Centre should respond to the good news coming out of Kashmir by repealing AFSPA
The interlocutors report is now in the public domain. An informed opinion,made on the basis of feedback obtained from interactions with a large number of people,will hopefully lay the ground for a political resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio. Though a deep sense of victimhood continues to prevail,there are signs of positive change in peoples mindsets,particularly the youth,towards a permanent settlement of all impending issues. Some notable developments require us to take cognisance of the good news beginning to pour in,which augurs well for a lasting peace in the region,and for the sustainable development of Jammu and Kashmir.
First,the youth who,until recently,were known to take to guns and stones to redress their grievances,have now started to join the civil services. Of the 30 Muslim boys and girls who successfully passed the civil services examination,at least 10 are from J&K,which is unprecedented. This is in spite of the fact that their educational preparedness was adversely affected due to the prolonged turmoil in the region,which badly impacted socio-economic institutions in the state.
It is heartening that young people have taken charge of shaping their destinies,and of the state,by joining mainstream activities. The Central governments recently-launched schemes for J&K youth,such as Udaan (to promote training and skill development for improving employability) and special scholarships for post-secondary technical and professional education,go a long way towards addressing the problem of education and employment among the youth.
Second,progress has been made to improve economic and trade relations between India and Pakistan at both government and industry levels. The experiences of countries in Europe,Africa and Asia shows that countries that have strong economic and cultural relations and people-to-people contacts do not resort to unfriendly activities. There is,therefore,every reason to believe that the confidence building measures initiated by the two countries,particularly to encourage movement of resources like men and material,will promote mutual trust. There are instances of territorial disputes between the neighbouring countries,like India and China,yet the countries do maintain healthy economic trade and diplomatic relations to promote peace and prosperity in the region. Therefore,even though the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan may persist,it is possible to forge cordial relations between the two countries that will pave the way for the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues,including Kashmir.
Third,a senior leader of the Hurriyat conglomerate,Gani Bhat,has recently observed that the United Nations 1948 resolution on Kashmir is neither relevant nor practical to implement in a world where economies are increasingly interlinked. There are reasons to believe that a large section of society,including the mainstream political parties,convincingly promote such ideas. This marks a change in the attitude towards national integration,and evolves a sound future perspective on the overall development of J&K. What is needed,therefore,is to engage all major stakeholders to promote an understanding of the ways in which the perceived alienation felt by the people can be addressed. This must be done as soon as possible.
Fourth,a credible step has to be taken to redress the grievances of people affected by war and militancy,and to eliminate all forms of human rights violations. In the matter of the Pathribal case,the recent Supreme Court ruling in the killing of five innocent persons by the armed forces 12 years ago is most unfortunate,and belies our expectation of punishment for the perpetrators of human rights abuses in Kashmir. In this case,the SC has not only chosen to delay the delivery of justice,but has also given leeway to the concerned authorities to deny justice to an already alienated people. The apex court was aware that the armys record of punishing guilty officials is abysmally low. On one pretext or another,more than 12 years have lapsed and the army has not done what it should to promptly punish the culprits. The SC has sadly remanded the matter back to military authorities,who are known to shield their colleagues even at the cost of tarnishing the armys image. This has shamed us.
Moreover,the SC was also aware that if the CBI were to prosecute,it would need government sanction,as per the provisions under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Protection Act),which the CBI is unlikely to get. The government has so far not accorded due sanction for prosecution in any cases of human rights violations. The government has denied all requests over 50,as disclosures under RTI demonstrate.
This calls for a change in the approach of the army and the government . They must respect the rights of the people of J&K,who have been responding to the emerging politico-economic scenario in the region. In particular,with the restoration of peace and normalcy in J&K,and more importantly,the overwhelming response to democratic institutions,draconian laws like the Public Safety Act (PSA) and AFSPA should be repealed. Such harsh laws have no justifiable role in a functional democracy. Without scrapping these laws,the chances of eliminating human rights violations,improving overall governance and addressing the pervasive sense of alienation,are slim. The Centre and state governments ought to suitably respond to the positive changes in collective behaviour towards the mainstreaming of the youth and their growing involvement in the process of democratic governance. Let us take advantage of this rare opportunity.
The writer is a former CIC and a Centre-appointed interlocutor on J&K