Facilitate the return of Salahuddin
He is a genuine Kashmiri who took to guns for what the Indian security forces and government did in Kashmir from the mid-1980s onwards
The burden of sins in Kashmir cannot be put solely on the shoulders of those who took to guns and those who gave them the guns (i.e. Pakistan); forces in New Delhi and Srinagar who drove them to take to guns should also share this. If so, the governments in Srinagar and New Delhi have a moral responsibility to rehabilitate those who crossed the border into Pakistan for armed training. And the authorities should rehabilitate them not as petty criminals but as ex-combatants who fought for a political cause and treat them with dignity. The Indian state can either choose to go the Sri Lankan way and kill them all till they finish or try and resolve the conflict by addressing the genuine concerns of the aggrieved people and rehabilitating the ex-combatants into the mainstream Kashmiri society. Welcoming Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Muhammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin back to Kashmir will be a major step in this direction of reconciliation and contribute to lasting peace in the state. Let me explain why.
In my column last week I talked about the diminishing intensity of the Indo-Pak dimension of the Kashmir conflict and emphasised the need to put more focus on the New Delhi-Srinagar aspect of the conflict. I also argued that there is a great need today for reconciliation between the ruling elite in New Delhi and the Kashmiris. Rehabilitation of ex-combatants is an important step in the reconciliation process of any conflict-ridden society.
But why Salahuddin? Engaging Salahuddin is important for a variety of reasons. There is no doubt that he is a genuine Kashmiri who took to guns for what the Indian security forces and government did in Kashmir from the mid-1980s onwards. He felt wronged by the government of India and hence decided to fight against the perceived injustice with the help of guns. However, Salahuddin has often made conciliatory gestures towards India in the past few years especially by promising non-interference during elections in Kashmir (remember he himself wanted to be an elected politician in the Kashmir valley!). More importantly, informed highly placed sources in India and overseas say today that Salahuddin himself is looking out for a place in the future politics of Kashmir, a political space with dignity. In any case, his political future in Pakistan is extremely limited where he is almost a captive of the Pakistani ISI.
But before we get into the pros and cons of welcoming Salahuddin to Kashmir let’s ask a general question as to how do we treat former Kashmiri militants once they decide to start new lives upon their surrender and rehabilitation? It is no secret that hundreds of Kashmiri militants based in Pakistan would like to return to their homeland to start a new life. The Jammu and Kashmir government in February 2012 announced an amnesty plan for Kashmiris who had crossed over to Pakistan for arms training and are now keen to return to their families. While the union home ministry is publically supportive of this policy, it has not been very enthusiastic about it which is evident in the manner the ministry has gone about processing and clearing the names of militants wiling to surrender. The home ministry’s response has been no more than reluctant enthusiasm.
There are two major problems with the current policy of the rehabilitation of ex-combatants. One, there is no legal framework to take care of the families (who would return with the surrendering militants from the other side) of the rehabilitated militants; two, the militants have often felt that the surrender process is a one-sided affair and that they are treated without any dignity once they surrender. Indeed, this is one issue that Salahuddin has also flagged on many occasions.
Benefits of Salahuddin’s return
Of course, one would not expect Salahuddin to limit himself to his household if he returns to Kashmir. He is likely to get active in the politics of the state. The more important question to ponder over is whether his return would make any difference to the resolution of the Kashmir conflict and the process of reconciliation there?
First, if at all Salahuddin returns he is likely to return with a certain level of mainstream political agenda. In other words, Salahuddin is unlikely to return if the ‘return-deal’ (I am consciously not using the term ‘surrender-deal’) does not involve a political package that he can then use to consolidate his political fortunes in Kashmir. This political package is most likely to enable him to take up (moderate) Hurriyat-style politics with the possibility of mainstreaming himself in the subsequent years. Under such conditions, he is likely to strengthen the moderate faction of the Hurriyat. Indeed, he has often clarified that he would not be against working within a united Hurriyat. His return will also isolate extreme dissident tendencies of the likes of Ali Shah Geelani. With the tremendous respect that Salahuddin has in the valley, he is also likely to become a widely respected Kashmir leader.
What does New Delhi benefit from this kind of a deal? New Delhi will look more serious in the eyes of the Kashmiris and the international community in resolving the Kashmir conflict and reconciling its differences with the Kashmiri militants based in Pakistan who are desirous of returning home. Moreover, New Delhi should simply not follow the Sri Lankan example: it must make peace with Kashmiri militants rather than trying to exterminate them. Such a gesture would also be instrumental in New Delhi owning up a lot of mistakes it made in Kashmir. The return of Salahuddin to Kashmir would also generate an unprecedented amount of symbolic value and such symbolism will go a long way in resolving the many layers of the conflict in Kashmir. That will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation in the Kashmir valley.
But how will New Delhi go about doing it? Given the stature that Salahuddin enjoys among the Kashmiri militants based in Pakistan, the call has to be substantial and public. However, such public pronouncements have to be preceded by a great deal of back-channel efforts. Such back-channel negotiations should not only be conducted between New Delhi’s representatives and Salahuddin but also New Delhi and Islamabad. The public call for the return of Salahuddin into Kashmir should be choreographed to mark the beginning of a new era of reconciliation in Kashmir for, as pointed out above, if organized with care and wise statesmanship, it will have the potential of changing Kashmir political landscape for the better with positive fallouts for India-Pakistan relations as well. Salahuddin is a genuinely aggrieved Kashmiri son of the soil; welcoming him back to his homeland can only be doing the right thing.
(Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi).
Lastupdate on : Sat, 16 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 16 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 17 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
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