After a recent visit to Kashmir, defence minister Arun Jaitley said talks could take place only after the violence ends.
Two important observations on Kashmir in recent days, by top leaders of the government and the ruling party, underline a state of incomprehension of the issues at hand. They also constitute the official narrative of denial by the Narendra Modi government of the gravity of the situation at hand.
If that remains the case for long, policy initiatives will continue to be elusive, popular discontent in the Valley — already unconscionably high — can escalate, and Pakistan’s path will be eased in exploiting Kashmir internationally at a time when the administration of US President Donald Trump is seeking to formulate its thinking on issues regarding India and Pakistan.
After a recent visit to Kashmir, defence minister Arun Jaitley said talks could take place only after the violence ends. He also noted that only the southern districts of the Valley are affected but the media gives the impression that Kashmir is in flames. Later, BJP president Amit Shah also insisted that violence must end before talks can commence.
Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, who understands the Valley and is ordinarily sensitive to its concerns, has said in an exclusive interview to PTI that the Atal Behari Vajpayee government had initiated talks, but Kargil was the result.
This is a clear misreading. The Kargil war was triggered by the Pakistan Army because Prime Minister Vajpayee had opened talks with the Pakistan government, not when he engaged the Kashmiris, although the latter effort did lead to the killing of an iconic Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander with whom his government had established contact.
Three days ago, a prominent HM leader, Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, was killed by the security forces in the Tral area of South Kashmir but violent protests also erupted in Srinagar and some other places. Suspension of Internet services across the Valley has followed. A two-day bandh was called by separatists. Only months earlier, northern Kashmir districts were fully in the grip of violence. The problem isn’t confined to the southern areas. Seeking to minimise its scale cannot aid solution.
Sometimes discussions are made conditional on cessation of violence when a single armed group calls the shots and a military stalemate is stalling resolution. This isn’t the case in Kashmir. The ISI-nurtured HM is not suing for terms. In the absence of an ideological counter-narrative, HM’s pro-Pakistan ideology is affecting large sections of young Kashmiris, who are out protesting in villages, towns and outside schools and colleges in disturbingly high numbers. Their stone-pelting protests are violent, and often lethal, but the mobs are not led by anyone in particular. Is the government asking the children to stop before it begins talks? They can’t be called for talks in any case — they have no nameplates. The official insistence is misplaced and will be counter-productive.