On Friday, while addressing the Police Commemoration Day, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told the police to work towards bringing the local militants back into the political mainstream and ensure they pick up “bat and ball”. She reasoned that instead of killing local militants in encounters, police should reach out to them and bring them back home.
Coming from the Chief Minister himself, this counsel assumes an uncommon significance. Has state government embarked on a new policy on tackling militancy in the state? Will there now be an institutional effort to engage local militants and their families to persuade them to drop arms? At least, this is what Mehbooba has let on in her speech.
The possible rethink on tackling the local component of Kashmir insurgency is driven by the still unfolding fallout of the killing of popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Over the past more than 100 days, the government has had to kill 94 people, blind several hundred and injure more than 14000 to put down the runaway uprising that followed Burhan's killing in an encounter.
The Government has since appeared to repent the decision to kill Burhan. The leaders have made an effort to distance themselves from the killing. No less than the CM herself told the media that the government forces would not have killed Burhan if they knew he was inside the house. And the senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Beigh has accused some officers of J&K Police of killing Burhan at the behest of National Conference.
The thinking that seems to have taken root as a result is that rather than rushing to kill the local militants, the government should try to persuade them to give up the path of militancy. This is an approach that has found takers in New Delhi too. While new dispensation at the centre has been loath to engage Hurriyat, there has been a certain openness about a direct outreach to youth. And as Mehbooba has indicated, the local militants also seem to be the target of this new approach.
However, the problem with this approach is that it once again seeks to address a tiny aspect of the symptom of an overarching problem. It is more about reaching out to a smattering of individuals, and persuading them to give up the extreme path they have chosen, which may or may not work.
As the centre’s policy so far to the current unrest shows, it has exclusively relied on the use of force to put it down. After a feeble attempt at a political engagement in the first weeks of the unrest, New Delhi has given up all pretence of any outreach. Fidayeen attack at Uri which killed 19 soldiers and the subsequent surgical strikes have taken the attention further away from the deteriorating situation in Kashmir. But this, in no way, has ushered in normalcy even though it might have moderated the intensity of the protests. The force alone, as the past three months have once again proved, will make no difference to the political underpinnings of the current situation. Nor will the anticipated outreach to the local militants. More so, when government has little to offer than a return to political mainstream and a gift of bat and ball.
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