External Affairs Minister and Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s recent visit to Kashmir, to my mind, was clearly more statesmanlike than those of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress scion Rahul Gandhi and UPA Chief Sonia Gandhi. Why? Because Salman Khurshid did what most Indian leaders refused to do so far: apologise for the gang rape of 36 women in Kunan Poshpora by the Indian Army two decades ago. Answering a question on the rape case, Khurshid said: “What can I say? I can only say that I am ashamed that it happened in my country. I am apologetic and appalled that it has happened in my country”. He is the first union minister of India who has ever acknowledged the pain and humiliation that the people of Kashmir felt at the doing of the Indian army, and apologized for the same. Of course, while the foreign minister’s gesture is good, it is not good enough. India should not only issue an apology from the nation’s highest office but also punish the perpetrators for what they did. Let me reiterate, it is not my point here that apologizing is good enough for what happened in Kunan Poshpora, but that apology is a very good starting point.
What Khurshid did was in complete contrast to what the other three did in Kashmir. The other three leaders were focusing on rail connectivity, economic development, employment generation etc. And yet, there is a common thread that runs through what all of them did in Kashmir.
If what Khurshid did was to offer an apology, what the other three leaders were trying to do can be seen as offering reparation to the people of Kashmir (these leaders clearly don’t go to other Indian states and announce development/economic ‘packages’ as often as they do in J&K). And Apology and reparation together constitutes two major pillars of conflict resolution. In a sense, therefore, the Indian state was engaging in the time-tested method of conflict resolution in Kashmir in the past weeks, not in a self-conscious manner though. But because it was not a self-conscious, well-designed, well-articulated and well-executed strategy, it also means that these gestures might not produce the intended results. More importantly, what about the intent itself behind these actions? Don’t intents matter in politics? Did they mean to apologise and offer reparation? If these two acts were without any conscious and pre-planned coordination, as they do seem, then do they have any value at all in terms of conflict resolution? After all, when you say sorry, the other person should not only hear it but also realize that you mean it.
These were clearly two unrelated acts without any pre-planned strategy connecting them and hence the intent, crucial as it is, may be missing here. And yet, as an analyst, I wish to see these acts in the larger context of how India today is evolving as a nation state that is willing to understand the political arguments behind insurgencies and popular unrests in the country, more than ever. In other words, India has changed since the 1990s, so has its approach to addressing internal insurgencies. New Delhi’s approach to conflict resolution has undergone a significant transformation due to both internal and external factors.
For one, India has over the years become more confident of itself as a nation state and is hence willing to deal with its internal issues without the fear of being marginalized and humiliated by the international community which indeed was the case during the 1990s. When the international community had accused India of human rights violations in Kashmir, which it committed in no small measure, it refused to admit to any. Nor was it willing to make amends in Kashmir at the instance of the international pressure. Today, there is more willingness among the various segments of New Delhi’s strategic elite and decision makers to own up the ‘mistakes’ of the past and use conflict resolution strategies that are more people friendly. Internally, there is more awareness in the country today that conflict resolution is essentially a political strategy and not a military one. Given this new found awareness, stemming from a variety of sources, there is a new willingness to honor human rights and the aspirations of the people when resolving conflicts. It is in this new consciousness about the political basis of conflict resolution that one has to locate the acts of apology and reparation that we just witnessed in Kashmir.
Let me clarify: my argument is not that New Delhi has come clean of its sins nor has it stopped sinning altogether. Far from it: I am simply arguing that there is a not-so-conscious realization in India today that politics lies at the heart of conflict resolution, not violence and coercion. And this is a welcome realization.
Having said that, how is this useful if it’s a subconscious strategy? There are two ways of looking at this question. It is true that since this is not a conscious strategy, it may not necessarily lead to any concrete, tangible policy action, certainly not in the short term. However, it is useful because nations and national characters do undergo radical changes, and understanding what happens in the character of states at the deeper subconscious level is important as it can enable us to quicken the process of change, privilege the argument for change and simply make it more visible to the rest of the nation.
Finally, why are national imaginations and national characters important in understanding conflict resolution processes? They are important because it is indeed the political culture and self-definitions of countries that, in a sense, shape their perceptions, policies and actions. Nations are not immovable, unchangeable, un-malleable entities. In the life of every nation, there is a time for growing up and lets hope that the Indian nation too grows up and be mature for the sake of its people.
(Source: Greater Kashmir, June 30, 2013. URL: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2013/Jun/30/apology-and-reparation-for-kashmir-14.asp )