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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 16 New Delhi April 6, 2019

Bangsamoro Referendum: A Lesson for Solving the Kashmir Problem

Sunday 7 April 2019

by Anwar Ali Tsarpa

On February 14 a horrific suicide attack in Pulwama, Kashmir on security personnel killed 40 CRPF jawans. The terror attack, conducted by a local Kashmiri militant, Adil Dar, triggered an uproar across the country heightening the feeling that the new generation in Kashmir is more radicalised than its predecessors.

A few weeks before the attack in Kashmir, more than two million Filipinos in the Philippines chose to form a Bangsamoro (meaning Moro nation), a new autonomous Muslim-dominated region, in the southern island of Mindanao. This referendum would end almost half-a-century-long Kashmir-type deadly unrest in the Philippines. The weak state of the Philippines, in comparison to India, successfully signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) under the Republic Act No. 11054, with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). However, India still faces the worst terror attacks in the history of the Kashmir conflict and remaines unsuccessful in appealing to the separatists in the Valley.

The question that arises here is: why has the Philippines triumphed in a step towards peace and why not India? The former succeeded due to the address of the grievances of the minorities with peaceful measures, while the latter failed due to the violent counter-insurgency measures; but why? Here is the answer.

Ahead of his election, the Philippines’ President, Rodrigo Duterte, the first President of the Moro people, billed himself as a unifying force, and an unremitting advocate for Mindanao’s interests. Unlike the Modi Government’s tough approach to counter militancy in Kashmir, Duterte pushed for greater autonomy and respect for the minorities in the Philippines, where the Christians constitute the majority of the population. In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), Duterte underscored his “solemn commitment” to ensure that his administration “will never deny our Muslim brothers and sisters the basic legal tools to chart their destiny within the constitutional framework of our country”. As a result, finally, he remained successful in bringing the rebel groups to the negotiation table and conducting a subsequent referendum. And by that he managed to thwart the rebels’ separatist agenda with only a broader autonomy.

The Modi Government also initiated a talk with all stakeholders led by Dineshwar Sharma but that yielded no result. It failed, because first, the so-called “muscular approach” accompanied the talk that proved to be counterproductive. The “muscular approach”, also called the “no mercy” strategy, adopted by the Modi Govern-ment in Kashmir, yielded opposite results than the expected peace. According to reports, the “no mercy” strategy has multiplied recruits of militants in the Valley. After the encounter that killed Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, the number of recruitments, as well as militants killed, has increased. In 2018 around 250 militants were killed. Since Burhan Wani’s death till April 2018, 216 local youth had joined militancy. Findings say that the recruitments are directly linked to the killing of militants in their area, or a killed militant who belonged to their area.

Secondly, interlocutor Sharma failed to bring the separatist leaders to the negotiation table as the state had failed to implement the recommen-dations of the past three interlocutors on Kashmir. Non-fulfilment of promises and the threat of erosion of autonomy is a significant concern among Kashmiris. The people in Kashmir saw the acquisition of 800 acres of land for Amarnath in 2008 as a breach of trust and “erosion” of their autonomy. The number of youth joining militancy, according to reports, has soared in 2010 due to the violence after the 2008 Amarnath land acquisition. The number was again declining: 23 in 2011, 21 in 2012, and only 16 in 2013. However, the shift in the government and the subsequent shift to “muscle power” counter-insurgency measures, fuelled recruits as high as in 2010. In 2014, 53 youth joined militancy, 66 in 2015, and 88 in 2016. In the pre-2014 period, the militants had less public acceptance. Now the people are reportedly risking their lives to defend the militants. The militants are getting heroic funeral by thousands of people. This radicalisation may have been reinforced by the improper behaviour with Kashmiris in different parts of the country. The warning to leave the States, call to boycott Kashmiri products, recommendation to hang 40 Kashmiris to avenge the Pulwama tragedy are bound to create a sense of alienation among the people in Kashmir.

All these lead us to the following conclusions. The Kashmiris are disappointed with the unfulfilment of past recommendations of inter-locutors that sought to restore the constitu-tional erosion of the State; thus, they do not want to engage in more talks. Secondly, the muscle power strategy has proved to be counter-productive. Thirdly, the mishandling of Kashmiris in other States of the country also would cause radicalisation of the youth in the Valley. With all these the establishment is escalating the conflict as well as making it intractable. In Kashmir, New Delhi would be successful only in an approach to embrace rather than disgrace the Kashmiri people. Claiming Kashmir while disgracing the Kashmiris would be futile.

Thus, the Narendra Modi Government must seek a lesson from the Rodrigo Roa Duterte Government in the Philippines. Duterte would teach a lesson on respect and unification of minorities with the mainstream. Only a reconciliation effort and trust-building drive would be fruitful in bringing the militants to the negotiation table, wear down the public acceptance for militancy and minimise the number of recruits. The negotiation effort initiated by the government must detach from the muscular approach. An inclusive talk with all stakeholders would take the Valley to a solution like the Philippines’ to end the decades-long conflict.

Anwar Ali Tsarpais a resident of Kargil, J&K. He is a Research Scholar at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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