Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Kashmir policy has hit a blank wall. The hope that a PDP-BJP government would be able to deliver an elusive peace was soon belied. The situation in the valley is fast deteriorating. For the first time, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), had indicted India. Pakistan was also targeted for abuse in PoK. The UN has called for an independent investigation. India has denied the allegations and called it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated.’’ Any government would do that. But it is time now for the authorities to take a long hard look at its policy and do a course correction as the current militarist policy is not paying dividends.
The Ramadan ceasefire announced by the government was a welcome first step. There was a sliver of hope, a small opening that could be used to stop the blood-letting. With the Amarnath yatra about to begin around June 28, the government was perhaps thinking of extending the ceasefire. A ceasefire, which could lead to a temporary lull, is certainly NOT what the terror outfits want. They want to provoke and they certainly succeeded yesterday.
The brutal gunning down of Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir, a well-respected senior journalist of Kashmir last evening was a blow. This, followed by the discovery of the body of young Aurangzeb, the Rashtriya Rifles soldier who had gone home on leave for Eid, has exposed once again the brutality of the conflict in Kashmir. Aurangzeb, who had taken part in a number of anti-terrorist operation was always a marked man. When news of his abduction by armed militants came in, locals familiar with the ways of the terror outfits knew his was fate sealed. All Kashmiris working for the government are targets. So are alleged informers.
After yesterday’s killings, there will be a huge question mark about continuing the ceasefire beyond Eid. This is much like what happens when terror strikes are organised to disrupt any attempt at peace making between India and Pakistan. Former prime minister Atal Behari’s Lahore visit was followed by the Kargil intrusions. Narendra Modi made a sincere effort in 2015, stopping by in Lahore on his way back from Afghanistan on Christmas Day. That was followed by the Pathankot and Uri strikes s, which dealt a death blow to any peace initiatives by Modi and Sharif. Now with a live Loc, and daily reports of civilians killed on both sides of the border, the situation has slipped further. Pakistan is in election mode, and a caretaker government is in place. India goes to polls next summer. So, India-Pakistan talks will remain in the back burner.
Successive chief ministers of Kashmir have always called for talks with Pakistan for peace in the valley. Mehbooba Mufti is no exception. She had earlier been urging Delhi to do so. Pakistan is an important player in the Kashmir equation. Yes, normalisation of ties with Pakistan is important, as sections within the Pakistan Army, mainly its spy agency the Inter Services Intelligence wants to keep Kashmir on the boil. But Kashmir is not just about Pakistan. Islamabad will certainly fish in troubled waters. But India needs to put its house in order for enemy powers not to take advantage of it.
The only way forward is by talking to all sections of people who are stakeholders in for peace. Last year, the Centre named Dineshwar Sharma, a former IB chief as its points person to begin talks with all stake holders. In November 2017, he visited Srinagar. Hurriyat predictably refused to meet him. He did meet non-political groups. But that was the last we have heard of this effort. It is time for the government to work through the back channels and begin the process of discussion. A man like A S Dulat, a former RAW chief, who after retirement was working in the Vajpayee PMO, had done much through his extensive contacts in the valley, to get Kashmiri militants to return home from POK. Like Vajapayee, Dulat’s huge experience can be used by Modi to cool temperatures and get things moving. It is imperative for the PM to get back to the drawing board and start work afresh.
The former UPA government under Manmohan Singh had a three-member team to begin a dialogue. Late Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M M Ansari came out with an extensive report, which gathered dust. The UPA did nothing about it.
The fresh bout of violence in Kashmir began with the killing of Burhan Wani, a young Hizbul Mujahideen commander, who was killed in an encounter by security forces in July 2016. Ever since, the valley has been in flames. Most governments want talks from a position of strength, that is after security forces have broken the back of militants. Delhi, perhaps, was also waiting for such an opportunity. India has lost much goodwill in the valley, and there is no time to waste. It is now time for cool heads to deliberate on how to stop the spiralling violence in the state and create an atmosphere for dialogue. It will be tough as Pakistan will try to provoke. The pilgrims getting ready for the Amarnath Yatra will be a target, as any attempt at peace in the valley will always be disrupted by terror designs.