Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

In the last week of March 2010 a new dimension hitherto unknown to demilitarization debate in Kashmir came to picture. One of the premier Indian TV channels, NDTV, showed in its news the popular protests in Khurhma village in northern Kashmir against the shifting of the camp of Rashtriya Rifles, a part of paramilitary force of India (the video footage still available in internet). The interesting thing is that all the protesting people were Muslims. This development adds a crucial dimension to the demilitarization debate in Kashmir as it makes enough dent in the separatist argument for the immediate withdrawal of Indian forces on the pretext that the people of region want it.

The video footage showed clearly how the people including old and young opposed the shifting of the camp. Hence, it is the people who want the forces to be in their areas. It is these people, who have suffered in the hands of the militants in the heydays of militancy, are scared that once the paramilitary forces withdrew the rule of militants will return back with all impunity. The 75 year old Ghulam Ahmad Sheikh while protesting against the shifting lamented how the militants killed two of his daughters in the 1990s, when Kashmir was passing through a very violent phase. Hence, when Ayaz Akbar, spokesperson for the Syed Ali Shah Geelani-led hard line faction of the Hurriyat Conference argues that Kashmiri are not ‘cowards’ (to quote the his word) that they need security forces and this is all propaganda by security forces, it falls flat as the video footage clearly reflected the popular voices of the people, and not one or two persons, but a huge number of people.  In fact, the statement by the spokesperson further makes the separatists more separated from the very people whose cause they claim to espouse.

The new development also dents the Pakistani argument, particularly vigorously forwarded by the Musharraf government, that at least the border districts in Kashmir should be demilitarized. There were two sets of arguments floated to support this proposal. First militancy has gone down in the region. Hence there is no need to retain the camps of forces mainly intended to check militant violence. Second, such a measure will further strengthen confidence building among the two rivals India and Pakistan, and work as a step further towards transformation of the conflict in Kashmir. India appeared to have agreed to such a formulation. Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh declared on many occasions that depending on the situation the government will think of demilitarize Kashmir and take steps in that direction.

No doubt Kashmir needs to be demilitarized, and no civic society can grow healthily in a tense atmosphere. But the question is when and how? In one of my publications, I strongly argued that the demilitarization process should begin in earnest in a phased manner. My surveys in the past years in the border areas in Kashmir showed that there are instances when public places like schools and primary health centres are taken over by the armed forces. Undoubtedly these places need to be vacated by the forces on an urgent basis. But, what about the places, under control of the forces, which do not have any direct bearing on public life? Tents in open places, or makeshift buildings, or other government houses not directly related to public services do not pose any urgency for vacation. However, as the reports suggest, over the past one year about 35,000 troops have been withdrawn from the region that include 39 Mountain Division forces from Rajouri, a battalion in Vilgam area of Handwara and 1,000 men of 49 Rashtriya Rifles in Qazigund in Anantnag.

Some of the factors must be taken into account while talking about total demilitarization of Kashmir. Perhaps, the idea could have been feasible in 2007-2008 (till the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008), when there was almost complete tranquility in the landscape of Kashmir and people under the influence of ‘irreversible’ peace process and composite dialogue thought that the solution of the vexed problem was appearing near. The Mumbai terror attack created a big bang in the sense it completely shattered all the achievements of the past decade and brought back the tense atmosphere to the region.

The recent Kashmir Day celebrations in Muzaffarabad did not add any good thing to the whole scenario rather it further led to spiraling down the situation into the pit of chaos and radicalism. One radical leader named Abdur Rehman Makki on the occasion called Manmohan Singh ‘evil’ and promised revenge on India. If Manmohan Singh, the incumbent Prime Minister of India, who always talks about going extra mile in talks with Pakistan, and who is mostly criticized at home for soft attitude to Pakistan, is the real evil or culprit of Indo-Pak talks, then probably it is an impossible dream to see peace returning to the subcontinent.  Another factor also needs to be factored in the context of demilitarization. The recent reports suggest that there are about 400 militants waiting across the Line of Control to cross over India and play havoc in the lives of innocent people. Hence, keeping these factors in mind, the government must initiate a much calibrated programme towards the demilitarization.

It is true that there are instances when the security forces are found guilty of violating human rights of innocent civilians in Kashmir. Hence, the anger and frustration of a Kashmiri who has experienced this violation, or has witnessed or come across this violation, is understandable. And that explains why the security forces may not be very popular in the valley. As India is a democracy, and everything happens in media glare, nothing can be hidden, and particularly in sensitive areas like Kashmir valley, and also when they do not enjoy support of the local leaders. The militants also commit gross violation of human rights but that seldom come to light. The militants are still active in the valley, and recently, they have killed innocent civilians including girls. But their crimes are either undervalued or under reported. The last year one premier news channel of India was displaying in prime time news how the militants were brutally torturing people because they committed crimes. What were those crimes? They were not following the Sharia code of law.

The protests in the Khurhma village last week show that what the separatists say is not all truth, and it is not the whole people of Kashmir, including the Kashmir valley, that want the exit of security forces soon. It will be an ideal situation when all security forces pack their bags and leave the valley, and all militants in the undivided Kashmir shun violence and embrace peace. Then Kashmir will reflect its true character as paradise on earth. But ideal situations are scarcely feasible in a situation which becomes playground of dangerous games at the cost of the innocent many.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – University of Mumbai, India


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Apr 2010.

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