Taking a retrospective view of the year 2018, it has been quite an eventful year. And, it has left a trail bound to affect the year 2019, possibly years ahead. From native Kashmir to places across the subcontinent, further on to wide expanse of the globe, the year just past has left a mixed imprint. Within the context of some positive developments with promise, there is an apparent negative trail of disappointments. In the year ahead, it would do a lot of good, if pros are maximized and cons minimized.
Kashmir has seen a year full of violence. Conflict continues, without showing any signs of abetting. On available figures, 2018 has been cast as the bloodiest year in a decade. Apart from 250 militants and 86 security forces personnel, 144 civilians have lost lives. While the militants and security forces personnel could be taken as combatants, civilian lives lost raise questions of serious nature. It is being widely asked in civil society circles, whether the standard operating procedure (SOP) often talked of, is being abided by? In certain cases, the civilians killed were cast as over-ground workers of militant organization. However, hardly any proof has been furnished to substantiate the charge.
Militants are taken as combatants, hence their killing escapes scrutiny. But, it does raise a question—does eliminating a militant in any way eliminate militancy? Kashmir has seen waxing and waning of militancy over last three decades. There were years, when militancy was at lowebb. However no efforts were made to see that it does not resurface. In JK state, there is a state narrative, a dominant sentiment as well. While the state narrative bats for status quo, the dominant sentiment clamours for peaceful settlement of the conflict. Peaceful settlement is the key word, devoid of violence. The shocking fact however remains, virtual absence of positive reach-out to all the stakeholders results in violence, which is a phenomenon one could do without. Sanity demands an end to violence in Kashmir. It is taking a heavy toll in lives, affecting families adversely, and society at large.
Lieutenant General AK Bhat, General Officer Commanding (GOC) in a statement to a newspaper, quoted in GK (31.12.2018) was quite revealing vis-à-vis militancy. General Bhat said that military can only create conditions of normalcy. "Beyond that, the initiatives have to be at levels of good governance, politically talking to people. During the Vajpayee era, it has happened, and similar initiatives the government will take at the right moment. I am sure they will.'' Indeed steps need to b e taken to combat militancy, and not militants. And, it would require a wide ranging political process to do that. The political process has to focus on addressing all the parties to the conflict. It has to be appreciated that efforts to bypass any stakeholder may not be conducive to seeking a lasting settlement.
Beyond JK state, in the wider expanse of the subcontinent, some positive developments have taken place, amidst the diplomatic freeze between India and Pakistan. Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side to the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev ji in Kartarpur was expected to melt the freeze. However, while providing the Sikh community a lot to cheer about, it did not deliver further dividends. The diplomatic stiff upper lip continues, with posturing that puts off the peaceniks across the divide. The one-upmanship is apparent, whether it concerns the approach to suspended SAARC summit in Pakistan or other regional issues, such as Chinese Belt Road Imitative (BRI) or its flagship offshoot—China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
In approach to Afghanistan too, India and Pakistan continue to be widely divergent, in a situation where convergence amongst regional countries might be the need of the hour. Afghanistan is approaching a solution, interim or final would be known in the months to come. Some hard bargaining seems to be underway between US and Af-Taliban, before US contemplates pulling out. The regional countries—Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran are working on developing a consensus on regional approach to the vacuum that US withdrawal might leave. India has always insisted on a role in Afghanistan. Pakistan foreign minister—Shah Mahmood Qureshi has conceded that India has stakes. It entails that India has to be a part of solution, so as to evadedivergence on a matter vital to regional peace.
In the global context, the reported warm exchanges between Chinese President Xi and US president Trump at the fag end of the year promise a respite from contention. In the past few months, there have been some tough exchanges over tariffs and trade. However, USA and China do not want to take it to the brink. China while pushing its BRI is not interested in upsetting the applecart of global trade, given that the fast emerging global power has benefited from the existent system. China and Russia are working in unison, be it in the context of BRI or global trouble spots, such as Syria. US ispulling out of Syria. Its global reach, though a fact might not be sustainable in the long run. A plethora of issues is involved on diplomatic turf, it taxes US economy, raises questions on moral grounds, and it has domestic implications. Syrian pullout, reported rollout in Afghanistan, reaching out to China on trade and tariff might be indicative of a new world shaping up. Hope and pray, 2019 evolves with right answers!
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]