The Centre’s direction to security forces to halt anti-militancy operations in Kashmir during the month of Ramzan is a welcome and long-awaited move. It provides an opportunity for the first time in three years — since the current phase of militancy began — to make efforts towards preventing further bloodshed.
From January 1, the security forces have killed 270 militants, lost 139 of their own, and the civilian death toll is 145. Each person killed, militant or civilian, has been buried in massively attended funerals, motivating others to take up arms. From April 1 alone, according to information with the police, 18 youth took up arms. That is exactly the number of militants killed in the same month. All this is taking place in a space that has been virtually abandoned by elected politicians and the J&K government. At the Centre, there was stubborn insistence that nothing more than well-applied force would bring an end to this “three-districts only” militancy.
But unlike in the 1990s, when most of the militants were from Pakistan, those getting killed in the encounters of the last three years were local youth, often trapped in the security dragnet within days of their picking up a gun.
How the ceasefire develops will depend on whether militant groups reciprocate the Centre’s gesture. And the pressure on the militants to accept and reciprocate this ceasefire has to come, first and foremost, from the people of Kashmir. In the week that it took for the Centre to respond to J&K’s call for a “ceasefire”, this much was evident: The people in Kashmir desperately wanted this break. But they have to make themselves heard, just as the Naga mothers did in the 1990s. The Lashkar-e-Toiba has already rejected the ceasefire, but the Hizbul Mujahideen has said nothing yet. The separatist troika of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omer Farooq and Yasin Malik, has called a month’s stoppage of hostilities a “cruel joke” and demanded permanent peace. How Pakistan reacts will provide an indication of not just the latest in the Pakistan Army’s playbook on Kashmir, but also the possibilities.
The last comparable suspension of anti-militancy operations was in 2000, under the prime ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Much has changed since then, including Pakistan and its circumstances, and India itself. The Modi government has acted counter-intuitively with this outreach in Kashmir. If it is not reciprocated or if it is sabotaged, it would work for the BJP as a self-fulfilling prophesy and entrench the crisis even more. But there is another step PM Modi can take to make it difficult for would-be saboteurs. When he visits J&K on Saturday, he should build on his gesture. From Srinagar, he must reach out to Pakistan with an offer of talks.