Updated: March 3, 2015 12:00:15 am
Less than an hour into his second term in office, J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed found himself hung from the lofty scales of prime-time television. The outrage focused on his assertion, on Sunday, that Pakistan and what he called its assets — the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, and jihadists — “allowed the atmosphere to become conducive” for elections. In response, the Congress attacked Sayeed for his purported “unflinching support for Pakistan, Hurriyat and [the] militants”. Former CM Omar Abdullah demanded an explanation from the BJP. Elements of India’s easily-outraged Twitter community were soon demanding Sayeed’s trial for treason. Bizarre as it might seem for a CM to be thanking Pakistan for the favour of not sponsoring terrorism, though, Sayeed’s remarks need to be read in their context.
From a peak of 4,507 terrorism-related fatalities in 2001, the number fell to 193 last year. Less violence has meant higher voter turnout each time, in 2002, 2008 and 2014. The decline began in 2001, when intense US pressure led General Pervez Musharraf’s regime to scale back its support for the Kashmir jihad. Faced with international pressure, and fearing an economy-destroying military crisis with India, his successors have largely stayed the course. For the last year, though, there have been mounting doubts over Pakistan’s intentions. In the build-up to the elections, India had pushed the US to pressure Pakistan to ensure terrorists were reined in. New Delhi’s decision to resume secretary-level talks with Islamabad is, in part, the outcome of the successful elections.
Of course, like his predecessor, Sayeed hopes to harvest political capital from pushing dialogue with Pakistan, the secessionists and the jihadists to centrestage. By doing so, the CM — like his predecessor — hopes to win the backing of their not-insignificant constituency of supporters within Kashmir, much as he did with pro-Hizbul-Mujahideen polemic in 2002. But in doing so, the CM is at risk of appearing out of touch with the political landscape in which he holds power. Politicians in the region have long claimed they could not deliver on development because of disturbed conditions. Talks, they have argued, were a precondition for effective governance. But this excuse will no longer wash with voters, who want corruption confronted, the economy energised. It is unfortunate that the new CM’s speech had so little detail on the issues that touch people’s everyday lives.
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