Aftermath of Execution of Afzal Guru
Execution of death sentence of Afzal Guru has taken place more than a decade after he conspired to attack the Indian Parliament. Time has paled the gravity and import of the attack on Indian democracy in December 2002.The immense indignation and humiliation caused by the attack on the Parliamentthat almost took India and Pakistan to warhas not been reflected as intensely in the discourse following the hanging. It is indeed curious that a few days ago David Hadley was sentenced to thirty years in prison by a US court. Almost the entire intelligentsia wailedthat justice had not been done. They brayed thathe should have been hanged. However, in case of Afzal Guru the opinion on his execution has been a matter of controversy.He like Hadley was a conspirator and abetted the attack on the idea of India. The only difference being that attack on Parliament was foiled and did not result in a major catastrophe.
The fairness of the judicial process has been somewhat marred by the way execution was handled. Had the next of kin been allowed to meet the accused one last time, it would have made the argument undisputable. The timing of the execution of the death sentence has been debated. The Chief Minister and the leader of the opposition in J&K have argued that that the State is just about getting out of two decade old cycleof violence and this execution would lead to alienation and again start a spiral of violent protests. Some have even voiced that justice has been denied to the Kashmir yet again. Instead of projecting this as natural culmination of a just and fair judicial process, it is being projected as an affront to the Kashmiri people. The first stepsfor tackling the fallout by the political leadership have been inappropriate to say the least. Encouraged by the reactions of the main stream political parties, Sayyed Gilani has issued a calendar of protests, first time since the protests of 2010.Protest calendar was the fountain head of the strategy adopted during 2010 that precipitated a crisis situation that was aided by inapt political and thepolice handling setting in motionvicious cycle of violent protest contended by force resulting in killings, leading to more protests and more killings.
The secrecy maintained prior to the hanging and restrictions imposed in J&K underpins the reality of the impact is likely to have on Kashmir. However, this time around, the state holds more cards than the inimical elements. Much work has been done by reaching out to the youth, gaining insight into the psychology of agitation and the role of social media and SMSs in coordinating violence. The reported order of IGP Kashmir to content protesters only with non-lethal accoutrements augurs well. The reduced ability of the terrorists to impel violence is also a positive factor.There has been considerable choking of funds to the terror outfits and over ground workers leading to drop in number of active terrorists. The Panchayats elected with overwhelming mandate have ushered in grass-root democracy and are perceived as a threat to the separatist movement. The masses are making an attempt to move on in life away from the so called ‘aspirational politics’.The attempts by terror groups to disrupt functioning of Panchayats by coercing Sarpanches to resign has been stemmed by adopting a return to the strategy of effective visible domination of the rural areas by the Army. 2012 saw a massive increase in the number of tourists visiting the State. This has boosted not only the economy but has enhanced interaction between the State and rest of the country.
The separatist leadership has not had many successes with agitational politics in the recent past. It finds it increasingly challenging to project Pakistan as a reliable ally and supporter due to prevailing internal situation within Pakistan.On the other hand, main stream parties have made impressive progress in reaching out to the people borne testimony by Panchayat elections.The ruling political alliance has papered over differences and the incumbent Chief Minister has been assured of full term in office.
For the first time emotional connect between the youth of the Valley and rest of the country was palpable in the aftermath of ‘Delhi gang rape’ and ostracising of all girls band in Kashmir by way of issue of ‘fatwa’ by the Grand Mufti of Kashmir. With number of Kashmiri youth studying and working in various parts of the country this connect has ushered in moderation of attitudes on all sides. The present youth have grown up in the shadow of the gun and appreciate the new found freedom from fear born out of reduction in visibility of the SF. The all-girls band ‘Pargaash’ was in a way also perceived a threat because they personified the desire to break-free from the persecution syndrome repetitively hammered down by the Separatist leadership.
The muted reaction from Pakistan reflects a new reality and should be taken note of. Whether it is a result of Pakistan’s compulsions or a result of deft manoeuvring by the Indian camp can only be assessed over time.
Once the restrictions currently imposed ease, there is likely to be protests in towns along the National Highway. This will be a test for the Police and the CRPF. Hopefully, lessons have been learnt and the situation will be handled with great sensitivity and care.
For starters, the short-term imperative of not letting the situation in the valley to get out of control should be given the fullest attention. An all of Government approach to get on top of the situation by synchronizing actions of various organs of the state should be adopted. Direct communication with the youth of the valley to explain the rationale of the decision and fairness of the trial would prove valuable. A well-conceived and efficiently executed perception management initiative would be critical for the success in the short term.
The deed is now done. If the short-term issues are handled well the long term effects are likely to be minimal. The Political leadership will have to show statesmanship and sagacity to pre-empt escalation. The Central Government on its part will have to make political moves to strengthen the hands of the local leadership. Perhaps time is appropriate to show political sagacity by taking some visible concrete political initiatives. Depending upon the situation, allowing Afzal Guru’s mortal remains to be sent to the family should be considered.
Major General (Retd) Umong Sethi is a distinguished veteran of the Indian Army with very wide exposure and experience in Jammu and Kashmir for the past four decades.