Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is right — India and Pakistan must talk. Her statement in the J&K Assembly was an anguished appeal for plain common sense. Unfortunately, common sense seems to be in short supply. That is why she prefixed her plea with the assertion that she does not care if she is labelled “anti-national” for saying this. She knows better than anyone else that the situation in her state has deteriorated on three fronts. First, there has been a sharp increase in ceasefire violations on the Line of Control. Second, infiltration from across the border is continuing.
And third, neither attacks by militants nor even the number of militants has decreased despite police and security forces killing over 200 of them. When the PDP and BJP came together to form the ruling alliance in 2015, both parties agreed that India-Pakistan dialogue, and talks between all “internal stakeholders”, were essential for peace in Kashmir.
While the Narendra Modi government has steadfastly refused to hold “internal” talks, the Pathankot rebuff to the PM’s Lahore visit, followed by the Uri attack, has made even talk about talks taboo, at least for public consumption — as this newspaper has reported, the National Security Advisers have held regular meetings. But there are limits to how much secret talks between top security officials can do to alleviate the situation.
The cutting off of all public engagement, as has been evident since the Mumbai attacks, is not just a policy of diminishing returns, it also robs India of a platform at which to present its concerns with Pakistan. It makes no sense that India should on the one hand stand firm that all issues between the two countries have to be resolved bilaterally, and on the other refuse to have talks. Sadly, the only conclusion from the government’s reluctance to make any effort towards dialogue is that the deaths on the LoC and the terrorism and militancy in Kashmir are less worrisome to it than the perceived political risk of talking to Pakistan. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has warned that “Pakistan will pay” for the Sanjuwan attack. BJP rhetoric after the Army’s well-publicised post-Uri strike across the LoC was that it had “taught Pakistan a lesson”, but events have arguably proved otherwise. A responsible government should be able to tell the people that war is not an option, as it will mean more destruction, more deaths of soldiers and people.
It is also unfortunate that the Minister Sitharaman should blame the “demography” of the neighbourhood around Sanjuwan for the attack. J&K is communally polarised, and Jammu has become more so in the last four years. The last thing the country needs is more divisions among the people.