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Cablegate: Jammu and Kashmir: India Moves Ahead with Confidence Building Measures

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FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8342
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 NEW DELHI 002155

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR P, SCA, SRAP

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/19/2019
TAGS: PGOV PTER PREL PINR KDEM IN
SUBJECT: JAMMU AND KASHMIR: INDIA MOVES AHEAD WITH CONFIDENCE BUILDING MEASURES
REF: A. NEW DELHI 2135 B. NEW DELHI 1625 C. NEW DELHI 195 D. NEW DELHI 118 E. 2008 NEW DELHI 2746 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: Political Counselor Uzra Zeya, Reasons 1.5 (B,D)
1. (C) Summary: In yet another signal that it is not waiting for the Delhi-Islamabad composite dialogue process to resume, the GOI unveiled further steps to strengthen its reconciliation efforts in Kashmir. Besides announcing a dialogue with separatists (Ref A), Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram on October 14 publicly shifted the GOI's focus from a security/military solution to a political one, proposed a reorientation of the state's security apparatus such that the paramilitary and the Army play a smaller role, and signaled that other confidence building measures will follow. Clearly, the GOI is taking advantage of a favorable political and security environment -- the United Progressive Alliance government is stable and strong, the opposition is preoccupied with its own trouble, there are no electoral tests on the horizon, and the insurgency is weak -- to push ahead vigorously on political reconciliation in the state. Kashmir watchers will be intently following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visits the state on October 27 for pronouncements he may make or new programs or initiatives he might unveil. End Summary.
Political Rather than Military Solution
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2. (U) In an October 14 press conference in Srinagar, Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram unmistakably shifted the Kashmir narrative away from a security/military solution to a focus on a political one. He said: ""There is a political question to be resolved"" and ""once the broad contours of a political solution are arrived at we will make it public."" Chidambaram also acknowledged the special nature of the Kashmir issue, saying that the GOI recognizes that the ""unique geographical location and unique history"" of Kashmir may require an equally unique solution. Laying out some of the broad principles that will guide the GOI, he said the solution must be ""honorable, equitable, and acceptable to (an) overwhelming majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir."" Chidambaram's press interaction received heavy nationwide media attention because it came in advance of the Prime Minister's planned October 27 visit, when he will inaugurate a rail link in teh valley.
Beginning of Demilitarization?
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3. (SBU) Perhaps more significantly, Chidambaram announced a reconfiguration of the security apparatus in the state, placing the indigenous Jammu and Kashmir police on the frontlines and allowing the paramilitary and Army a much smaller footprint. He said that the JK Police would take the ""lead in maintenance of law and order"" in the state, while the paramilitary ""takes a backseat"" and the Army ""defends the borders."" This is considered an important confidence building move to address the perception of many Kashmiris that they are under siege by an occupying military of several hundred thousand security personnel. The J&K police are comprised exclusively of state residents, in contrast to the paramilitary and army forces, which consist mostly of outsiders who are operating in a more alien environment and tend to be more nervous and edgy. Underscoring the importance of this measure, Chidambaram added, ""I think it will make a big difference for people to see Kashmiri police - our own boys and girls - in the front line maintaining law and order.""
4. (C) Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda told Poloff NEW DELHI 00002155 002 OF 005 that the JK Police has for the last two years increasingly become the public face of the security effort in the state. He noted that, as far as possible, interaction of security forces with the local population is done by the J&K police in an effort to improve relations between the population and the security forces. Khoda said that the security forces have strict instructions to minimize collateral damage to civilians during operations against terrorists, sometimes to the point of letting terrorists escape if it means avoiding civilian casualties. In his view, the reduction in human rights abuses by the security forces and their better community relations have yielded tangible benefits in improving trust between the GOI and Kashmiris.
5. (C) The day after Chidambaram's press conference, the GOI pulled two Army battalions back from deployment in the valley: 33rd Rashtriya Rifles battalion from Handwara and 49th Rashtriya Rifles battalion from Qazigund. Police Chief Khoda told Poloff in September that the GOI was already moving some paramilitary forces back and replacing them with the J&K Police. He noted that 3-5 paramilitary companies had been moved out of the Poonch and Rajouri areas in the preceding few weeks. He said such redeployment to reduce the visibility of the paramilitary forces and the Army would continue, keeping in view the situation of the ground at any particular time.
Time is Right for CBMs
----------------------
6. (C) There is a remarkable degree of agreement within the political and economic establishment in the state on the need for confidence building measures by the GOI. There is some concern that if the GOI did not move quickly, it would lose the window of opportunity provided by a favorable political and security environment in which the GOI has few electoral challenges on the horizon and the insurgency is waning.
7. (C) J&K Congress Party chief and former Indian Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz was emphatic about the need for progress on confidence building measures. In a September meeting with Poloff, he said the GOI should and will move forward forcefully on measures that will provide ""emotional satisfaction"" to Kashmiris. He said that these steps do not need a Delhi-Islamabad composite dialogue or a Delhi-Srinagar separatist dialogue. ""We should go over or around these dialogues, straight to the Kashmiri people,"" he said. In his view, there is no need for use of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Public Safety Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, three pieces of legislation that give the security forces vast powers to deal with the local population. Soz admitted that the timing for rescinding these acts in the state is uncertain because ""we have to show respect"" for the views of the security forces which have made great sacrifices to battle the insurgency. He also pointed to other measures that the GOI should take: release detainees who do not pose any threat and evacuate public buildings and facilities occupied by the security forces.
8. (C) People's Democratic Party (PDP) President and Leader of the Opposition Mehbooba Sayeed Mufti told Poloff that there must be real, not cosmetic, confidence building measures offered by the GOI. She believes that the most significant steps the GOI could take at this moment are a military drawdown, return and rehabilitation of militants, and reaching out to families of militants who have been killed in action. Her PDP colleague Altaf Bukhari said that confidence building measures, even if they are small, will have a ""huge"" impact. Separatist Bilal Lone was especially focused on easing cross-border travel restrictions between the valley and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He believes that the idea that Kashmiris could ""hop into a car and do a day trip to Muzaffarabad"" would resonate broadly with the Kashmiri people. National Conference chief and Indian Renewable NEW DELHI 00002155 003 OF 005 Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah told PolCouns that easier travel and trade between the two sides of Kashmir are key confidence building levers. (Note: Cross-border trade and travel, of course, require engagement with Pakistan, which is currently on hold.)
Lavish Development Assistance Continues
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9. (C) Over the last five years, the GOI has pumped huge amounts of development assistance into Jammu and Kashmir for building roads, power projects, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure and social service projects. The common rule of thumb used in Delhi is that the GOI spends 9-10 times more per capita in Jammu and Kashmir than any other state. It is not clear whether security related expenditures are included in this figure but in any event it represents a very large inflow of funds into the state.
10. (C) The GOI has reiterated recently through words and signals that New Delhi's purse strings for the state will remain open. The Indian cabinet approved and the President signed ordinances at lightning speed this month to establish two GOI-funded universities in the state, one in the valley and one in Jammu. The Prime Minister and Home Minister have directed every Delhi-based secretary of GOI Ministries to visit the state at least once in November to review the progress of GOI projects. The Cabinet Secretary will then visit in February 2010 to ""take stock"" of GOI interventions in the state. Chidambaram told the press on October 14 that he expects to visit the state at least once every eight weeks.
Increased Transparency
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11. (C) In a effort to demonstrate transparency in the functioning of the state government, the GOI and the state government strengthened the state's Right to Information apparatus. They appointed Wajahat Habibullah, who was the Indian Chief Information Commissioner, to take over as the state's Chief Information Commissioner. Habibullah, a retired civil servant who is close to the Congress Party inner circle, has extensive Jammu and Kashmir experience including past experience in dealing with the separatists. That he gave up a prestigious constitutional position in Delhi to return to the state demonstrates the kind of attention Delhi is devoting to Kashmir.
Menu of Confidence Building Measures
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12. (C) Beside starting a dialogue with separatists, emphasizing a political solution, reorienting the security apparatus with the J&K police as its public face, and continuing with generous development funding in the state, there are many more confidence building measures that could be taken up by the GOI. Some of these are low hanging fruit that could be implemented quickly without any big political or security implications. Others could be the subject of GOI-separatist negotiations. Still others, such as cross-border travel and trade must wait for the Delhi-Islamabad composite dialogue to resume since they require Pakistani involvement. The following is a list, illustrative rather than exhaustive, of the kind of confidence building measures that the GOI has to play with in its Kashmir initiative:
-- Ensure that dialogue with separatists achieves results
-- Continue generous development spending
-- Conduct panchayat (village council) elections at the earliest; the record turnout in the assembly and
NEW DELHI 00002155 004 OF 005
parliamentary elections shows that Kashmiris want to participate in the democratic process
-- Release selected prisoners who are not hardcore militants, do not today pose any serious threat, but have been incarcerated for years
-- Release prisoners who have been incarcerated longer than the court-directed sentences
-- Discontinue the practice of re-arresting accused militants who have been released by courts (Note: this practice has become less common but still occurs)
-- Stop the misuse of the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows the government to detain anyone for two years without trial (Note: Over the years, the record of the security forces has improved, but the practice has not been eliminated -- for example, the PSA was used extensively during the Amarnath unrest and separatist Shabir Shah spent almost over an year in detention before he was released this week)
-- Repeal, selectively repeal or be more judicious in use of Armed Forces Special Power Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, which gives the Army almost unchecked powers over the local population in the valley
-- Prosecute transparently and publicly security force personnel involved in human rights violations
-- Relocate security forces camps out of public facilities (Note: there has been some progress on this, but more needs to be done in evicting security forces from schools and other public facilities)
-- More judicious use of house searches and road blockades by security forces
-- Demilitarization: gradual pullback and pullout of the paramilitary and Army from visibility in the day to day life of Kashmiris; replacement of the paramilitary and Army by the J&K police
-- Empower the state Human Rights Commission so that it can make transparent inquiries and achieve some tangible results; this will help inculcate an environment in which people feel encouraged to approach the commission because they see it as an effective body.
-- Stop the continued harassment of released/surrendered militants and their families even when these former militants no longer pose any threat
-- Loosen further travel controls on separatist leaders; they could be given passports and exit permission that are less time and country specific.
-- Make the bus links across the line of control more traveler friendly
-- Ease travel restrictions on cross border travel, increase the number of transit points
-- Open telephone lines across the LOC between Azad Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir.
-- Encourage separatists to participate in future elections by providing them incentives - funding, security, press coverage.
-- Strengthen civil society by making it easier for NGOs to operate.
13. (C) Comment: The above list is not intended to be NEW DELHI 00002155 005 OF 005 prescriptive. It is provided to help Washington understand the complicated, multi-faceted problem facing the GOI in Kashmir as it moves forward on what is clearly a high priority for the Prime Minister, Chidambaran and Sonia Gandhi. The GOI is fully aware of these and other steps it could take and is carefully picking and choosing what is politically possible for it today. Any hint of USG activism in Kashmir, however helpful the intentions behind it, will prove counterproductive because of the GOI's hypersensitivity to third party involvement in Kashmir. In order for the GOI's efforts to restore sustainable peace and stability in Kashmir to succeed, its engagement with the separatists and with the Kashmiri people must be free of any perception of outside influence.
ROEMER

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