The killing of five CRPF jawans in Kashmir by militants is a reminder of the challenge in the Valley that awaits the re-elected Modi government. The five men were on picket duty in Anantnag when two men on a motorcycle fired at them. One of the attackers was also killed, and police have said he is a “foreigner”.
The attack has been claimed by a long-defunct organisation called al Umar, active in the 1990s and headed by Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, one of the three men exchanged with the Taliban at Kandahar in 1999 for the IC 814 hostages. The attack came four months after 40 CRPF jawans were killed in an attack claimed by Jaish e Mohammed, leading to an unprecedented Indian air attack inside Pakistan.
In this period, India succeeded in having Masood Azhar listed as an international terrorist, and the India-Pakistan relationship itself is seen to have changed. In Kashmir, police took out several militants in encounters, including the alleged mastermind of the Pulwama attack, and the number of youth joining militant groups is said to have come down. The latest incident shows that militancy continues to take a heavy toll.
The timing, three weeks before the Amarnath Yatra is set to commence, is not insignificant — the attack took place on the road that connects Anantnag to Pahalgam, one of the two places from which the pilgrimage is accessed. Last year saw the government deploying over 40,000 CRPF personnel for security to the yatris after the 2017 incident in which seven pilgrims were killed when militants fired at their bus. This year, the security considerations have only gone up.
Governor Satya Pal Malik has appealed to militants to engage with him in dialogue. While such an appeal has its merits, it is without meaning unless the government acknowledges that there is a problem in Kashmir, and that this problem is a deep-rooted alienation. It cannot be resolved just by killing militants, slapping NIA cases against separatists and discrediting mainstream politicians, a vital link between the Centre and state, or even by cleaning up a corrupt system. The periodic assertions of the BJP-RSS ideological plank for demographic change in the Valley are only adding fuel to the fires. The latest fear in Kashmir is over a purported plan for delimitation of Assembly constituencies.
The NDA government would be well served by steering clear of divisive and polarising ideas that can only set the stage for more violence and alienation. The Centre has extended President’s Rule for another six months, but the priority should be to hold Assembly elections at the earliest. With his huge mandate, nothing stops Prime Minister Modi from taking bold steps to win the hearts and minds of Kashmir.