Where Democracy Stumbles

Kashmir, rather than being the crown of India, has become a mar on the Indian democratic experiment. A problem since independence, the Indian government seems to be truly lost on how to move forward in dealing with the ongoing protests. The current uproar has been due to the potential modification of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This proposed change would give Indian security forces broad powers to use force in Kashmir, while shielding them from liability. In Kashmir, which closely resembles a police state, these changes would effectively damage any chance for peaceful solution or even a dialogue, as the people would use the AFSPA as a rallying cry for more extremist action.

The violence of a government against its own citizens is usually done in the name of national security and this is usually the case in India as well. For the eighty or so people that were killed during anti-India protests over the last three months, their cause is freedom movement. Rather than be a part of Indian rule (or even Pakistani rule), many Kashmiris are coming to the conclusion that the way forward for them is through a plebiscite which would most likely approve independence. For obvious reasons, India is dead against the plebiscite idea even though the right to self-determination is one that is implicitly recognized by the state, as a member of the United Nations. Many of the people of Kashmir have been doing all they can to undermine Indian rule, including violating curfews and leading rallies.

However, inasmuch there have been human rights violations by the Indian government, it also has the responsibility to protect the people that are not a part of the mainstream view and who are getting caught in the crossfire of the violent protests. There has been no real leader for the Kashmir protests, making it very hard for the government to negotiate (if they ever wanted to take that route). Furthermore, without a cessation of violence, it is difficult for the government to compromise as it would perpetuate the belief that the central leadership is weak. So we come to the classic crossroads in which neither party is willing to sacrifice a little to reap large rewards (ie. the cooperative outcome).

What is the way forward for Kashmir? I think its clear but not feasible due to the large level of compromise that would have to be undertaken by the Indian government in the small term, especially losing face to Pakistan. But in the long term, it would make India more secure and stable, without the tensions in Kashmir or the spillover effects of a weakening Pakistan. If Kashmir was indeed independent, it would be easier to protect the borders against a fledgling nation rather than an established foe. However, this rationale may never take root as no Prime Minister wants to be the one who allowed secessionists to win, causing a possible snowball effect in northeastern part of the country as well.

2 thoughts on “Where Democracy Stumbles

  1. “Furthermore, without a cessation of violence, it is difficult for the government to compromise as it would perpetuate the belief that the central leadership is weak.” So, if I follow your argument correctly: the Indian government shouldn’t address the cause of the violence–the continued military occupation and failure to deliver on the promised human rights and “political package” (CM Abdullah’s words)–until the Kashmiris stop protesting?

    Firstly, there’s a reason why they’re protesting in the first place: the central and state governments failed to provide the compromise promised for so long! It behooves me as to why they should wait once again for an unresponsive central (and state) government.

    Moreover, I think you’re exaggerating the scale of the violence. It’s nowhere near the scale of the insurgency in the northeast, and it’s not an even an insurgency. You make it sound like senseless violence plagues Kashmir today. It doesn’t. In fact, the casualties thus far are the result of egregious Indian Army behaviour–which, itself, is a result of the excessive limits on the freedom of peaceful assembly. If you put a bunch of angry protesters under an Army-controlled curfew, then you get intentional and unintentional violence. It’s simple.

    This really isn’t a case of “neither party willing to sacrifice”–a case that assumes some equality of powers between two parties–but one where the Indian establishment’s paranoia and mistrust of its own citizens has given way to a disastrous policy.

  2. In response to the idea that the government is only willing to address the root cause of the violence once the violence ceases, I stand by it. I don’t think its rational, I think its reality. The Indian government needs a way to save face. Without the violence, there is no real excuse that the government can hide behind.

    As for the situation in Kashmir, there has been a constant cycle of violence and insurgency for about twenty years, perpetuated by protests and the army’s response to these protests. I think that the government has a lot of restitution to make to the Kashmiri people and it begin by opening up channels of dialogue.

    Furthermore, there doesn’t need to be an equal power structure for two groups to reach the cooperative outcome. In fact, very rarely are two players in the international system evenly matched. But both are capable of driving the game to the pareto optimal outcome, thought it may disproportionately favor one party over the other. That does not change the fact that it is the best outcome for both parties, considering the other’s action.

    PS: Thanks for the great comments, Faiz. I miss having you to argue with.

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