The Kashmir valley has been on a precipice, with frequent encounters resulting in the killing of militants by security forces, accompanied by a steady flow to militancy from the local populace, disruption of security operations by protesters sympathetic to the militants and no let-up in Pakistan’s efforts to foment instability. The incidents of stone-pelting at school children and tourists have been a reminder that the protesters are at best leaderless and at worst acting at the behest of the Pakistanis and their proxies. The failure of the PDP-BJP alliance to bridge the divide between Jammu and the Valley and move towards “a national reconciliation on J&K”, as stipulated in their Agenda for Alliance, was starkly evident yet again following the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua.
Against this backdrop, some recent developments have come as a ray of hope. The coalition partners agreeing to halt offensive security operations during Ramzan despite initial differences is a welcome step. Greater cohesion between them and implementing wholeheartedly the Agenda for Alliance can restore the credibility of the coalition government. The home minister has signalled the Centre’s willingness to talk to the Hurriyat, if it is comes forward to do so. There are signs of a thaw in the Indo-Pak relations, culminating in the apparently choreographed agreement between the DGMOs to fully implement the ceasefire understanding of 2003. However, even as we look for ways to end the ongoing turmoil in J&K, we should not lose sight of the need to build durable peace in the state.
Doing the same thing over and over cannot bring different results. Our reaction to each outbreak of militancy has been more or less the same. Use of force, which admittedly is unavoidable under such circumstances, followed by the appointment of an interlocutor/interlocutors and some largely symbolic measures to address the grievances of the people. We forget that Pakistan fishes in the troubled waters of our own making and ought to be denied that opportunity by winning the hearts and minds of our people. In this context, the PDP-BJP Agenda for Alliance states that neither economic development nor “a political process” by itself could bring about peace and prosperity. It calls for “sequencing the two and striking the right balance between them”. In reality, we have neither managed to give the desired momentum to development, partly because of the disturbed conditions nor taken the political steps necessary to build lasting peace.
While we have a solid national consensus on J&K being an integral part of India, we have no consensus on how to make it truly so. The country can speak in one voice with General Bipin Rawat (IE, May 10) that “azadi”, if it means secession from the Indian Union, will never happen. But beyond that, we speak in divergent voices. The approach advocated by different segments of our political class has ranged from use of an iron fist and abrogation of Article 370 to “laptops and not stones in the hands of the Kashmiri youth”, “Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhuriyat”, making the LoC irrelevant and the sky being the limit to autonomy within the Constitution.
Our national endeavour has remained focussed largely on dousing the fires of each spell of unrest. This is true of the all-party meetings on J&K and the all-party delegations dispatched to the state from time to time and has constituted a significant part of the work of our interlocutors. The prime minister’s utterances during his recent visit to the state also focussed on ending the ongoing turbulence and promising development. Restoring calm is no doubt essential to working on long-term measures. However, no credible initiative to build durable peace can be taken without a political consensus. Such a consensus will also enhance our credibility in the eyes of those we talk to in J&K.
Appointing successive interlocutors is not going to bring forth any fresh ideas and lacks credibility because of the past reports, including an elaborate framework proposed by the Group of Interlocutors appointed in 2010, gathering dust. Forging a consensus on a way forward should be one of the top priorities of our political class. We can surely accommodate greater autonomy for J&K within the framework of the Constitution, while safeguarding our territorial integrity. Let us not forget that even if we manage to restore normalcy for the time being, inaction on building durable peace may leave us staring at another phase of turmoil.