Search for a lasting peace in Kashmir

Brig Anil Gupta
The Home Minister of India  Rajnath Singh has repeatedly stated that the present Modi-led Government is committed to look for a solution that will usher a permanent era of peace in the trouble torn Kashmir. Prime Minister Modi’s unambiguous statement from the ramparts of Red Fort stating that Kashmiris need to be won over not by “Goli” but through embracement (Gale se lagakar) had a very important underlying message. We do not need only the territory of Kashmir, which in any case is ours, but also need to win over the confidence of Kashmiris to restore Kashmir to its pristine glory. The worst sufferers due to turmoil in Kashmir are the people from Jammu because the economy of the two regions is intricately linked. Thus, lasting peace in Kashmir is in the interest of all the regions of the state because holistic development of the state cannot be undertaken without a lasting peace.
The belief that terrorism has to be brought under control to create an environment for negotiations was the main cause for launch of Operation All Out. It goes to the credit of Indian Army, Central Armed Police Forces and the J&K Police that the synchronised and synthesised operations launched by them broke the back bone of terrorism in Kashmir. The terror outfits were left leaderless and short of resources. While the security forces took utmost care to avoid co-lateral damage yet the intensity of the operations and use of built up areas as hide outs by the terrorists did cause certain amount of discomfort to the local residents as well. This to some extent was believed to be causing anger and alienation among the local people. Many in Kashmir, particularly the separatists and soft separatists, came out with a manufactured narrative that excesses committed by the security forces were compelling the local youth to pick up the gun and join the rank and file of terrorist tanzims, mainly the local tanzim Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). Pakistan sponsored proxy war and jihadi terror continues to add fuel to the fire and ensured that Kashmir cauldron continues to burn so that the locals are denied the dividend of peace and the area remains in continuous conflict.
At this juncture the Modi Government came out with surprise announcement of temporary and conditional cessation of operations by the security forces during the holy month of Ramzan effective from 16 May. The decision of the Government was greeted with mixed response. Many felt that that this would provide the much needed breathing space to the terrorist tanzeems to reequip, relocate, train and regain command and control. The civil society in Kashmir largely welcomed the decision and some even termed it as “bold and path breaking.” It appears the Government was clear in its vision and intent and wanted to give a chance to the large section of Kashmiris who were lobbying for peace. The common masses in Kashmir were pleased at the prospect of a peaceful month of holy fasting and repentance without bearing the hardships of cordons and searches. The Government of India committed itself to give peace a chance. To my mind, it was a strategic decision.
It must go to the credit of the Government that despite grave provocations from Pakistan and its stooges and adverse media publicity it did not dither and remained steadfast in its decision to give peace a chance. There is no denying the fact that terrorist violence increased during this period. Realising fully well that lasting peace was not possible as long as the aggrieved parties did not sit across the table and had a dialogue. The Government therefore called upon all the aggrieved parties to come forward for discussion albeit within the framework of the Constitution. Despite the increase in terrorist violence, the common masses in Kashmir, “AWAM” are happy with the ongoing cessation of operations. There is a groundswell of goodwill towards the Government. This has sent  shockwaves in the camps of those manipulators and power brokers in Kashmir who thrive purely on the instability in Kashmir. They are hell bent on putting spokes in the process of restoration of peace. But the Government has played its cards well. Very soon those who are opposed to the peace process will be exposed and Kashmiris will have to dump them forever if they desire to live in peace. Home Minister’s open invitation to “right-minded people” and not necessarily “like-minded people” has created a dilemma in the minds of the manipulators. Either way their sincerity towards the Kashmiri people who are yearning for peace is under the scanner. The Government is even contemplating of extending the duration to give enough time to these people to make up their mind and take the process to its logical conclusion. The choice for them is between “Jihad” and “Peace”.
The fact that security forces have not launched any major operation during  the last three weeks and yet the reports of Kashmiri youth joining the militancy continued to pour in has shred to pieces the myth that excesses committed by the security forces were responsible for the youth picking up the gun. There have to be other reasons which the Kashmiri society is deliberately ignoring or is not willing to accept. Time is ripe to look within. There is no denying the fact that numerous mistakes have been made in the past which have compounded the problem rather than leading to its resolution. Many mistakes were deliberate as well. But for how long can we remain embedded in the past? In order to move forward, the past will have to be ignored. The baggage of the past will have to be shed for a brighter and better future.
The moot question is, “Do Kashmiris want peace?” The vast majority wants peace and the current gesture of the government has kindled their hopes. For the first time after a long time the tourism in Kashmir is looking up. The local economy is on the upswing. There is a smile on the faces of those whose entire livelihood depends on tourism. The local crafts men are happy to find buyers for their products.But there is a powerful lobby of manipulators and power brokers whose existence depends solely on keeping the Kashmir issue alive. They are the biggest hurdle to peace and stability in Kashmir. For how long this minority can hold to ransom the majority desirous of peace. In this regard the lead will have to be taken by the Ulemas, moulavis, muftis, imams, and other religious heads to unite the Kashmiris and negotiate on their behalf. There can be no better person than the Mirwaiz.
Recall the role played by the Church in early seventies to negotiate for peace after two decades of bloody China-backed insurgency in Nagaland and adjoining areas.Though the rebellion began in 1956, it gained momentum after creation of Nagaland state in 1963. The rebels labelled the creation of state as “a puppet of the central government” and intensified their operations. The security forces responded with more vigour and violence. Thus by 1964 the day to day life of the common people in Nagaland became very difficult and uncertain. At this juncture the Baptist churches leader in Nagaland decided not to remain mere spectators but to do something to bring peace in Nagaland. It was the church leaders who first brought both the Naga underground representatives and the Indian Government to the table of dialogue and agreement. They made the people observe peace in Nagaland by stopping violence from both sides. The continuous effort of the church brokered a peace accord in 1975 known as Shillong Accord. It was the harbinger of peace in trouble torn Nagland and the other areas in North East. People at least began to live normal life thereafter. A similar initiative from Mirwaiz & Co. can go a long way in restoring peace in the Valley. Likely that all the groups may not participate in peace process but the remnants can always be tackled by the State. A sincere beginning has to be made.
The initiative rests with the Kashmiri Awam. No insurgency or militancy can sustain itself without public support. The local population is the centre of gravity for militancy to flourish. At the same time a militant without public support is like a fish out of water. If the awam decides to boycott militancy, it automatically will diminish. Similar will be the fate of Pak sponsored terrorism without public support. The Mirwaiz & Co’s acceptance to take upon themselves the mantle of restoring peace coupled with the resolve of the awam is a likely formula for returning Kashmir to its pristine glory. To begin with the pro-peace leadership will have to develop a vision like that of once a Mizo hardliner Laldenga who later brokered peace to ensure that Mizoram today is one of the most peaceful states in the country. Once Laldenga decided to negotiate he never backed down on all his demands. He only scaled them down from outright secession to accepting autonomy within the bounds of the Indian Union.
The Government of India in its urge for peace in the Valley will have to ensure that they do not concede beyond a limit that would be against the aspirations and interests of the other two regions of the state. Nevertheless, the need of the hour is to give peace a chance.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)


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