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After decades of turmoil, G20 globalises Kashmir’s peace

The world is gearing up for G20 in New Delhi

Srinagar: With two major international gatherings—G20 and Y20—being held in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, this is the time to internationalise Kashmir’s peace. This is the first time that a major international event is being held in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir in the last 37 years—the last being an international cricket match in Srinagar in September 1986.

While a Y20 conference, with participation of over a 100 world diplomats, is currently in progress at Leh in Ladakh, the G20 Working Group on Tourism meeting is scheduled to be held at SKICC Srinagar on 22-24 May.

For some of the last seven decades, Kashmir has been the international news for the wrong reasons—five declared and undeclared wars (including two in Ladakh), a plebiscite movement for 22 years, visits and statements of American and Russian leaders and bloodshed in the over 30-year-long insurgency.

Some countries declared the valley unsafe for their tourists. The European Union leaders once in Srinagar called Kashmir “the world’s largest open air jail”. The Europeans and the Americans lectured India on ‘respect for human rights’. Foreign funds flowed into Kashmir like water for sustenance of the turmoil. Designated terror outfits called the shots in everything like a parallel government or a State within a State.

Residences of the separatist leaders and former militant commanders were virtually turned into consulates of some foreign countries. Diplomatic troupes visited these centres frequently—almost every month. Veteran Indian journalists, academicians, politicians and retired Army, Air Force and Navy officers were also regular visitors to everyone shouting for ‘azaadi’. Journalist Kuldip Nayar, once India’s High Commissioner in London, shuttled between Delhi and Srinagar to break the JKLF chief Yasin Malik’s hunger strikes. India’s Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah served wazwan to guests at Malik’s Waleema.

Former militants, facing charges of murder and other terror crimes, were left free to visit and lecture the whole world about the “injustices and atrocities of the Indian State in the world’s largest militarised territory”. Almost all the prominent separatist leaders, providing leadership and guidance to some designated terror outfits, were recognised as “the real representatives of the Kashmiri people” and accorded VVIP status including platoons of security officers and fleets of bullet-proof vehicles.

Some of such politicians were treated with the highest protocol in State’s guesthouses and the VIP lounges at airports. They enjoyed intervention in the government’s transfer industry, backdoor appointments and allotment of contracts. Some were let free to import foreign brides while encouraging the common people on the path of “sacrifice and martyrdom”. From security and hospitality protocol to space on Indian and foreign TV channels, they surpassed mainstream politicians and Ministers.

The result was competitive separatism—the mainstream leaders telling the poor Kashmiris that they were under the Indian flag “only for redressing grievances of employment and development”. They told them that they were, like all separatists, with the “peoples aspiration” (of azaadi and secession from India). Alongside it all, ran voices for separation and Islamic State, demonstrations, stone pelting, clashes with armed forces and Police, bullets, pellets, grenades, IEDs, killings, business and school shutdowns, unending hartal calendars and “motherisation of the movement and otherisation of dissenters”.

The overarching militant-separatist ecosystem enjoyed arguably the best of times from 2015 to 2018 while passing through the crescendo of mayhem in the middle of 2016 and establishing its writ in all spheres, at least in the valley. Every single dissenting or independent voice was shuttered.

The door was shut on that whole period partially with the dismissal of the PDP-BJP government in June 2018 and fully in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack, that left 40 CRPF men dead in February 2019, and withdrawal of the erstwhile State’s special status in August 2019.

There is some criticism over the way the Narendra Modi government is dealing with the situation and dimming the voices of dissent but all the statistics send a picture of peace and tranquillity across the world. The separatists call it the “silence of the graveyard” and the “lull before the storm”, suggesting that the turmoil would return.

Pellet guns have been dumped back in barracks in August 2019. There have been just a few incidents of controversial killings in a couple of encounters in the last four years. Funeral processions over the militant bodies and gun salutes at their burial grounds have vanished. Allegations of rape, molestation, custodial disappearances and other such human rights abuses have not been heard since long. The number of political detainees and prisoners has trickled down to just 300-400.  Shutdowns of trade, education, tourism and the internet have been relegated to history.

An ideal political and bureaucratic engagement with the people is still missing and an alternative political leadership has failed to emerge but many waters will be tested in the next elections—for Urban Local Bodies and Panchayati Raj Institutions around November-December 2023; for Lok Sabha in 2024; and for Assembly sometime perhaps in 2024-25.

Jammu and Kashmir has been in positive international news only twice—first with an international cricket match between India and West Indies on 13 October 1983 and second with the One Day International between India and Australia on 9 September 1986. Both these matches with massive people’s participation were played at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Cricket Stadium at Sonwar in Srinagar. Even the one in 1983 was attempted to spoil by a motley organised crowd of spectators which waved the Pakistani flags, damaged the pitch and heckled the Indian players.

While China attempted to block such events in Ladakh, Pakistan left no stone unturned and mounted massive political and diplomatic campaigns against holding of international events in J&K, particularly in the valley.

Now that over a hundred foreign diplomats are participating in a Y20 programme in Leh, Ladakh, and a major G20 Working Group meeting is being held in Srinagar, with international diplomatic participation on 22-24 May, it is arguably a beginning of the new chapter—that of peace and development—in Kashmir. Frustration and attempts of sabotage could be understood in that context.