Opinion

Call for Kashmir ceasefire: History shows hasty announcements are goodwill gestures that mean little

The Centre has rejected Mehbooba Mufti’s proposal for a ceasefire with militant groups during Ramzan and the Amarnath Yatra.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s wish to get the Central government to announce a ceasefire with militants during Ramzan and the Amarnath Yatra has been shot down even before a formal appeal by an all-party delegation from the state, which she spoke of, could be made. Though twists and turns in political discourse are not entirely unknown and it is too early to presume the government has put the freeze on the ceasefire proposal, there is little to expect for a variety of reasons.

After an all-party meeting convened by her on May 9, Mufti announced that there was unanimity on the need for a goodwill ceasefire during Ramzan and a decision to send an all-party delegation to New Delhi with the appeal. The bonhomie sprung a surprise as Bharatiya Janata Party legislators and politicians, including Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta, were also in attendance at the meeting. Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party is in a coalition government with the BJP in the state. A day later, however, the BJP leaders distanced themselves from the proposal, maintaining that there was no consensus and that the BJP would oppose such a demand “tooth and nail”.

Leaders of other political parties, too, maintained that while the ceasefire did come up for discussion and many backed it, the Peoples Democratic Party did not bring it up and no clear decision was taken. Whether Mufti propped up the theory of the all-party delegation to play to the gallery or to put pressure on the Centre, the idea has drawn flak in New Delhi.

It was probably no coincidence that the day after the all-party meeting, Army Chief Bipin Rawat told The Indian Express in an interview, “I want to tell Kashmiri youth that azadi isn’t possible. It won’t happen. Don’t get carried away unnecessarily. Why are you picking up weapons? We will always fight those who seek azadi, those who want to secede. [Azadi] is not going to happen, never.”

This was followed by a more emphatic no to the ceasefire proposal by Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on May 13. She, instead, spoke about dealing with “terrorism with a firm hand” and “taking action every minute”.

New Delhi’s hardline approach

New Delhi’s reaction was much on expected lines. Since coming to power in 2014, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has ignored the state government whenever it has sought political concessions that could help win the confidence of the public. The Centre’s response to the floods in Kashmir that year probably set the tone. In 2015, after the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party-BJP coalition, New Delhi queered Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s policy of amnesty for prisoners detained under the Public Safety Act who did not face serious charges. Sayeed released separatist leader Masarat Alam under the amnesty plan but was forced to re-arrest him.

Then, during his visit to the Valley later that year, Modi publicly dismissed Sayeed’s advice to initiate a dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiris. He declared, “We don’t need any advice from anyone on how to run Kashmir.” New Delhi had already set the terms of engagement despite the BJP inking an agenda of alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party. A hardline military approach continues to be the sole guiding principle in dealing with Kashmir.

Ceasefires in the past

But the BJP’s maximalist position may not be the sole reason for its dismissal of the ceasefire call. A history of peace overtures in Kashmir reveals the vulnerability of such goodwill gestures both inside and outside the state. Ceasefire announcements form a small part of that narrative.

The first unilateral ceasefire was announced by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik soon after his release from prison in 1994, when the insurgency in Kashmir was still at its peak. Malik took a huge risk but New Delhi did not respond and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which was then an armed group, earned the wrath of other militant organisations. It maintains that over 500 of its men were killed by security forces after Malik’s announcement. The government’s intention was not to use the opportunity to start a peace initiative but to split and weaken the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. This policy ultimately allowed militancy to be fully dominated by pro-Pakistan groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen.

In July 2000, the Hizbul Mujahideen announced a unilateral ceasefire but withdrew it two weeks later after failed attempts to initiate a dialogue with Delhi’s pointsman Kamal Pandey. Both India and Pakistan blame each other for sabotaging the talks. The ceasefire offer was the result of backdoor channel diplomacy but the haste with which it was made betrayed lack of clarity, thus unnerving other stake-holders. Conspiracy theories played their role in the imagination of the ruling National Conference, which was awaiting the Atal Behari Vajpayee government’s response on its autonomy resolution, as well as in the minds of militant organisations, which feared a “sellout”.

In November 2000, Vajpayee announced a ceasefire during the month of Ramzan and later extended it by five months. Several militant groups, including the Hizbul Mujahideen, called it a trap and did not reciprocate. The ceasefire did not help scale down violence but it provided space for political mobility on the peace process. Two prime reasons for the failure of this ceasefire were the skepticism of the militant outfits, primarily because Pakistan was kept out of the loop, and Vajpayee’s limitations of balancing his desire for going ahead with peace and the maximalist position of the hawks within the BJP. The gains were frittered away because the much needed diplomatic offensive between India and Pakistan, which could have provided the ceasefire greater stability, remained missing.

Since the ceasefire announced by AB Vajpayee in November 2000, the trust deficit between New Delhi and Kashmir has widened greatly. (Credit: PTI)
Since the ceasefire announced by AB Vajpayee in November 2000, the trust deficit between New Delhi and Kashmir has widened greatly. (Credit: PTI)

Past experience shows two basic problems with hasty ceasefire announcements. It is simply a goodwill gesture that is meaningless without back-channel understanding between India and Pakistan at one level and between India and the militant outfits at another. The trust deficit between New Delhi and Kashmir has widened greatly since 2000. The ceasefire announcements were ill-planned then. At this juncture, it may be a proposition even less easily achievable in view of the increased animosity and the absence of the notion of a workable goal. That clarity needs to come from New Delhi as well as Islamabad. It need not be emphasised, however, that a well-planned and effective ceasefire can be a major catalyst in bringing peace in the region.

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal is executive editor, Kashmir Times.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.