Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can Interlocutors Succeed?

Arjimand notes that both the Central Government and Separatists, led by Ali Shah Geelani, have many loose ends to tie to make the work of interlocutors meaningful

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

Festival of Interlocutors

Former Indian diplomat G Parthasarthy, while commenting on New Delhi’s latest Kashmir initiative, in an article “Not all in J&K are Kashmiris” on October 14 in Deccan Chronicle, made an interesting statement, “Let us not forget 45 per cent of the people of Jammu & Kashmir are Dogras, Punjabis, Paharis, Bakarwals, Gujjars, Buddhists and Shias.”

Mr. Parthasarthy’s views are a general reflection of how most of the people in India’s political establishment think about Kashmir. It is also a reflection of New Delhi’s political approach on this issue ever since 1947.

The problem is that few people today realize the gravity of the powder keg situation of Kashmir. Few people are able to objectively visualize the cumulative effect of Kashmir’s failing economy, militarized governance, New Delhi’s political micro management, acute unemployment, tight military control and religious radicalism on both sides.

New Delhi’s latest Kashmir initiative in the form of new interlocutors has shocked many. The terms of reference and the format of the initiative looks like a classic NGO needs assessment exercise. Worse, it sounds a repetition of many such past exercises. There is a lot of cynicism about the outcome in Kashmir. Everyone seems to remember that the ink on the reports of the five Working Groups Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had formed is yet to dry up.

There are many in Kashmir who feel that the very idea of ‘interlocutors’ on Kashmir is out of sync with the real need – that is engagement between New Delhi and the state’s political formations at a political level. This view has a great merit.

Technically, political interlocutors are engaged to open lines of communications between two estranged parties in a political conflict. The new Kashmir interlocutors will end up meeting at least 1001 groups and individuals in its one-year time frame – who, in all probability, will include politicians, activists, business groups, ‘civil society’ actors, academics, journalists, NGOs, state-sponsored minority ‘representative’ groups, trade unions, students’ groups and so on.

Over the years, the centre of gravity of New Delhi’s political engagement on Kashmir has shifted towards engagement with the ‘civil society’ here. What needs to be appreciated is that engagement with the kind of ‘civil society’ Kashmir has today has limitations. Civil society does in fact play a pivotal role in influencing public opinion, but in Kashmir’s context its ability to do so to an extent where it can alter political dynamics is highly limited.

Admitted, the three interlocutors have an objective view about Kashmir. At the end of the day it is not what these ‘interlocutors’ will report back that will matter. What will matter is New Delhi’s political will of addressing Kashmir’s real political issues, which it knows quite well, and which it does not need any interlocutors to understand.

On the other extreme end in Kashmir are the position and the political approach taken by Hurriyat (G) leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The strategy of long shutdowns and a political approach which seems to be frozen somewhere in the times of Maulana Maudoodi and 1980s need fresh thinking too. It is true that the formidable support base Geelani sahib has, does not want him to budge an inch from his stand and approach. But, as a leader, who is being followed, he needs to understand the follies of his approach as well.

The first thing to realize is that what was politically applicable in 1980s as a strategy may not necessarily hold true today. A lot has changed since then locally as well as globally. It is true that his movement is denied democratic space for peaceful mobilization and expression, but his strategy needs to factor in this limitation too.

The premise that Kashmir’s moral high ground through long shutdowns will force New Delhi to accept Kashmir as a dispute and win international support is little too misplaced.

It is true there are many people in India and beyond who are sympathetic to Kashmir’s basic political cause, but does sympathy alone translate into support and political transformation?

In international politics and diplomacy it is only self interest that guides political stands. Currently, most of the international community’s interest, including that of most of Muslim countries, lies in the political status quo in Kashmir. This reality needs to be factored in Hurriyat (G)’s strategy.

The second question relates to political inclusiveness and joint advocacy. The fact is that no single leader can stake claim to sole leadership of Kashmir. Any political approach based on honest resolution of this issue will have to be inclusive and accommodative. Beyond core ideologies, a break from the deadlock demands accommodation. In the absence of a united Hurriyat – speaking for all those who do not believe in the status quo – New Delhi will always have ample political and geographical space for conflict management in Kashmir.

What Geelani sahib also needs to come to terms with is the bitter reality of Parthasarthy’s “45 per cent” argument. Why Hurriyat (G)’s politics shrunk exclusively to Kashmir Valley and failed inclusiveness across Pinpanjal and among Gujjar, Pahari and Shia sections needs introspection too.

There is another side to the current deadlock - that is economic. A daylong of shutdown in the 80s or 90s meant largely disruption to government services in Kashmir. There wasn’t as great private economic activity then as today. Services sector was limited. Today’s daylong shutdown results in economic catastrophe, the results of which will be felt in several decades to come. Further economic deprivation and job losses will ultimately push people closer to the state.

Then there is the issue of power inequality. The power equation between Srinagar and New Delhi is overly in the latter’s favor. Hurriyat (G)’s current strategy will deteriorate Kashmir’s this equation not only vis-à-vis New Delhi but Jammu and Ladakh regions as well. That will mean the centre of gravity of most of the economic activities will shift to Jammu, something that has already happened to alarming levels in the last two decades. The end result will be political. Jammu will attain greater economic, demographic and political stature, leaving Kashmir as an entity of secondary or even tertiary importance. That has already happened. That is a process which Kashmir will find impossible to reverse. Kashmir will have been politically defeated by its own hands.

Then is the question of brain drain and reverse investment. Kashmiris, who had lately begun to come back, invest and create institutions here, are going back again. A precarious private investment climate will mean the state will attain greater role as an economic moderator. That will make people even more dependent on the state.

Finally, there is a psychological aspect of this deadlock too. Long spells of hopelessness, economic loss and stress will result in an epidemic of anxiety disorders among its hapless people, whose ability to take rational decisions will increasingly fail. It will also breed family and social unrest. And all this will make the state monopoly to thrive. And the deadlock will be perpetual.

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