The surprise in Kashmir is not the death of pilgrims caught in the crossfire between militants and the forces trying to maintain law and order. Attacks have become routine, the reactions are predictable and the sequel will be the same as always — nothing will change. The new development this time has been that the separatists of the Hurriyat came out to condemn the killings. They put their names out publicly for their opposition to the attack on the pilgrims to Amarnath to be known.
The Kashmir tragedy has been so routinised and so predictable that nothing ever surprises any longer. The same actions and reactions take place. Every killing of a jihadist is followed by a huge crowd turning out for the funeral, and then more attacks. Hardliners want more to be killed and the moderates want more dialogue.
The first thing to learn from the latest events is that the jihadists are not the same as the Hurriyat. The jihadists are outsiders; if not actually from across the border. They have no loyalty to Kashmir or India. That is not the situation with the Hurriyat. They care for Kashmir. They have a desire for autonomy. Azadi does not mean breaking with India but autonomy for Kashmir in local matters. Kashmir raises such strong reactions that those who are in India, at a distance from Kashmir, want to label this as treason.
But few of the people who get cross with every new tragedy in Kashmir know or can recall what happened in the case of the Nagas. Upon Independence, the Nagas took the view that they were never a part of British India. So when the British left, they wanted their own nation-state. Jawaharlal Nehru refused to accept that stance. There was an open conflict between Naga rebels and the Indian government which ran for decades. The Naga leader (Angami Zapu) Phizo operated from his exile perch in London. But eventually, the Naga leaders signed an accord with India in Shillong. Of course, some Naga factions are still fighting for complete independence, but Nagaland is a state within the Indian Union. It is so integrated that the news is a challenge to the Chief Minister from a rival. How much more Indian can a situation be!
The war with Naga tribes was carried on, more or less, to the complete inattention of the Indian public. It did not arouse the passions Kashmir does. That is because the Nagaland dispute has no connection with Partition, while Kashmir dispute is interwoven with that traumatic event. Nagaland is on the other side from Pakistan. Indians were relaxed about the decades of military activity in the Northeast.
The schism between the jihadists and the Hurriyat needs to be seized upon by the government. Hurriyat are Indian people; the jihadists are not. The first move by the PDP-BJP coalition should be to offer high-level security to Hurriyat leaders. This may shock people but we must make it clear that even while many disagree with them, the Hurriyat leaders are Indian citizens. They are to be met with argument.
Kashmir needs patience to get right. A harder military approach will be urged. That has been tried since 1989. Time may have come to try something different.