The terrible situation in the Kashmir valley and its continuing deterioration has been much commented on in both the state and national media, but with little impact on government policy. There is still no peace process, nor talks with dissidents; administration is feebler than ever and political leadership is yawningly absent. Meanwhile more and more youth are taking to the streets, including girls and protests have spread across urban and rural south Kashmir. Though confrontation between stone-pelters and security forces has reduced somewhat, both continue to be injured. Pandit transit colonies have been targeted. Armed attacks on security forces are growing and there have been a spate of bank robberies. Most recently five policemen and a young army officer were brutally murdered by militants, and Zakir Bhat of the Hizbul Mujahedeen, the successor to Burhan Wani, warned the Hurriyat to accept that the Kashmir conflict is a religious and not political issue or face retribution.
Horrific as the latter two developments are, they also open a small window of opportunity for a peace process. The senseless and brutal killing of Lieutenant Fayaz Parray, a young Kashmiri from Shopian who joined the Indian army, caused widespread shock in Kashmir as well as mainland India. The threats to the Hurriyat will again cause a backlash against the influence of ISIS type ideology. Some months ago most Kashmiris dismissed talks between the government and dissidents as pointless: today they might cautiously support them.
Why is our government so resolutely opposed to any of the possible peace initiatives which might help calm the situation? After all, several of these initiatives including dialogue with dissidents, self-rule and talks with Pakistan were agreed in the BJP-PDP Agenda of Alliance more than three years ago. The failure to act on any of those promises has led most people in the valley to believe that that agreement was made in bad faith
Why is our government so resolutely opposed to any of the possible peace initiatives which might help calm the situation? After all, several of these initiatives including dialogue with dissidents, self-rule and talks with Pakistan were agreed in the BJP-PDP Agenda of Alliance more than three years ago. The failure to act on any of those promises has led most people in the valley to believe that that agreement was made in bad faith, and it is difficult to disagree when so many ruling party spokesmen assert that there will be no talks with the Hurriyat.
Irrespective of motive, it is also true that there is no critical mass of public opinion in our country that would influence either government or the ruling party to take the steps they had earlier committed to. Up until a few days ago most television debates portrayed stone-pelters as supporters of terrorists, without asking why increasing numbers of Kashmiris were coming out to protect militants for the first time since 1989-90 or whether our government and we ourselves must bear some of the responsibility.
One small ray of light is that the opposition parties now plan a conclave on Jammu and Kashmir. Many in Kashmir doubt the exercise on the grounds that it is not government-sponsored and will not, therefore, impact on decision-makers. My own belief is the contrary only a substantial groundswell of public and political opinion in favour of both confidence-building measures and talks will influence our government to engage with dissidents in the valley or take Kashmiri grievances on board.
Indeed, the redressal of Kashmiri grievances is not a task for government alone even though the major responsibility lies with them. Opposition parties can commit themselves to resolving the long-standing political issues when they are in power and to push for resolution in Parliament. They can also work on the ground, along with civil society, to improve the administration-public interface, including on human rights, reconciliation and delivery of services.
This entails more than one conclave rather it requires a sustained effort in both the state and the country. Let us hope that this conclave will mark a new beginning in terms of policies towards Jammu and Kashmir, not just recommendations for government.
The Article First Appeared In Business Standard
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