NSA Ajit Doval's remarks on peace, detention and Pakistan role in Kashmir's democracy belie conditions on ground

Suhit K Sen

Speaking to reporters in Delhi on Saturday, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval claimed that the past month has been the most peaceful in the Kashmir Valley 'in a long time', with not a single gunshot having been fired.

He also made a couple of other salient points: First, that the detention of mainstream politicians and others was justified because they had to be kept in preventive detention until 'an environment conducive for the functioning of democracy are created'; and, second, that he 'would like to see all restrictions go, but it depends on how Pakistan behaves'.

The first point is a matter of fact, the next two matters of opinion €" extraordinary opinions coming from the NSA to the Union government, but opinions nonetheless. Let's begin by examining the claim about a single shot not having been fired in the Valley in a month.

Just before Doval was making his larger-than-life claim, terrorists barged into a house in north Kashmir's Baramullah on Saturday itself and opened fire indiscriminately, injuring several people: Two-year-old Asma Jan, who was critically injured, and three adult males. The terrorists struck the residence of Hamidullah Rather, an office-bearer of the Sopore Fruit Traders' Association, apparently to discourage the entire trading community from carrying on with their businesses. Asma was flown to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi reportedly on Doval's orders, which clearly means he could not have been unaware of the incident.

Earlier, on 29 August, Ghulam Mohammad, a shopkeeper, was shot and killed by bike-borne assailants in Srinagar. The reason for the murder was that Ghulam had defied the diktats of the militants and kept his shop open. The murder served its purpose as other shopkeepers who had kept their establishments open, soon shut shop.

There has been at least one encounter in the Kashmir Valley over the past month or so. In Baramullah district, again, a Lashkar-e-Taiba militant and a special police officer were killed in an encounter on 21 August. The encounter had begun the day prior. A police officer had then claimed that this was the first encounter in the Valley since the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August.

From the purely factual point of view, thus, the claim is false.

If you take the larger claim of the past month being peaceful, you would also have to factor in the stone-pelting incidents, including one in which an innocent 'passerby', a truck driver who was driving his vehicle, was killed, and the retaliation of the security forces. All this despite the jackboots on the ground and the literally unprecedented clampdown on the Valley. You would also have to figure out exactly what Doval had in mind when he claimed the past month has been the most peaceful 'in a long time'.

Let us look at Doval's position on indiscriminate detention and democracy, keeping in mind two facts: First, that just over a month has already passed since mainstream politicians, including three former chief ministers of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, two of whom had also been Union ministers, and others have been in detention, many without being charged of any crime, and, second, that Doval's opinion is the official government line. So, what the government is, in effect, saying is that it was forced to abrogate democracy in Jammu and Kashmir because its unilateral announcement €" without consultation or debate in Parliament or outside €" that Article 370 had been scrapped had the potential to provoke protests, violent or peaceable.

Apprehending protests, therefore, the government chose to do away with normal democratic functioning in the Valley using the jackboots of the security forces. The fact that the measures put in place completely disrupted the lives of people in Kashmir, including access to healthcare and medicines, food, drinking water and education, seemed to have escaped, somehow, the attention of the Jammu and Kashmir government, headed by the governor.

And a month on, the NSA says, detainees will be released when conditions conducive for the functioning of a democracy are 'created'. Passive voice. By whom exactly? The people who have been silenced and immobilised at metaphorical gunpoint? Or the government, whose job is to uphold the rule of law and protect democratic practices and institutions? The point, unfortunately, is that it is the government itself that has created conditions that do not conduce to democratic functioning. Must we then conclude that some kind of half-mauled democracy will return to the Valley only when the NSA and the Union government conclude that, it is indeed time to re-introduce 'democracy' to the Kashmir Valley?

But boiled down, what Doval (and the Union government) is saying is: What India will do or how India will behave in respect of its own people, its own citizens, is a function of how Islamabad behaves. If Pakistan does not stop supporting cross-border terrorism, we will punish the people of Kashmir, whether they are separatists or pro-India or completely apolitical, by denying them what all other Indian citizens enjoy: The basic freedoms that are part of the democracy package that Jammu and Kashmir signed up to, when its ruler Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession.

First, the peace Doval talks about is based on a distortion of the truth at various levels; Second, his recourse to circumstances to defend the suspension of democracy for over a month is incomprehensible, because the government has directly created these circumstances; and, finally, to make freedom, liberty and democracy anywhere in India contingent on the often insane proclivities of the military-industrial complex in Pakistan, is itself a form of insanity.

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