By Brig Anil Gupta
Even after withdrawing support to the PDP-led government in Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh repeatedly stated that the present central government is committed to look for a solution that will usher a permanent era of peace in trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unambiguous statement from the ramparts of Red Fort stating that Kashmiris need to be won over not by “goli” (bullets) but through hugs (“Gale se lagakar”) had a very important underlying message. India does not need only the territory of J&K, which is ours, but also needs to win over the confidence of Kashmiris. The worst sufferers from turmoil in J&K are the people from Jammu because the economy of the two regions is intricately linked. Lasting peace in J&K is in the interest of all regions of the state because holistic development of the state cannot happen without lasting peace.
The belief that terrorism must be brought under control to create an environment for negotiations was the main cause for launch of Operation All Out. Synchronised and synthesised operations launched by the Indian Army, central armed police forces and the J&K Police broke the backbone of terrorism in Kashmir. Terror outfits were left leaderless and short of resources. While security forces took care to avoid collateral damage, the intensity of operations and use of built up areas as hideouts by terrorists did cause some discomfort to local residents.
This was believed to be causing anger and alienation among the local people. The separatists and soft separatists brought out a manufactured narrative that excesses committed by the security forces were compelling local youth to pick up the gun and join the rank and file of terrorist tanzims, mainly the local Hizbul Mujahideen (HM).
Pakistan-sponsored proxy war and jihadi terror continues to add fuel to the fire and ensured that J&K continues to burn, so that locals are denied the peace dividend and the area remains in continuous conflict.
The Modi government made a surprise announcement of temporary and conditional cessation of operations by the security forces during the holy month of Ramadan effective from May 16. The government decision had a mixed response. Many felt it would provide much needed breathing space to the terrorist tanzims to re-equip, relocate, train and regain control.
The civil society in Kashmir largely welcomed the decision and some termed it as “bold and path breaking.” The government was clear in its intent and wanted to give a chance to the Kashmiris who were lobbying for peace. Ordinary people in Kashmir were pleased at the prospect of a peaceful month of holy fasting and repentance, without the hardships of cordons and searches. The government of India committed itself to give peace a chance. To my mind, it was a strategic decision.
Despite grave provocations from Pakistan and adverse media publicity, the government remained steadfast in its decision to give peace a chance. Terrorist violence increased during this period. Realising that lasting peace was not possible as long as aggrieved parties did not sit across the table and hold a dialogue, the government called all aggrieved parties to come forward for discussion, within the framework of the Constitution.
Despite the increase in terrorist violence, ordinary people in J&K are happy with the cessation of operations. This sent shockwaves to those who thrive on the instability in J&K.
Singh’s invitation to “right-minded people” created a dilemma in their minds. The choice for those seeking instability is between jihad and peace.
That security forces did not launch any major operation during the ceasefire. Yet reports of Kashmiri youth joining militancy continued to pour in, shredding the myth that excesses committed by security forces were responsible for youth picking up the gun. There must be other reasons which Kashmiri society is deliberately ignoring or is not willing to accept.
There is no denying that numerous mistakes have been made in the past which have compounded the problem rather than leading to its resolution. Many mistakes were deliberate as well. But for how long can we remain embedded in the past? In order to move forward, the baggage of past will have to be shed.
The moot question is - Do Kashmiris want peace? The vast majority wants peace. The ceasefire brought a smile on the faces of those whose livelihood depends on tourism. Local craftsmen are happy to find buyers for their products. But a lobby of power brokers, whose existence depends on keeping the Kashmir issue alive, are the biggest hurdle to peace and stability in Kashmir.
Just as the Church in the early 1970s worked to negotiate for peace after two decades of bloody China-backed insurgency in Nagaland and adjoining areas, so the Ulema and Muslim clergy in J&K must push for peace efforts.
By 1964, when the insurgency in Nagaland made ordinary people’s lives miserable, Baptist churches leader there decided not to remain spectators but to bring peace in Nagaland. Church leaders first brought both the Naga underground representatives and the Indian government to the dialogue table.
A similar initiative from Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and others can go a long way in restoring peace in the Valley. The initiative rests with the Kashmiri Awam (people). No insurgency or militancy can sustain itself without public support. The local population is the centre of gravity for militancy to flourish. If the people decides to boycott militancy, it will diminish.
A similar fate awaits Pakistan - sponsored terrorism without public support. Mirwaiz’s acceptance to assume the mantle of restoring peace, coupled with the resolve of the awam, is a likely formula for returning Kashmir to its pristine glory.
To begin with the pro-peace leadership will have to develop a vision like that of Laldenga who later brokered peace to ensure that Mizoram today is one of the most peaceful states in the country. Once Laldenga decided to negotiate, he never backed down on all his demands. He scaled them down from outright secession to accepting autonomy within the bounds of the Indian Union.
In its urge for peace in the Valley, the central government will have to ensure that they do not concede beyond a limit that would go against the interests of the other two regions of the state. However, the need of the hour is to give peace a chance.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator and security analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)