There is a feeling of general outrage after the terrorist attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama close to Srinagar in Kashmir in which 42 paramilitary troopers were killed and some injured. The attack was carried out by the Jaish-e-Mohamad module (it claimed responsibility) in which a suicide bomber crashed a car laden with explosives into the 78-vehicle convoy travelling from Jammu to Srinagar. This follows audacious attacks carried out by Pakistan based outfits on an Indian Army camp in Uri and an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in 2016.
The Pakistani national who Indian agencies said was a mastermind of the latest attack has been killed in counter action by Indian security forces. There is, however, widespread demand for more action against the militant groups based in Pakistan and their supporters in Kashmir. Militancy has become a major point of conflict between India and Pakistan. The Indian government was further annoyed by the response of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who instead of condemning the attack and promising action asked for credible proof before action could be taken. He totally ignored series of dossiers provided to Pakistan authorities after the Mumbai attack or attack on the Pathankot base.
It is no secret that the Indian security forces will have to take appropriate action against Pakistan at the time and date of their choosing . The Government of India has given free hand to the forces in matter of tactics. But at the same time an unfortunate trend has been observed like attacks on Kashmiri traders and students staying and working in different parts of the country. This is condemnable and should be put down with a heavy hand. After all, as we claim in one voice that Kashmir is a part of India, we also should own up Kashmiri people as part of India in one voice.
Kashmir has held several free and fair elections to elect members of the state assembly and faced open attacks as well as guerrilla warfare for several decades. We have been able to defeat them because a majority of Kashmiri people chose to side with India and helped us by providing information about the intruders from Pakistan and local militants. As a result of it in majority of cases persons involved in any major attack have been neutralised. As such we should understand that we not only need to use force to neutralise militants but at same time make every effort to win hearts and minds of Kashmiri people.
No amount of force can hold any territory nor it is desirable to hold any territory by force only. The lesson of Kashmir has been that it chose to be a part of India by its own will because it wanted to be a part of secular India and not join Pakistan because of its religious link only. The first resistance was offered to Pakistan’s attempt to occupy Kashmir by force was provided by Sheikh Abdullah and men belonging to the National Conference before Indian troops could reach Kashmir Valley.
This correspondent, who has covered Kashmir for over two decades, saw the local people provided first information about attempts at cross-border incursions in 1965 when the the Pakistani army backed irregulars had reached some parts of city including one colony close to police lines. The same story was repeated in 1971 when a war broke out between India and Pakistan on the issue of Bangladesh leading to division of Pakistan and capture of over 100,000 Pakistani soldiers by Indian forces.
As such we have to realise that the battle between India and Pakistan on Kashmir can be won not only by bravery and zeal of Indian forces but also by winning battle for hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. It is no secret that in the last two years the situation in Kashmir has not been normal and also witnessed a rise in recruitment of locals in ranks of militants. This situation needs to be changed.
Along with action by security forces we also need political action to attend to all grievances of the local people. As Jammu and Kashmir is under central rule, it is the responsibility of the central government to undertake this task. It should try to control militancy and restore peace. Whenever good governance was provided in the past progress was made.
Kashmir under the Indian constitution has been provided a special status through Article 370 and an assurance needs to be given that this will be maintained. The same in some form has been provided to the Northeast also. These mechanism only strengthen the integrity of the nation as India is an example of unity amidst diversity.
(The author is a veteran journalist and commentator)