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Kashmir: 2012 most 'peaceful' in years, country rethinking war-time measures for 2013

Fahad ShahThe Christian Science Monitor

Government tallies in Kashmir find that 2012 was the most peaceful year since an armed rebellion began in the disputed region in 1989. Despite that, no measures have been taken to demilitarize the region or to revoke the draconian laws that provide impunity to paramilitary forces here.

A report released by the Jammu and Kashmir state last week put hard numbers on the widely-observed notion that armed separatism has steadily declined and is nearing extinction. “There have been 33 grenade attacks and IED explosions this year up to November end as compared to 41 last year. 95 people, including 23 civilians, 14 paramilitary forces’ personnel and 58 militants, were killed in 2012. It is much lesser as compared to the year 2011 in which 173 people were killed,” the report said.

The relative peace has brought a revival in tourism to Kashmir, but a political dialogue for resolving Kashmiri aspirations remains moribund. Many residents of the mostly-Muslim Kashmir Valley still express a desire for independence, and India remains wary of lifting its heavy military presence.

“The year 2012 was peaceful if we look at the general change in the atmosphere but despite that nothing happened on demilitarization. The reason for it is that we are still operating under the security paradigm and we have not sufficiently moved away to a political paradigm yet,” says Gul Wani, a political analyst and academic at Kashmir University.

That security paradigm persists partly out of a sense that the peace here is so fragile that it could be upset by a single incident of violence.

Still, that shouldn't preclude some movement on the political front, Mr. Wani argues. “The security establishment will remain the determining factor but within that the political actors, whether mainstream or separatists, will also continue to ask for liberalizing the civilian space, demilitarization, revocation of some laws."

Kashmiris have been pushing for years for the revocation of two laws in particular; the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA). AFSPA grants broad immunity to Indian forces operating in Kashmir, and the PSA allows for detention without trial for a minimum of six months and maximum of one year.

Also at issue is the heavy presence of military forces and bunkers throughout the state, including roughly 600,000 troops (including paramilitary and police forces), according to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a prominent human rights organization.

“The militancy has died down to a trickle; a security review is required that could involve re-deployment of the troops,” agrees Radha Kumar, the director general of the Delhi Policy Group that works on track two diplomacy.

“There is a volatile situation but an uneasy calm. There has been steady decline in militancy. The dialogue is very important. We should look at this more positive way. We had recommended three things – stabilizing the situation on the ground, re-integration of divided areas and returning of former militants, and the peace process with the separatist groups,” says Ms. Kumar, a former member of a team of "interlocutors" appointed by the Indian government to start a dialogue with Kashmiris.

The state's chief minister, an ally of India's ruling coalition in New Delhi, has argued publicly for AFSPA's revocation. But last month the chief minister said that the Army has scuttled the proposal.

The National Conference Party, which currently rules the state, issued a statement on Dec. 28 after the Indian Army allegedly fired on protesters in Pulwama district saying that the Army cannot continue to use AFSPA to act with impunity, and that by such actions the Army was only making things difficult for the proponents of peace. The party also accused the Army of being responsible for the 2010 civil uprising in which 112 people were killed by paramilitary forces and police.

The Indian military cautions that it's too soon to assume the region will remain peaceful.

“One year being peaceful doesn’t mean the peace has returned, instead, there has to be durable peace,” says Lt. Col. J S Brar, Srinagar-based Defense spokesperson of India. He declined to comment on AFSPA saying that the “Army’s views on it are very well known that have been articulated by senior commanders and I will not comment on it.” The Army has argued that in most other states of India there is some legal protection for soldiers under a different law that is not fully applicable in Jammu and Kashmir.

There is also some push-back from human rights groups here about the extent of the peace. A report released today by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society says that the year 2012 has passed just like previous years, and the state government has disgracefully claimed the year to be peaceful. Giving figures that contradict the home ministry, it says 148 people have lost their lives in 2012 because of violent incidents. It includes 35 civilians, 75 alleged militants, 36 armed forces personnel, 1 unknown person, and 1 retired police officer.