Book Review: Conflict Management in Kashmir; State-People Relations and Peace



Author Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

Cambridge University Press, 2018. pp 175  ISBN-13: 978-1108423892  ISBN-10: 9781108423892

by Ahmad Zaboor  12 August 2020

Mahapatra’s book is an autopsy of the intersections of political violence, deprivation, and conflict with special reference to Kashmir. It examines the vertical aspect of the conflict, in which the Indian State and a section of Kashmir are engaged in conflictual relationships.

Conflict, as defined by the author, refers to “pursuit of incompatible goals”. The definition is problematic, as it makes Kashmir and Kashmiri people invisible in the whole conflict.  In a protracted social conflict, there are two major conflicting actors- state and an aggrieved community, and their vertical relationship is characterized by conflict due to non-fulfillment of non-material needs like security, recognition, and political participation. When a state fails to fulfill the core needs of the people, its people challenge its authority with violence.

In PSC, both India and Pakistan are concerned with the security of state and territorial integrity, such an approach is leading to the protracted nature of the conflict. The failure to distinguish between ‘armed militants, their unarmed sympathizers and the alienated but innocent citizens coupled with the indiscriminate use of force contributed to growing support for militancy among the people’. Therefore there is dicey need amidst the jingoism within the Indian media and army that stone-pelters shall be deemed as “potential terrorists” that this policy prescription needs to be recognized.  The “non-material needs didn’t factor in India’s policy regarding Kashmir. Kashmiri’s are neither allowed to impact policies nor are their interests taken into consideration”. Denial of these needs engendered conflict within Kashmir.  According to the author, people in the early annals were demanding what the author calls ‘non-material rights, but after the eruption of militancy in 1989, they began to demand freedom’.

The separatist movement in Kashmir, according to the author is the fallout of the structural deformity- “the practice of undermining democratic structures under the guise of national interests”. It enabled the ethnic mobilization against the backdrop of institutional decay. India which professes democratic ideals facilitated its ‘suppression in Jammu and Kashmir, not only to protect territorial integrity but also to prove its secular credentials’. The fallout of the erroneous policy was that people lost faith in the ballot and resorted to guns to assert their rights. When viewed from Kashmiri perspectives, this view is erroneous as the separatist movement has been there since 1947. It was represented by Muslim Conference in opposition to National Conference represented by Sheikh Abdullah who sided with India, then by Plebiscite front, and Muslim United Front. All these organizations were united by a common thread of seeking separation from India.

What became the major factor in persuading the two countries to give up the violence and pursue peace? According to the author, the main factor was the recognition of the futility of the violence as a tool to pursue their respective goals, coupled with the phenomenon of globalization.  This is a simplistic and under-researched aspect of the book.  The truth is that‘war on terror’ launched by America, created a difficult predicament for Pakistan as it had to mobilize its soldiers to the western front with Afghanistan, leaving the eastern front with India vulnerable. Therefore, ‘it was in Pakistan’s interests to make a relationship with India amenable and back home the resumption of trade was in response to the rising agitation by Kashmiri separatists’.

The border road trade has no doubt accrued economic gains for at least a group of people who can be termed as gainers. The attempt to meet people’s needs does not guarantee peace as there are spoilers who gain by the conflict. Spoilers, according to the author are militant organizations, separatists backed by Pakistan. This line of thinking suffers from inconsistencies, as there is a situation when the state may itself act as a spoiler. Over the last 30 years, a ‘{in} security system has evolved which incentivizes the killing. In fact, an entire system has come into being, centered on making money for killing’. Pathribal and Machil fake encounters in  Kashmir are cases in point.

The state-centric approach of security has undermined human security and protracted the conflict. The aggressive pursuit of state security has caused anxiety among the ethnic groups about their separate identity. Both India and Pakistan are concerned with security challenges from each other rather than from within. The challenge from within is the result of an obsession with state security and neglect of human security is reflected in the socio-economic deprivation. It creates a vicious circle in which a lack of human security leads to conflict which in turn threatens human security. Solutions based on threats, use of coercion, and laws may not be sufficient to address the problem.

A zero-sum game leads to negative peace.  A middle path has to be crafted through bargaining and accommodation. The opening of the Line of Control (LoC)  trade moderated the rigid posturing towards the conflict as both state and people converged on point that the decades-old conflict and closure of roads has proved detrimental affecting centuries-old connections and cultural relations. The trade provides a platform for the policy makers the representatives of India and traders for discussion dialogue.  In this context, nurturing a constituency of gainers, through accommodative policies, as against solely focusing on the spoilers, who gain from the conflict situation, is significant.

The contention of this study is essentially two-fold. First, accommodating the core needs of an alienated group is crucial to addressing a protracted conflict. Material needs such as employment opportunities and economic development are important, but their absence may not necessarily lead to a conflict. Second, community needs, such as political participation, recognition, security, etc., are more critical and even non-negotiable. Deprivation of these needs is more likely to lead to conflict than the lack of employment opportunities or basic amenities. Their absence is felt more acutely than their presence. The frosty relationship between these two nurtures the hostile atmosphere and further contributes to marginalization.

The success of this framework would depend on how genuinely the ‘political elite is willing to accommodate concerns of the marginalized’. If the state promotes engagement towards addressing the core needs of the alienated group, then conflict management may become a possibility. The most loathsome aspect of the book is that militancy is posing a challenge to the Indian state; the turmoil sustained with the support from Pakistan discourages India from pursuing a sustained reconciliatory approach towards the conflict. This view seeks to deny agency to the thousands of people who are on streets against Indian rule. It engenders questions, what has Indians done to seek peace before the eruption of insurgency? India’s policy regarding peace is marked with consistent failures.