A lot has happened in the past few months in Kashmir.
It began with the killing of a sarpanch and the understandable fears such deeds create. Related to this tragic violence was an ambiguous discussion as to the actual position of ‘mainstream’ political parties on whether J&K should adopt the 73rd Amendment. (Logically, it would seem that a ‘yes’ to this proposition would further dilute whatever autonomy J&K has been allowed to retain.) This was followed by a confusing controversy over the government’s intent on the Amarnath road-and-track issue. There were reports of building materials being transported to Pahalgam and beyond to Chandanwari in the dead of night, (Kashmir Monitor, Sep 19, 2012) followed some weeks later by a government invitation to journalists to report on the truth from the air.
There has also been an uptick in CBMs. Delhi has allowed a group of women to symbolically cross the LoC. Yet in this case too ambiguity reigns: Delhi was selective as to whom it gave permission to travel, denying that right to at least two vocal critics of Delhi’s policies in Professor Hameeda Nayeem and Ms. Anjum Z. Habib (Rising Kashmir, Nov 6, 2012).
Islamabad is not to be left behind. It has invited the separatists for talks (Kashmir Times, Nov 6, 2012) and there are no reports of New Delhi objecting to it. Unless, that is, New Delhi does not allow Mr. S. A. S. Geelani to travel, which would make it a political objection by omission and ambiguous policy by bureaucratic instrument. Whether the discussions will be free and those who live on the other side of the LoC, including in Gilgit-Baltistan, and oppose some of Pakistan’s policies, can express themselves unfettered remains to be seen.
Notice that the operative concept in all of the above cases is ambiguity. The truth is, ambiguity is a very useful tool in statecraft when the objective is the status quo. Announce a CBM (on travel, on trade, on dialogues and, indeed, on the very process to resolution) but ignore the fine print or make its interpretation so complicated that implementation is near impossible. Such CBMs are cheap because they do not entail any risk or any need to expend political capital. Some would perhaps advocate such an approach in the interests of “creative ambiguity”. But CBMs cannot be ambiguous, a word that comes close to meaning duplicity when they are rendered ineffective. They need to be clear-cut and they need to take risks if they are to make a difference. And risk implies danger including, for the governments of India and of Pakistan, saying something that would cause the opposition parties in New Delhi or Islamabad to latch on to those suggestions and whip up an anti-other sentiment in no time.
While CBMs alone cannot and will not resolve the dispute of and conflict in J&K, they can heal wounds, build trust and increase the threshold for risk. So it is time to make them do these things. It is time to make them count. And they will count if the peoples of J&K perceive some risks being taken when putting CBMs in place.
A significant CBM, for example, would be for the New Delhi and Islamabad to allow unfettered dialogue between the two sides of the LoC. This has not happened so far, despite all the talk of a desire to resolve the problem through dialogue. If needed, the two establishments could send an official observer, identified and transparent, to each such meeting to report to them on all that is discussed and return to the next round with official responses. But the two sides of the LoC must be allowed to interact and be given an opportunity to re-acquaint themselves with each others’ historical experiences for the last sixty-five years, discuss their current perceptions and share their aspirations for their futures within a realistic framework. India and Pakistan are much too big for J&K to derail their agendas, but they must allow for the possibility, even probability, that the needs of the peoples of the J&K State can be met without endangering those agendas.
In the J&K State on this side of the LoC, it is a no-brainer to say that the abrogation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) would constitute the mother of all CBMS. The Chief Minister has led the charge on this agenda. He has been thwarted by New Delhi and the security establishment, including the army which has been particularly forceful in over-ruling the civilian government. These are not overly surprising. What is surprising is that the subject has not generated any appreciable discourse, let alone common ground, within the state between the ‘mainstream’ parties, the separatists and civil society. It is perhaps a reflection of the cynicism that permeates our politics. We need an open discussion amongst political parties, civil society and the security establishment on the proposition that AFSPA should be abolished. Kashmir desperately needs a civilian sensibility, as opposed to an exclusively military one, to the problems in Kashmir.
So, to continue from the last column, a second political contour in Kashmir would be for India and Pakistan to re-examine their “CBM policy” and put on the table some measures that take risks, expend political capital and show a perceptible movement towards resolution.