( Written at the request of the "Times of India" and published by it on June 2,2012
The Government of India has done well to release the text of the report of the three-member team of Interlocutors headed by Shri Dileep Padgaonkar constituted by it in October 2010 to suggest ways forward for facilitating the normalisation of the political situation in Jammu & Kashmir.
Any further delay in the initiation of follow-up action might have created an impression in the State that the entire exercise was an eyewash to gain time. The perceived past inaction of the Government of India in the face of accumulating grievances contributed to a deep sense of alienation followed by the insurgency. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan exploited the alienation to sponsor a proxy war.
There is an insurgency fatigue in the State, but It would be unwise to misinterpret the growing normalcy in the ground situation as indicating a political fatigue too. The grievances have not withered away. They will not unless meaningful action is taken to identify the legitimate ones and act to remove them.
Bringing the insurgency under control was only one aspect of the problem. An equally important aspect is to set in motion a process of dealienation through appropriate political and psychological measures.
The constitution of the Interlocutors’ team was indicative of a recognition by the Government of India that operational normalisation has to be followed by political normalisation.
The report is comprehensive and deals with all aspects of the problem---political, operational, economic, humanitarian etc. There is a huge humanitarian aspect due to perceptions of unchecked and unaddressed violations of the human rights of the people by the security forces despite their better control of the ground situation now.
The Interlocutors have come out with ideas and concepts--- the setting-up of the Constitutional Review Committee is one such idea---- which may not be acceptable to all sections of the people of the State and political forces in the rest of India.
Some of these ideas are likely to be opposed by those who had always argued that the original sin in the State was committed by the founding fathers of independent India who agreed to grant a special constitutional status to the State. They are likely to oppose any attempt to reverse the process of the dilution of the special status. There could be other issues relating to Jammu and Ladakh and the return of the Hindu Pandits to their original homeland which might encounter difficulties in implementation.
Fears of likely controversies should not be allowed to inhibit the implementation process. Political compromises in the over-all State and national interests will be necessary. What is important is to create a positive momentum towards implementation.
The Government of India, in consultation with the State, should identify those recommendations that can be implemented quickly through executive orders without the need for time-consuming political consultations and take time-bound action to implement them. Among such recommendations one could mention those relating to the re-deployment of the security forces, re-evaluation of the need for special powers for the Army and improving the human rights situation.
If this is done, it will restore the confidence of the people in the sincerity of the Government and pave the way for a more non-emotional examination of the controversial recommendations.
Interestingly, the Interlocutors’ report has been released a day after the Task Force on National Security headed by Naresh Chandra, former Cabinet Secretary, submitted its report to the Prime Minister. The Task Force has, inter alia, given its assessment of the ground situation in J&K and made a number of well-considered recommendations for political normalisation.
The recommendations of the Interlocutors should be examined in conjunction with those of the Task Force and a process for implementation set in motion. The dealienation of the people of the State would depend on the sincerity of the follow-up drill. The Prime Minister should take over the leadership role for monitoring the follow-up process.
He should nominate a small Group of Ministers to examine jointly the recommendations of the Interlocutors and the Naresh Chandra Task Force, in consultation with the State Government and the political parties in the State and Centre to draw up a plan for the implementation of acceptable recommendations without delay.
The BJP and other right-wing forces should resist the temptation to politicise the follow-up. Nothing can be more short-sighted and counter-productive.
We have a very short window of political opportunity in the State. The thinning down of the NATO forces in Afghanistan is likely to make available to the ISI surplus trained cadres and leaked arms and ammunition from the dumps left by the departing NATO forces for diversion to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir in an attempt to re-kindle the dying insurgency. The implicit Chinese recognition of Gilgit-Baltistan as Pakistani territory and the increasing Chinese interest and presence in the Kashmiri territory under the illegal occupation of Pakistan are likely to create new geostrategic dimensions of the problem.
National and State interests demand that this window is intelligently and constructively utilised. If we do not do so, we may find ourselves back in 1989. We have a welcome respite in J&K. Whether it endures or not would depend on the political initiatives of the Prime Minister.
( The writer was Additional Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing, Cabinet Secretariat)