While doctors, faith healers and all others engaged in healing the ill and pain stricken may not have much in common, they nevertheless agree on one point- that once the cause of the malady is removed, the body is automatically cured. This dictum being a matter of fact statement has universal applicability. However, the process of healing is not as simple as it sounds, for the main problem lies not in curing a malady, but in accurately identifying what is causing it. So is the case with Kashmir. Afflicted with the malaise of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), its people have continued to suffer for over two decades. And though many of the learned and wise have said, analysed and a written volumes about the manifestation of this ‘ailment’ and the widespread agony it produces, a remedy for it has thus far eluded us, as few have tried to honestly identify its causes .
All of us want that the AFSPA must go- but it is still there. The international community and human right organisations too have repeatedly flayed New Delhi for the same, but surprisingly, stopped short of initiating any concrete measures to effect its removal. This makes it amply clear that despite promises and assurances; ultimately, it is for us and us alone to remedy this malaise. However, the main problem once again lies in our over obsession with the ailment and instead of concentrating on its causes, we by prescribing to ‘grand conspiracy’ theories and rumours, are deceiving ourselves into believing that being victims of intentional and premeditated prosecution, we are helpless in remedying this. While there certainly may be some merit in such apprehensions, the fact of the matter is that AFSPA will not go merely by our crying hoarse, complaining or even protesting – we have already tried all this out for over two decades. And it is precisely because of this that our leaders must change their outlook, as this line of treatment for ‘eradicating’ AFSPA has unfortunately not worked!
J&K has been under AFSPA since 1990. While New Delhi may have been looking for an opportunity to militarily ‘crush’ the ‘right to self determination’ movement, it did not do so till the entry of the Kalashnikov in the State gave New Delhi a ‘perfectly legal’ excuse to rush in additional security forces and empower them with sweeping powers under the AFSPA. The mass exodus of Kashmiri pandits (whether voluntarily or by design) strengthened New Delhi’s case as it became easy to convince the international community that militancy in J&K was a violent ‘anti-people’ movement making it incumbent on the government to impose AFSPA for ‘safeguarding’ public life and property. Since then, New Delhi has been lucky, as it has been able to periodically publicise the ‘existence of a ‘Kashmir link’ to major terrorist acts either directly (as in the Parliament attack case) or indirectly (involvement of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which is active in Kashmir, being behind the Mumbai attacks).
Continued violence in Kashmir has facilitated New Delhi’s sinister design of maintaining a large presence of security forces in the State. In fact, militancy has come as a boon in disguise for New Delhi, which has capitalised on the same by launching a diplomatic offensive in projecting it as ‘State sponsored terrorism’ by Pakistan. Readers will recall it was in the 90’s that America, by suddenly abandoning its support for implementation of the UN resolutions, changed its principled stand of considering the Kashmir issue as an international problem and not only reduced it to a ‘bilateral issue’ between India and Pakistan, but also declared that it required no ‘third party’ intervention. Whereas America has never explained its volte-face on Kashmir, the timing of the same coinciding with transformation of the ongoing Kashmir struggle from a peaceful movement into an armed conflict does raise some disquieting doubts.
Going back to the issue of curing maladies- when a particular line of treatment fails to provide any relief and aggravates the problem, then both doctors and faith healers alike, discontinue the same and adopt a new therapy. Militancy has gone on for over two decades but got us nowhere nearer to our goal of achieving the ‘right to self determination’. On the contrary, militancy has provided New Delhi the ‘reason’ to justify imposition of AFSPA in J&K by declaring that terrorism and insurgency posed ‘existential threats’ to the country as was evident during the last Universal Periodic Review of human rights record conference held in the UN Headquarters at Geneva. Readers will recall that during his speech at this conference, the Attorney General of India had said that, “There are threats to the fabric of our country. Our country has been the target of terrorist activities over the last three decades.” Though he avoided any direct mention of J&K, the cleverly worded statement referring to “terrorist activities over the last three decades,” was clearly directed towards Kashmir. And since no one objected to this, it is apparent that ‘terrorism’ being India’s raison d’être for imposing AFSPA in J&K has been accepted by the international community.
Let us therefore explore a hypothetical situation to combat the scourge of AFSPA. What if the militants decide to give up their ‘armed struggle’? Will New Delhi then have reasons like ‘existential threats’ and ‘threats to the fabric of our country’ to justify continuation of the AFSPA in J&K? Will it then be able to project itself as “the target of terrorism”? The answer is an emphatic and univocal ‘No’. Presently, the international community has been tolerating excesses committed by security forces in the State by conceding to India’s exaggerated claims of ‘terrorism in J&K’ by giving New Delhi the ‘benefit of doubt’. This is because nations follow an unwritten but important diplomatic protocol of not intervening whenever an internal armed conflict situation exists in a country, as this may be misconstrued as ‘interference’ in its internal affairs. However, once the very cause of its perceived ‘existential threats’ and ‘threats to the fabric of the country’ are nonexistent, AFSPA automatically becomes irrelevant due to which, New Delhi can no longer afford to keep the AFSPA operational in J&K and any attempts to do so would certainly not be acceptable to the international community!.
There is no harm in giving this proposal a fair chance, maybe, initially as an experiment only. But this line of ‘medication’ is not easy to follow because the militant camp would not cooperate easily and the UJC chief and Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Sallaudin makes no bones about this. So, when he (in his typically amiable style) said that, “With great humility, I request the Hurriyat leadership and other separatist leaders to stop repeating the term peaceful struggle needlessly,” he was merely ‘advising’ the separatist leadership not to undermine the ‘armed struggle’. And when he added that, “They should not dissuade youth from the armed struggle,” he sent out a clear signal to everyone that the ‘armed struggle’ would be the mainstay of the ‘self determination’ movement! Just recently, he has once again has reiterated this by saying that while “None can deny the importance and usefulness of a state wide political movement under the patronage of a united and recognized leadership but the real decisive power lies in the armed struggle.”
Syed Sallaudin exudes unbounded confidence that it will be the ‘armed struggle’, not the peaceful movement which will finally resolve the ‘K’ issue, as he is convinced that a solution can only be found when India is ‘militarily forced’ to withdraw from Kashmir by his ‘freedom fighters’. Military analysts however feel that Sallaudin’s optimism as regards militant outfit’s capability of militarily defeating the Indian security forces is ill founded and totally misplaced. They attribute his repeated attempts to exaggerate the potential of the ‘armed struggle’ as an instinctive ‘self preservation mechanism’ to overcome the fear of irrelevancy due to its declining popularity. However, whatever be the reason for Syed Sallaudin’s consummate faith that it would be the gun which will bring ‘victory’ to the people of J&K, one thing is certain- he will not be convinced that in today’s world, seeking a ‘military solution’ to any problem is passé. So, any suggestion to give up the ‘armed struggle’ will outrightly discarded by him and this is exactly what New Delhi wants, since it has already convinced the international community that AFSPA is the only antidote for militancy and thus its enforcement in J&K is unavoidable. Therefore, as long as militancy exists in J&K, New Delhi has nothing to worry about and can continue imposing AFSPA with impunity, as it knows that the international community’s response would be restricted to nothing more than ‘making noises’ and shedding ‘crocodile tears’!
Can Syed Sallaudin be convinced to give up the gun? While the unanimous answer would be ‘No’, there still could be some hope. Let us not forget that before assuming his nom de guerre, Syed Sallaudin was Syed Mohammed Yusuf Shah. Being a Kashmiri, he is well aware of how New Delhi is using the excuse of ‘terrorism’ to impose AFSPA due to which the people of J&K are being subjected to extreme hardships and violence. Thus, there is a ray of hope that in deference to the silent suffering and pitiable plight of his brethren, the militant leader may seriously consider the idea of putting down the gun so that the people of Kashmir are finally rid of the AFSPA malaise. Sallaudin picked up the gun, not for his own sake but for that of his own people. And so, should he decide to bid farewell to arms, once again, not for his own sake but for theirs, he would undoubtedly emerge as the real winner!