Kashmir: Modify policy, not just pellet guns
Pak too needs to clean up its act
By Subhash Chopra
The reported move to increase the stockpile of the much-criticised pellet shotguns in Kashmir Valley after last year’s incidents of stone-pelting during street protests following the death of separatist militant Burhan Wani has predictably drawn sharp reaction from a wide range of public opinion. The stockpile is believed to be raised from its existing strength of about 600 to over 4,000.
Attacking the move for expansion of the pellet shotgun armoury, former chief minister Omar Abdullah said the ruling PDP- BJP coalition Government in the state had “chosen not to learn any lesson from the recent unrest and the devastating effect of pellet guns” which had left hundreds of young people with the loss of partial or complete eyesight.
The reaction of extremist Hurriyat faction leader Syed Ali Geelani was expectedly typical: “The Indian authorities are hell-bent on muzzling voices.” So was that of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the other Hurriyat faction leader, who said: “Stockpiling pellet shotguns or lethal weapons or packages (economic) cannot make the people of Kashmir give up their basic political rights.”
Earlier reports had suggested that the Central authorities had decided to modify the design of pellet shotguns to minimise injuries. The new style guns, perhaps packed with PAV or chilli shots, will have a metal “deflector”, an attachment on the muzzle end, to prevent the pellets from hitting straight into the chest and above. The new design will ensure that shrapnels do not hit above the abdomen region.
Redesigning of weapons — a good afterthought – should have been done long ago, –years ago. A much simpler crowd control tactic, as this writer has been suggesting for years, lies in first trying water cannons before any kind of guns. And training the paramilitary personnel to point the guns downwards should have been basic starting code.
For a start, the use of pellet guns or 12-bore guns which eject splinter shots as a civilian crowd-control weapon should be outlawed, not just in Kashmir but anywhere in the country or world.
Civil protests need civil remedies, not an impatient jump to lethal weapons. The administration’s response should be calibrated and gradual. Water cannons should be employed in the first instance if the protesters turn unruly and refuse to disperse in defiance of official appeals on loud hailers and other modes of persuasion. Water cannons will definitely cool down good numbers of protesters who will start melting away after one, two or more charges.
The die-hards may be tackled with normal policing — baton or lathicharges assisted by mounted police (on horse) if necessary. In case of protesters indulging in stone-pelting or other violent acts, teargas and laughing gas, yes laughing gas — ask the chemical gas experts — should be tried to turn the tables on the demonstrators.
A small number of hardcore protesters will always be there to the bitter end for whom rubber bullets, not rifle shots or pellet guns, may be necessary. And the police, paramilitary or other personnel must be trained to shoot below the waist only to disable them temporarily and not shoot wildly in panic or self-defence. Even the rubber bullet guns can be redesigned to fire downwards aiming below the waist.
Another vital measure long overdue in Kashmir is the need to modify AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which has been in force since 1990. It has been a standing irritant to all sides for too long. A comprehensive rethink of this measure which has lasted more than a quarter century is long overdue. It calls for a gradual overhaul.
To begin with AFSPA’s extensive visibility needs to be reduced. The posting of gun-carrying paramilitary personnel at Lalchowk in Srinagar or along the Dal Lake Boulevard and other popular spots across the Valley in full glare of the civilian population does no good to anybody. Billet the armed men inside offices or buildings from where they can be called out at moment’s notice, if needed in emergency. This constant display of adversarial imagery must be avoided at all costs. Make no mistake, such display of CRPF and other paramilitary presence is highly adversarial in character. It is equally damaging to the psyche of the poor men in paramilitary uniforms.
The visible presence of uniformed men should be strictly left to the provincial J&K state police personnel.
Gradually when the tempers cool down, as they did during the five years before last year’s eruption, step by step dilution of AFSPA must be undertaken. The Centre and state Government need to accept this challenge with courage and confidence. India has erred on the side of caution for too long.
Above all, what is needed is not just modified pellet guns, but modified Kashmir policy and a return to all-round dialogue not just with stakeholders in Kashmir and the rest of India but across the LoC and the borders.
Modification of weapons and restraint on resort to guns by paramilitary forces is equally needed in Pakistan where the military is too quick to gun down its designated terrorists. Killing opponents, even of Taliban variety, only produces more of them. What’s more important is that Pakistan should de-fang its mullahs, madrassas and hotheads in military to prepare the ground for a dialogue with India.
An all-out Indo-Pak dialogue, which has a large constituency in both countries, must be revived even though the prevailing circumstances are far from propitious. Nevertheless the upcoming Indus Waters talks with both sides participating offer a straw worth clutching at. Talks on the sidelines could keep the window open for a dialogue in not too distant a future.
The author is a freelance journalist, SAARC supporter, and author of ‘Partition, Jihad and Peace’ and other writings.