The shooting in Srinagars Bemina area on Wednesday,in which at least five CRPF personnel were killed,shattered the hard-won silence of three years of peace. Since the fidayeen attack on Lal Chowk in January 2010,the Valley had seen relative calm. Wednesdays incident was a grim throwback to an era that was thought to have passed. The calm of three years appeared to melt away,without making a larger difference to this story.
The Bemina attack came on a day when separatist groups had called for a shutdown across the Valley,demanding that Afzal Gurus body be returned. Gurus hanging last month had unleashed protests across the state,tapping into insecurities that the last three years had done nothing to dispel. Yet,when the Omar Abdullah government came to power after the 2008 assembly elections,which saw a healthy voter turnout,the state had seemed poised for change. Militancy had been on the wane since the 2002 assembly elections,despite sporadic conflagrations,and after 2008,the focus had shifted to unarmed civilian agitations. Abdullahs National Conference was part of the UPA,which meant the state government was better placed to negotiate with the Centre. Now,more than ever,it seemed possible to rework the pact between the government and the people,to consolidate this newfound peace. That did not happen. In spite of panchayat elections being held in 2011,the states local government institutions remain weak,with the Abdullah administration holding back on the devolution of powers and the killings of sarpanches triggering waves of resignations from local bodies. Old hurts,like the Pathribal encounter and enforced disappearances,still fester. The back and forth on AFSPA continues,even as a new state police bill proposes to give the police administrative and discretionary powers of the kind the army has under AFSPA. The deep-rooted mistrust between the government and the people is reflected in the curfew that greets every protest or tense situation. Dissent is dealt with by clamping down on channels of information.
Kashmirs window of peace was a chance to address the causes of discontent instead of treating the symptoms as law and order problems. Post Bemina,the security cordons will close in again. But the government must reach beyond them and engage with the people if it wants a more lasting peace.