The Hindu reported that the
Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Autonomy Working group promised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 5 months ago may be dead on arrival (DoA) because of a lack of suitable leadership to lead the group and procedural issues.
Singh surprised the nation when he promised 5 working groups to focus on the development of the state and the most crucial one was the one to discuss the state’s autonomy and self-rule demands. J&K has a special status within the Indian Union but the outstanding question of its final status was never settled because the fundamental conditions were never met.
When invaded by Pakistani tribesmen supported by regulars on annual leave or on vacation, the Maharaja of the erstwhile J&K signed the Instrument of Accession to join the Indian union. While accepting this Instrument, Indian leaders promised that once the territory was rid of invaders, administration and normalcy was restored, they would organize a plebiscite to seek the intentions of the people. At that time, Sheikh Abdullah, a popular leader and one against the Maharaja, was enthusiastic about the accession.
However, former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not complete the war and instead took the case to the United Nations which asked both nations not to change the status “materially.” After having promised to comply with the ruling, Pakistan moved in regular troops to secure the occupied area that they had sponsored. Without this fundamental requirement, the question of J&K was a stalemate.
However, after the 1971 war, Pakistan agreed to the Simla Agreement of 1972 where they essentially agreed to bilaterally resolve the issue and dropped all references to the UN resolutions. Those involved in the negotiations say that former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto agreed to make the Line of Control (LoC) as the default border. Unfortunately, this is yet another agreement that Pakistan chose to disregard and soon harped back on the UN resolutions when convenient and integration with Pakistan based on Islam at other times.
Since the accession in 1947, J&K has participated in several elections (albeit with a spotty record) and chosen its own Chief Ministers and participated in the Federal Government in New Delhi. Almost everyone agree that the last few elections in the past decade have been the most transparent and well conducted. Despite militant threats to boycott elections, people had braved threats to life, inclement weather, harsh conditions to vote in large percentages (sometimes over 90%).
Further, the economic integration of J&K was also extensive. Artisans, craftsmen, artists, and other professionals from J&K have sold their wares in the rest of India and professionals employed all over the nation. Without the economic support of India, the economy of the state would have collapsed. Additionally, the lack of natural resources, access to ports, inclement weather, sparse population, rugged terrain, and barring terrorism no economically viable possibilities, J&K cannot remain an economically viable nation on its own. Moreover, the possibility of joining Pakistan, a social, economic, and political basket-case, is no longer an attractive option.
Therefore, it was surprising that Singh actually proposed a panel that will examine these issues again when barring a few ragtag groups clamoring for independence, the rest of political parties and economic entities seem to have integrated well with the nation. In fact, the situation has never been better. A politically popular albeit administratively ineffective State Government, the Army focused on border control, internal security handled by local police and paramilitary forces, a resurgent economic boom in the State partaking in the national economic boom are all positive indicators.
Hence, with several successive candidates such as a former Supreme Court Chief Justice or former Indian Ambassador to the US not working out for the State Government, the Indian Government also seems to be in no hurry to force the operation of the group. It is not clear if this is because the Indian polity is having second thoughts about this committee or if it is more focused on making peace with Pakistan and taming the secessionists through dialogue. Either way, the Indian Government has unnecessarily given the secessionists and marginalized groups a new life and weapon to accuse India once more on not keeping its word—even if the fault lies with the elected Government.
However, as expected, there seems to be no problem finding leaders to run the other groups. National Minorities Commission Chairperson Hamid Ansari will lead the group on rehabilitating terrorism victims, former Foreign Secretary M.K. Rasgotra will lead the group on cross-border relationships, former Reserve Bank of India Governor C. Rangarajan has led the group on economic development, and Planning Commission member N.C. Saxsena has led the group on governance.
Meanwhile, the National Conference (NC) run by descendants of Abdullah have reportedly withdrawn from all the five working groups and are being accused of colluding with secessionists for political gain. Party leader Omar Abdullah raised the bogus issue of “human rights” again with every intention to politicize this crucial issue. If anything, human rights violations, with a rare exception, are committed by remnant terrorist groups. Even a common accident is being politically portrayed as a human rights violation with every intention to embarrass the State Government.
Many believe that the NC may feel invalidated and further politically marginalized because of New Delhi’s direct conversation with the secessionist parties and the Pakistani Government. Of course, the secessionists themselves seem to be in the business of creating new “out-of-the-box” ideas including a non-functional “United States of Kashmir” which would contain 5 “regional councils” to represent the five regions on either side of the LoC and a “joint Parliament.” In all likelihood, this “out-of-the-box” idea will remain in a box as it will be very unpalatable to either nation. After all, no nation would want a security deficit state with strategic geography bordering terrorist-infested areas in their neighborhood.
New Delhi has had a back-channel dialogue going with the Hurriyat Conference (the coalition of all secessionists) through former Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) Director A.S. Dulat. India has also apparently opened a channel of communication with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (Hizb) through a New York based Islamic leader. Recently, the Hizb has had a run-in with the Pakistani Government on various issues and New Delhi may be sensing an opportunity to bring them into a democratic and peaceful fold.
The NC may be feeling that by circumventing them. After all, New Delhi has found direct interlocutors who are closer to disgruntled voice than a discredited political party. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is in coalition with the Congress in the State, has been calling for “self-rule” after it adhered to coalition understanding to give up its right to run the state. There are also unverified reports that PDP politicians actively collude with terrorists elements by providing sanctuary and loaning safe houses or vehicles that beyond the reach of security forces. Another report in circulation is that PDP leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is actively socializing a proposal that would make J&K an autonomous state. While details of this proposal is unclear, it is dangerous that such a senior leader and one who should take moral responsibility for freeing several terrorists in 1990 to free his kidnapped daughter should work against contemporary thinking and in a non-transparent manner.
The political parties in J&K are doing what they have done well the last 50 years—they play for themselves but do very little for the people. That is why, after spending more per capita for 50 years, the people of J&K have not seen much of the economic and political largesse handed to them.