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J&K: Focus delayed is opportunity denied

| PAVAN K. VARMA
Published : Aug 13, 2016, 11:36 pm IST
Updated : Aug 13, 2016, 11:36 pm IST

The beautiful valley of Kashmir is going through a phase of turbulence that should be a matter of concern to all political parties and all Indians.

The beautiful valley of Kashmir is going through a phase of turbulence that should be a matter of concern to all political parties and all Indians. For weeks now a curfew — partial or total — has been imposed. Several dozen lives have been lost, both of Kashmiris and of our police and the armed forces. Anger and alienation has spread like a deadly pall across the state. There seems to be an impasse of a kind that obstructs any possibility of light at the end of the tunnel. Rajya Sabha has discussed this state of affairs at length and it is a tribute to our democracy that, in spite of differences of approach among political parties, the Upper House has unanimously passed a resolution emphasising the importance of restoring peace and trust in the Valley.

What should be the future course of action There is a “hardline” view that brute force deployed by the state is the only answer to deal with the anti-nationalism that is often on display in Kashmir. Hardcore terrorists, who have the backing of Pakistan, who wave the Pakistani flag in rallies and lethally attack our armed forces, need to be dealt with remorselessly and by greater force. Certainly, militancy and terrorism — those openly espousing the cause of secession and unwilling to accept the supremacy of the Republic and its Constitution — cannot be given any quarter. But is the use of state force in perpetuity the only response we can think of to provide an enduring solution to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir

I would think not. statesmanship requires the ability to go beyond brittle simplicities that look at problems in only two categories of undifferentiated black and white. The crisis in J&K has complex origins and no simple solutions. Quite apart from years of neglect and flip-flops in policies, there is the verifiable, planned and continuous support to terrorism by Pakistan. What can be done in these circumstances I would suggest a four-point agenda for consideration.

Firstly, we must work to restore normalcy. This means that those who resort to violence and terrorism must be dealt with firmly. Our armed forces and the police are doing a very difficult job in highly adverse circumstances. Their morale and resolve must not be weakened. At the same time, the indiscriminate use of weapons like the pellet gun must be a reviewed. Dozens of young Kashmiris have been blinded and scores have been disfigured. Surely, the armed forces can acquire less lethal, but equally effective instruments for crowd control.

Secondly, we need to beef-up our abilities to prevent terrorist infiltration from Pakistan. While this is easier said than done, an effort has to be made and the requirements of our armed forces towards this end must be met expeditiously and on a sustained basis. At the same time, the sponsorship of terrorism should be made the principal focus of engagement with Pakistan. If Pakistan remains recalcitrant, then we should go all out to give this issue international resonance and enlist support from the US, which has considerable leverage in Pakistan, to apply the requisite pressure on that country.

Thirdly, the government, both at the state level and at the Centre, must work out a political roadmap that includes the vital elements of engagement and dialogue with the people of J&K.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently reiterated Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decade-old slogan of “insaniyat, jamhooriyat and kashmiriyat”. Although much delayed, the reiteration is welcome, but what is the follow up When the BJP-PDP alliance was formed, in March 2015 they released an 11-page “Agenda for Alliance” mapping out the future course of action. It explicitly refers to a “sustained and meaningful dialogue process with all internal stakeholders which include political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections”, thereby including the Hurriyat.

Has any attempt been made to pursue this explicitly stated goal Even if we concede that there is little to be gained by talking to people like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was an effort made to identify other less inflexible interlocutors who are and more amenable to discussion — including segments outside the Hurriyat, opinion makers and youth representatives I think that however difficult this process may be, the effort has to be made. The PM’s meeting in New Delhi with leaders of all political parties on Friday was a good beginning, and it should be followed up, as a first step, by the visit of an all-party delegation to J&K.

Fourthly, urgent steps need to be taken to expedite development in J&K. The unprecedented floods last year have taken a heavy toll, both on infrastructure and livelihoods. It is estimated that two-thirds of all Kashmiris are around the age of 30, of which roughly half are unemployed. On November 7, 2015, the PM had announced a “Diwali” gift of `80,000 crores for the state. While roughly half of it was meant for roads and highway projects, a significant amount was also allocated to flood relief, power, health, agriculture, food processing and tourism. How much of this money has been spent If this outlay is to be spent over five years, can we think of fast-tracking key sectors, especially those which rev up job creation and incomes

The co-option processes of the Indian sstate have a great seduction. It is instructive to remember that since 1947 not a single secessionist movement has succeeded in India. Equally important is the fact that we have shown the maturity to negotiate with even those who have questioned the primacy of the Indian state — witness our interactions with rebel groups in Nagaland, Assam and even Punjab. A tough stand against Maoists has not inhibited us from reaching out to those among them who wish to return to the mainstream. It is time we focused in a concentrated manner on J&K and try to apply the healing touch to win back the hearts and minds of the people of J&K. The BJP-PDP government should try and overcome its internal contradictions and work to achieve this goal.

The writer, an author and former diplomat, is a member of the JD(U)