It is hard to believe now that not too long ago there was a serious debate in media about removing or amending Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir valley had witnessed a relatively peaceful period. Tourists had returned in large numbers, Panchayat elections had been a huge success and violent street protests and stone pelting of 2010 seemed a distant memory. Kashmir had successfully managed to stay away from headlines which meant good news. Some of us including this writer had argued then that one swallow does not a summer make and we should be very careful about the peace spell considering Kashmir’s history. However the discussion around removal of AFSPA hinged on peace finally returning to the valley and that certainly was heartening.
Much water has flown under the nine bridges of Jhelum since then and the fragile peace seems shattered. The situation along the LOC has been extremely volatile with fairly high number of infiltrations possibly actively aided by Pakistani Army. Indian Army has just concluded a 15 day operation in Keran Sector where a massive infiltration bid was thwarted. According to news sources there have been 120 cease fire violations this year alone, which is highest in eight years. The infiltration attempts from across the border have also gone up considerably in recent times.
This year saw brazen attacks on security forces in and around Srinagar as well. Earlier in March, five CRPF personnel were killed when two terrorists allegedly belonging to Hizbul Mujhaideen attacked a CRPF camp in Bemina near Srinagar. In June, a day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi visited J&K, eight Army men lost their lives and many were injured. There have been many incidents which point to heightened terrorist activity in the state, latest being the most audacious twin attack near Jammu where 12 people lost their lives. Uneasy calm has returned and as it happens with Kashmir often, we see ourselves back where we started, picking up the pieces after the tragedy has occurred.
When history finally assesses UPA 2 government, failure to build on period of peace in Kashmir will rank amongst its colossal failures along with crumbling economy, domestic unrest and weak foreign policy. Much was made of three interlocutors appointed by the Central government to assess the situation and recommend a way forward. This was done during P Chidambaram’s tenure as Home Minister. Chidambaram has long moved from Home to Finance, and the interlocutor report is gathering dust somewhere possibly in bureaucratic maze and interlocutors themselves have moved on.
Congress has historically suffered from lack of vision when it comes to Kashmir. Over the years, Kashmir policy has meant assigning ‘peace packages’ which are nothing but massive financial packages to the state. This money meant for the ordinary people of Kashmir rarely reaches them. Instead it further fattens the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats and separatists. The UPA government has come up with no road map to ensure that Kashmir does not vacillate between periods of destruction and uneasy peace. Peace in Kashmir usually means lull between two violent periods. This is the time when terrorists are lying low because they are either regrouping or replenishing their weapons and ammunition.
While the UPA government has come up with no creative solutions to defeat insurgency permanently and ensure that more and more people are assimilated in the mainstream, it certainly found ways to further destroy the credibility of Indian State and the Army which has over the years performed an invaluable task of keeping terrorism under control.
An internal Army inquiry report which was leaked to a national daily delivered a body blow to the peace initiative in the valley. The report accused Ex Chief of Armed Staff, Gen VK Singh of toppling democratically elected Government of J&K. The report also leaked the existence of an intelligence gathering unit called The Technical Services division. This was the first time existence of TSD, an intelligence unit by Gen Singh was put in public domain. The report also alleged that Army had been funding an NGO to alter the line of succession in Army hierarchy.
Nobody from the Ministry of Defence till this date has on record cleared the air about this leaked document, which further consolidates the view that the document were leaked only to get even with ex Army Chief with whom UPA government has had a contentious relationship.
When governments rely on leaks rather than forthright communication with its citizens then million conspiracy theories are bound to emerge. Much of this leaked report appeared ludicrous but it did force Gen V K Singh to appear on television to present his side of the story where he revealed that the army paying money to the politicians for development activities in an insurgent hit area is nothing new. The shock of this revelation led to heated discussion in television studios for few days where anchors look for sensation rather than content and context. The news cycle has moved on, but this bit of information has further damaged the credibility of Indian Government and provides fodder for separatists to further vilify the Army. No one from the government seems to be interested in any damage control. No one is interested in putting the leaked document or General’s statement in context of how peace is won in insurgency torn areas. Instead what we see is finger pointing, and political games to score personal goals at the cost of national security. Anyone with even a modest understanding of statecraft knows that state secrets are not meant for general consumption. Any leak of state secrets only helps terrorists and separatists who would like India to disintegrate.
Kashmir is going through a difficult phase again. The Congress led UPA government weighed down with myriad problems of its own making is once again committing a cardinal sin of ignoring the ominous signs coming from valley. Elections come and go, political parties win or lose, but in a mature democracy, good governance should be like a relay race. A Scorched Earth policy is extremely dangerous and everyone pays a price for it.
(The writer is argumentative and a news junkie, for whom writing is both a passion and catharsis. She is community editor for “Centre Right India” and can be reached on twitter at @sunandavashisht)