the avowed purpose of creating disorder disharmony and subversion:

Reiterates that the militants trained in Pakistan are indulging in murder, loot and other heinous crimes against the people, taking them hostage and creating an atmosphere of terror;

Condemns strongly the continued support and encouragement Pakistan is extending to subversive and terrorist activities in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir;

Calls upon Pakistan to stop forthwith its support to terrorism, which is in violation of the Simla Agreement and the internationally accepted norms of inter-State conduct and is the root cause of tension between the two countries;

Reiterates that the Indian political and democratic structures and the Constitution provide for firm guarantees for the promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens;

Regards Pakistan’s anti-India campaign of calumny, and falsehood as unacceptable and deplorable.

Notes with deep concern the highly provocative statements emanating from Pakistan urges Pakistan to refrain from making statements which vitiate the atmosphere and incite public opinion Expresses regret and concern at the pitiable conditions and violations of human rights and denial of democratic freedoms of the people in those areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which are under the illegal occupation of Pakistan;

On behalf of the People of India,

Firmly declares that:

a) The state of Jammu & Kashmir has been, is and shall be an integral part of India and any attempts to separate it from the rest of the country will be resisted by all necessary means;

b) India has the will and capacity to firmly counter all designs against its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity;

and demands that -

c) Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression;

and resolves that -

d) All attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of India will be met resolutely.

The Resolution was unanimously adopted, Mr. Speaker: The Resolution is unanimously passed.

February 22, 1994

[Source - Parliamentary Debates: Official report, Volume 170, Issue 2, 1994, p. 237]

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Mythbusting: Soldiers-to-civilians ratio in Kashmir

A fact check.

We have all heard this often, and even taken it as gospel truth. “The Indian troops-to-Kashmiri people ratio in the occupied Kashmir is the largest ever soldiers-to-civilians ratio in the world.” “Kashmir is the ‘most heavily militarized zone’ in the world.” “There is an Indian soldier for every ten civilians in Kashmir.”

These myths are based on many erroneous premises. Let us start with the police. The total sanctioned strength of Jammu and Kashmir police, including the civil police and the armed police, is 68,125. Based on the actual strength of the police in 2009 and the population of the state as per 2001 census, the police-to-population ratio comes to 683 per 100,000 people. As per 2009 data, the national average for the police-to-population ratio is 133, while the UN mandated figure is 250-300. Considering the violence experienced in the state during the last two decades, the existing police-to-population ratio is not abnormally high.

Next come the paramilitary forces. As per this statement by the Union minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs, Planning and Science and Technology, Ashwani Kumar, there are 86,260 people from the central forces deployed in the complete state of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1989, before the insurgency started, there were 28,782 central armed forces troopers deployed in the state.

Finally the army. The official figures of the army men deployed in the state is not available but in 2007, the army authorities had reportedly stated that there are 3,37,000 soldiers deployed within the geographical boundaries of the state. Leave alone the fact that at least 3o,000 soldiers have since moved out of the state, the deployment of soldiers needs to placed in the right context.

Barring the Rashtriya Rifles, which is a specialist counterinsurgency paramilitary force manned by the army, all the Indian army units are deployed on the Line of Control, Actual Ground Position Line (both with Pakistan) and the Line of Actual Control (with China). Even the Rashtriya Rifles are mainly deployed in the semi-urban and rural areas of Kashmir. There are a total of 65 Rashtriya Rifles battalion in the state, and at an estimated average of 1,000 soldiers per unit, this would lead to 65,000 Rashtriya Rifles troopers in the state.

So the actual strength of security force personnel dealing with the people in the state is nowhere near the figure of 7,00,000 which is usually floated in the media. Barring the 2,20,000 policemen, paramilitary troopers and Rashtriya Rifles soldiers deployed among the population, the rest of the army soldiers shall continue to be deployed on the LoC, AGPL and LAC irrespective of the internal security situation in the state. Even among the 2,20,000 troopers, a fair share of the police force would still be required to maintain the law and order in the state which has a population of 1,25,48,926 as per the 2011 census.

Meanwhile, let us get another fact out of the way. These deployments are for the complete state, and not just for the Kashmir Valley. For example, the Rashtriya Rifles units are deployed as Counter Insurgency Force (CIF)- R in Rajouri and Poonch, CIF-D in Doda, CIF-V in Anantnag, Pulwama and Badgam, CIF-K in Kupwara, Baramulla and Srinagar, and CIF-U in Udhampur and Banihal. Kashmir Valley, or the Vale of Kashmir, forms just 7 percent of the area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (for details of area in J&K, see this post). Because of the high density of population in the Valley, as compared to other mountainous regions of the state, and the increased threat of militancy and civil disturbance (as witnessed in 2010) in urban areas of the Valley, an impression is created in the minds of many visitors to the state capital that the complete state is over-militarised and teeming with gun-toting soldiers at every nook and corner. The facts are actually to the contrary.

Should there be less intrusive security in the urban areas of Srinagar? Yes, definitely. But that will take time to happen. The security forces were not raised and moved into Kashmir on the whim and fancy of the Indian government. They were deployed to control and defeat the violent insurgency in the state which has been actively promoted and supported by Pakistan since 1989. As the level of violence comes down and the threat of organised stone-pelting reduces, the behaviour of the security forces will also change. This is precisely what happened in the neighbouring state of Punjab in the late 1990s once the militancy was completely defeated by the security forces. In fact, some steps towards less intrusive security in Srinagar have already been initiated last year and this year when a number of paramilitary bunkers were removed from residential areas of the state capital. As peace and normality returns to the state, this move will gain further pace in the weeks and months to come.

The myth of Kashmir having the “largest ever soldiers-to-civilians ratio in the world” has persisted far too long without being challenged. This myth has been used not only in the Western media but has also gained currency in the writings of many Indian commentators. It is high time this myth is demolished and buried once for all. For as John F. Kennedy said: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

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Good news is no news

The challenge is to overturn the old adage, especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Good news is no news. It is an overused cliché but that perhaps best explains why we don’t hear enough — or rather hear nothing — about positive stories from Kashmir. Two stories are put forth here as evidence of this argument.

One, ten phases of polling for panchayat elections in Kashmir have been completed today, without any violence. More than 80 percent of the electorate has turned out to vote so far despite an unequivocal call by the Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan-based jehadi groups to boycott these polls. In fact, the voting percentages have been a good 10-15 percent higher in Kashmir valley as compared to the Jammu region. It is a story — even if you were to ignore the clear message that these polls are a win-win situation for both the Kashmiris and the state government — which is important enough to deserve reasonable coverage from the media, and elicit informed opinion from commentators and analysts.

Two, earlier this week, Indian government approved the Skill, Empowerment and Employment Special Scheme (SEE J&K) as a 100% Central assisted scheme in the next five years to cover one lakh youth in Jammu & Kashmir. The Scheme is scheduled to commence from June-July 2011 and the first set of placements are likely to take place by October-November 2011. In the first year, 15000 youth will receive training for salaried and self employment opportunities. This is not a magic wand that will immediately solve the problem of unemployment in Kashmir. But it is a good start nevertheless that needs to be promoted, and actively monitored by the media.

It must be remembered that these are not one-off, feel-good soft stories but hard political and economic measures of significant importance in a state torn by strife for over two decades. A Kashmiri Pandit woman winning a panchayat election or a temple being reopened in Srinagar is a heart-warming tale but has limited political significance beyond that, however hard one might try to hype the Kashmiriyat tag attached to it.

Then there is this edit in The Tribune newspaper which says that tourists are flocking to the Kashmir valley this summer. For all one knows, this could be based on anecdotal evidence of the editor or her friends because there is no factual evidence to back up the statement. Although one would like to believe the assertion that no hotel reservations are available for tourists in Kashmir, hard data would have helped this view from being dismissed by the naysayers as government propaganda.

Perhaps a portion of the blame for this media apathy also goes to the J&K state government. Its official website is “under construction” and the state Press Information Bureau, if such an entity exists, has no presence on the internet, leave alone social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The onus of communicating the state government’s message directly to the people is thus left solely to the personal twitter account of the Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah. By all accounts, he has been fairly successful so far by leveraging the fundament of today’s media environment — engagement. But this is not going to be easy, as a section of the media has already used Mr Abdullah’s twitter presence to make petty personal attacks against him.

When James Callaghan said that “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on”, it was an age with no internet (and no breaking-news television). In today’s times, every government needs to have mechanisms to proactively put the truth out before the lie has even started putting its pants on.  This needs a robust, agile and adaptive strategic communication framework in place, which is both reliable and credible, and engages with the target audience. Engagement through dialogic communication is now at least as important, if not more, as information-sending activities in the traditional media environment using monologist communication practices.

Communications transcend borders. In case of a conflict-torn state like Jammu and Kashmir which attracts a lot of international attention, the longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more one can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by news informers that will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place. Putting a strategic communication framework in place will allow the government to leverage the media’s power to tell people what to think about, if not what to think.

It is about winning the battle of the narrative. The state must recognise that perception is as important to its successes as the actual events. The challenge is upon the government, particularly the J&K government, to defy and overturn the old adage that good news is no news. Especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Toon from here.

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Budgeting Jammu and Kashmir

The state budget doesn’t make for a happy reading.

A quick look at the state budget of Jammu and Kashmir presented in the state assembly yesterday provided the following highlights:

  • J&K SGDP has a growth rate of 6.61%, compared to the all-India GDP growth rate of 8.6%
  • The per capita income in the state is estimated at Rs 32,496, compared to the all India figure of Rs 54,527
  • The state government borrowed Rs 1,300 crore as additional open market borrowing outside the FRBM arrangement, to reduce the accumulated overdraft of the government with the J&K Bank
  • Expenditure on payment of interest is estimated at Rs 2,363 crore during the next year as against Rs 2,251 crore for this year
  • Expenditure on account of cost of purchase of electrical energy is projected at Rs 2,400 crore for next year, as against the current year’s Rs 2,324 crore
  • Rs 1,174 crore is estimated to go out on account of repayment of loans next year, as against Rs 959 crore this year
  • State’s Annual Plan is yet to be finalised by the Planning Commission, receipt figures in the budget have been worked out on a projected State plan outlay of Rs 6,600 crore
  • In addition, the PMRP outlay is of Rs 1,200 crore
  • 57% of budgeted income is funded by central grants
  • 44% of budgeted expenditure is towards salaries and pensions of government employees
  • The budget has a fiscal deficit of Rs 2,979 crore over a total outlay of Rs 31,212 crore next year, i.e., 9.54%

The bottom-line is simple. At the next instance of the minutest trouble in Kashmir Valley, many commentators will come forth and place the blame on the economic condition of the state. The state government, it will be suggested, is not doing enough economically. But a closer look of the state budget actually shows that there is very little that the state government can do to revive the state’s economy.

Of course, it is another matter that the Central government has also not been able to do enough for the state’s economy. The Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Programme has been extended for another year now (when it was supposed to culminate in 2008) and Dr C Rangarajan has now submitted his third report on economic revival of the state (the earlier two reports lie deeply buried in the cupboards somewhere).

It is easy for many Kashmiris to look at some other parts of India and feel that they have been left behind. But the best years of India’s economic growth, since 1992, have coincided with the worst years of terrorist violence in J&K. In 1989, no one had ever imagined that the sleepy pensioners’ paradise of Bangalore would be an IT hub or Tamil Nadu a major location for auto-manufacturing. Things took their own course and hitherto unthought-of opportunities emerged in many regions of the country. We don’t know what Kashmir could have become had it not been engulfed by violence since 1989.

There is only one lesson to be learnt here. If there is a climate of fear, terror, violence and insecurity in the state, no amount of planning, funding, schemes and programmes will make a difference. While the government must do what it can to revive and kick-start the economy of the state, the most important thing it can do is to ensure peace, security and rule of law to allow economic activity to flourish. If peaceful conditions prevail uninterruptedly for a substantial period of time, one never knows what success stories can emerge from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They may not be the sufficient condition, but peace and security remains the essential prerequisite for economic revival of the state.

Of course, this blogger does remember his old aphorism: “The secret of success is this: There is no secret of success.”

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Jha’s Jhaag-wala Kashmir

Prem Shankar Jha’s call for sacking a duly elected government in J&K is neither democratic nor is it realpolitik. It is sheer absurdity.

My fellow blogger Nitin Pai pointed me to this column by Prem Shankar Jha, Lessons for India from the Egyptian people’s revolution in the DNA newspaper. Here are the last two paragraphs of his column:

But India will not escape the reverberations either. For it too must answer the question that Tahrir square has posed: what can even the most heavily armed state do when its own people repudiate it? This question needs an urgent answer in Kashmir valley, which has been in a virtual lockdown since June. What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Abdullah government resigns, the anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks? Will it fire on them? Will it deploy water cannon and rubber bullets as the Egyptian police have done but the JK police and the CRPF have not? Will it declare curfews, and try to prevent demonstrators from getting to Lal Chowk? Or will it forestall having to choose between these grim alternatives by giving democracy one more chance in Kashmir.

It is true that the Omar Abdullah government is an elected government. But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown, it is also a government that has lost the support of most of the people in the valley. Is it asking too much of a nation that prides itself on its democracy, to give democracy a chance to sort out the mess in Kashmir? As we are seeing in Egypt, the very least this will do is to empower the moderates and weaken the extremists clustered around Geelani and Masrat Alam. All that Delhi has to do is make up its mind. What it can no longer afford is to do nothing. Today it is like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding train. It has to jump off the tracks , and is rapidly running out of time.[DNA]

This blogger’s  first reaction to Mr Jha’s diatribe was, in twitter-speak,*Face Palm*. The second reaction was of dismissive anger. Having let those emotions subside, this blogger realises that engaging his… rather, not letting his uneducated nonsense go unchallenged is  important.

Just to refresh your memory, Mr Jha suggested in 2008 that India should give up on  Kashmir because he was convinced that the Kashmiri awam was overwhelmingly against India. Unfortunately for him, he was to be proved wrong within a few months when more than 60 percent of the residents of the state turned up to vote in the assembly elections. But we can’t let facts come in the way of a good old venomous rant.

Mr Jha avers, “Kashmir Valley has been in a virtual lockdown since June.” Of course, this Kashmir Valley must be existing on Mars or Jupiter for the one in the North Indian state has regained normalcy, albeit slowly, since September last year. Things have improved to such a degree that by December 2010, Mr Geelani was forced to unceremoniously withdraw his protest calendar which was evoking little response even in the separatists’ strongholds in the Valley.

“What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Abdullah government resigns, the anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks?” is the rhetorical question that Mr Jha poses. Precisely the same thing Mr Jha, that Delhi will do if lakhs of Mumbaikars converge on the Azad Maidan and refuse to leave till the Prithviraj Chavan government resigns, Maharashtra Terror Act (MACOCA) is repealed and the security forces deployed in the Naxal areas are withdrawn. A rhetorical question deserves no better than a rhetorical answer.

Mr Jha continues in the same vein: “But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown…”. So an opinion poll conducted by some media house carries more credence than the voters’ mandate for a constitutionally elected government in an Indian state. Here is a guest post at this blog by Sushobhan Mukherjee, who designed and executed the first-ever opinion poll in Jammu & Kashmir for the launch edition of Outlook magazine in 1995, deconstructing one of the many polls that Mr Jha probably refers to. In any case, democratic processes in  country can not be made subservient to any number of opinion polls (whether conducted face-to-face, or on internet, by twitter or by Facebook) and Jammu and Kashmir can be no exception to this rule.

Even more disingenuously, when Mr Jha refers to the results of opinion polls, for whatever these polls are worth, he takes into account the opinion only in the Valley while asking for the  sacking of the Chief Minister. Forget for a moment the fact that the state also has two other regions of Jammu and Ladakh which have elected this government, even the Kashmir region itself is much bigger than the Vale of Kashmir, which is presumably the Valley Mr Jha refers to.

For a country that held elections in 1996 and 2002 in Jammu and Kashmir at the peak of terrorism, India doesn’t need to be hectored about giving democracy a chance in the state. Even now, the state is gearing up to hold Panchayat polls in the state. Is that not the real and most participative form of grassroots democracy in the state? Perhaps, Mr Jha’s idea of democracy is only met if his favourite is voted in as the CM of the state. If someone he personally abhors ends up as the CM by a legit vote of the electorate, it is no longer a democracy in Mr Jha’s book.

Mr Jha then goes on to implore: “[Delhi] can no longer afford is to do nothing [in Kashmir].” Delhi is in fact already doing enough in J&K. It has got a team of interlocutors in place to talk to all shades of opinion in the state. The “moderates”, that Mr Jha expects will take part in the next elections if held today and thus marginalise the extremists, have refused to meet the interlocutors.

After 1987, the separatists have never participated in any democratic process in the state. There seem to be no indicators of any change in their stance so far. In any case, for argument’s sake, it is for the separatists to first declare their preference for participating in state elections if they are held now; the political parties in the state and the Union government can then take a call accordingly. It would otherwise be ridiculous to sack a duly elected government in the state when it has finished only one-third of its constitutionally mandated tenure.

Surely, a veteran journalist like Mr Jha knows that democracy is not merely about elections and voting but also about democratic systems, processes, structures and institutions. You can not weaken those very democratic institutions and processes in the name of furthering democracy. The answer to problems in Kashmir lies in strengthening the democratic institutions in the state, focusing on improved governance, and ensuring peace and security so that the average Kashmiri can live a normal social and economic life without any fear.

Mr Jha’s argument is neither about Egypt, nor about India or Kashmir. He is actually making a case for sacking a duly elected democratic government in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir. This is neither democratic nor is it realpolitik. It is sheer absurdity. We must treat such bunkum with the contempt that it deserves.

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Beyond the misleading headline

What is the confusion over Union Home Secretary’s statement about troop reduction in J&K?

BBC: India ‘to cut Kashmir troops by a quarter’ || Reuters: India looks to cut troops to boost Kashmir peace || Times of India: Govt contemplating troop reduction by 25% in J&K: Pillai

Forget the headlines that the statement by the Union Home Secretary about withdrawing troops from Kashmir has made. Take a look at what precisely Mr. GK Pillai said:

“If we can manage with local police, that would be the most ideal situation, and this is one of the confidence-building measures, that people don’t get harassed by the over-presence of security forces”[Reuters]

“As a confidence building measure in Jammu and Kashmir, the strength of the security forces would come down by 25 per cent. We would like to reduce it as soon as possible depending on the ground situation.”

…”If violence is not there, if people are comfortable, we can gradually reduce the strength of security forces and make sure that all forces are only at the border and for preventing infiltration”[The Hindu]

The above statement means that only the local police should ideally handle the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir. And more importantly, it also means that withdrawing army from internal security duties in J&K would only mean a 25 per cent reduction in the troop-levels deployed in the state. This is because 75 per cent of the Indian Army troops are deployed at the Line of Control for preventing infiltration from Pakistan.

Did the Home Secretary say that it is happening now? No. He said it can only happen when the “violence is not there”. That is an unambiguous statement by Mr Pillai. How did it turn out to be a declaration by India, as the BBC says, “to cut Kashmir troops by a quarter”?

This seems to agree with the views expressed by the army chief on the subject. It certainly doesn’t deserve a controversy, not even a manufactured one.

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