Nagaland has been kept off the front pages by deft political footwork by the Ministry of Home Affairs in nursing the ongoing ceasefire there through a decade since its inception. India had sensibly opted for the ceasefire route to security, among other reasons, because its troops were heavily engaged elsewhere in the mid Nineties in Kashmir. That the ceasefire has held is a considerable achievement at enlightened politics by successive Indian governments of all hues and is testimony that such political initiatives are both feasible and not unpopular.
This model has however not found applicability in Kashmir, where the challenge India has faced down has been greater and, on account of which, there is a greater need for political engagement. Principally this owes to the extent of the external hand in Kashmir, restricting Indias options to countering the resulting proxy war there. However, this constraint has changed in light of the events brought on by 9/11.
Pakistan, under pressure in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), has restrained its hand in the proxy war. By statistical, media and anecdotal accounts, Kashmir appears headed towards peace. This would appear to be the right juncture to approach the issue politically, both in its external and internal planes.
Firstly, this would be mindful of future possibilities of a changed situation in Pakistan - for better or worse - that may be accompanied by a reversion of Pakistan to its earlier proxy war strategies. If the situation in Pakistan improves, then Pakistan could see its restraint in Kashmir as being counter productive. If for the worse, then its steaming polity would seek an outlet in Kashmir.
Secondly, Simla Agreement requires that a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir be arrived at through peaceful means including bilateral negotiation. In other words, engaging Pakistan is a treaty obligation that can best be complied with from the present position of strength.
Can the Nagaland model be adopted for Kashmir? Precedence for the 'Nagaland model' exists in the form of a ceasefire tried out in Kashmir called 'non-initiation of combat operations' by the Vajpayee government. Other elements of the 'Nagaland model' can be brought together with the onset of the ceasefire taken as a beginning.
Simultaneous with the ceasefire has to be announcement of an eminent persons group carrying high credibility in Kashmir. In Nagaland, the Indian team has comprised of K Padmanabhaiah, a former Home Secretary as points-man; Lt Gen (Retd.) R V Kulkarni, the trusted head of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group; and Oscar Fernandes as the political face of the team. Likewise, for Kashmir, N N Vohra, a former Home Secretary, is available. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan this year for functioning as the political interlocutor there. The military member could perhaps be Gen J J Singh on retiring this month, or old Kashmir hand Lt Gen M A Zaki. The Governor - due for a change this year should be the political face. Wajahat Habibullah, who carries great regard in Kashmir, or Gopal Gandhi, a person of stature and character, are ideal candidates.
The requirement of surrender may be done away with, and as with Naga groups, a manner of engaging with the armed groups would require to be worked out. As in Nagaland, where the American Baptist church had an influence in furthering the talks, the involvement of external players can be countenanced. The Simla Agreement avers to such procedures thus: peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Foreign terrorists may be given a safe passage back under aegis of either the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or an Indo-Pakistani supervisory panel. This is the only way they can get to negotiate alive the fearsome fence, called Vij Line by the Governor, Lt Gen S K Sinha. UN presence in the form of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) exists, though this may be used only sparingly as an emergency watchdog measure, in light of India's aversion to external supervision of any kind.
There are adequate long term models of disarmament, demobilization, and resettlement, known as DDRRR in the UN peacekeeping handbook, that can be taken advantage of, as is being done in Nepal next door. The levels of violence had precluded the use of these measures thus far. However, we can now factor this option into our future strategies for Kashmir. This can be easily worked by Indian troops themselves, familiar as they are with these procedures owing to their enviable peacekeeping record. This would be not be unlike in present day Nagaland, where the NSCN (National Social Council of Nagaland) is confined to cantonments and there are rules on the manner of its armed movement. It is another matter that in actuality the NSCN runs a parallel government. Strictures on Kashmiri combatants would have to be of a higher order. Lessons learnt from the Nagaland model not in the public domain should further steady the framework outlined here.
That there is no scope now for a military retrieval of Nagaland should the process breakdown has been the main incentive for a political approach. An equal commitment to a political resolution needs to inform the initiative in Kashmir. Kashmiri political forces in POK would require to be engaged, with the tacit support of Pakistan obtained through the backchannel. Just as several rounds of talks away from media glare and outside the country preceded the pacification of Naga groups, similar treatment of these militants would be required.
Getting the major political leaders in Kashmir as stakeholders in the deal would be necessary; apprehensive as they are of losing ground to the militants coming over ground. In Nagaland, mainstream politicians have continued to run the government. Likewise the involvement of the political parties in Kashmir can be incentivised and more easily obtained once the exercise is seen as having popular appeal which it inevitably shall, given the levels of fatigue in Kashmir.
In Nagaland, major players in the peace process were the tribal elders, in the form of the Hoho. The clergy and civil society groupings were key players as well. Their counterparts in Kashmir, namely, the divided Hurriyat, the clergy and NGOs such as the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, should also be involved to inject goodwill and trust between the wary sides in the conflict. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission as suggested by the young politician, Omar Abdullah, may even be instituted at a later stage to manage the catharsis to end the tragedy. The ultimate index of return of normalcy would be the return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity and compensation to their land.
The Congress dispensation at the Centre is in a situation where the right wing opposition is in disarray. It may be easier to build consensus now as Kashmir initiatives are sensitive and can be used as political capital by extremists. Its initiative along these lines will have the backing of their partner the Left, thereby repairing ties that are currently under strain over the question of proximity to the U.S. The coming winter would also see a new government in Islamabad that could be conditioned suitably with a positive approach such as this, thereby staying it from being reflexively anti-Indian.
India has learnt to manage peaceably with the levels of rebel control that exist in Nagaland. It is also amenable to dilution of the centralized definition of the State, since this is not constitutional blasphemy. Therefore, there is little reason for it to procrastinate with respect to Kashmir where it is committed through Article 370 to a unique constitutional manner of integration.