Cessation of hostilities is a basic requirement for any meaningful political foundation for the resolution of Kashmir conflict. Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singhs statement for halting the anti-militancy operations appears to be yet another half-hearted political statement instead of an initiative which can be categorized as an effort towards cessation of hostilities.
It has come almost in a similar manner as that of the appointment of Mr. Dineshwar Sharma, the Special Representative for Jammu and Kashmir. Before even Mr. Sharma could start his work, the Minister of State for in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, sullied the initiative of appointment of Delhis Special Representative for J&K by saying that he would only talk to the elected representatives and not to the Hurriyat leaders. Mr. Sharma has since made several visits to J&K, but so far the Government of India has not bothered to publicly specify what are his terms of reference for engagement.
Rajnath Singhs statement on halting the anti-militancy operations has emerged in response to the request made by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to GOI for a unilateral ceasefire. Just three days before Mr. Singhs statement on Non-Initiation of Combat Operations (NICO), the Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman rejected any scope for a ceasefire.
Prior to the rejection by Indian Defence Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister of J&K, Kavinder Gupta also trivialised the ceasefire proposal.
More recently, Amit Shah, the BJP president, stated that this ceasefire is not meant for militants.
These discordant voices of senior government representatives are a replica of what exactly transpired after the appointment of Mr. Sharma as special representative. Kashmiris perceive this as deliberate confusion and lack of transparency and furtherance of the politics of deception.
Though the initiation of NICO is not exactly the kind of a bold political decision, which is required to help in creating an atmosphere in Jammu and Kashmir for conflict transformation, but if there is openness in New Delhi efforts can still be made to make this a first step to further consolidate it into a permanent mechanism of ceasefire between all the sides. Improvisation of NICO into a meaningful ceasefire is very much dependent on the conduct of the Indian armed forces stationed in Kashmir.
On the ground, the armed forces are the ones who will translate into reality the statements of political elite. Since the announcement of NICO in last few days, according to newspaper reports, around 11 militants, two civilians and one soldier have been killed in various combat operations. We have witnessed firing at D.K. Pora, Shopian by army when people refused to attend their Iftaar party. The firing resulted in injuries to 4 young girls. In a recent incident, residents of Sugan hamlet in the same district have accused government forces of ransacking residential houses, damaging properties and vehicles after an IED blast. In north Kashmirs Sopore, a 9-year-old child was hit by a rubber bullet. At Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, police used excessive force against the peaceful protesters, leading to injuries of nearly 70 protesters. The police fired pellet shotguns and tear gas canisters inside the Jamia Masjid compound. Killing of Kaiser Ahmed by mowing him under armed forces vehicle at Nowhatta exasperated the already tense situation..
So far, it appears the armed forces are working unabated on their sustained agenda of imposing the writ of the State in Kashmir through all means available to them with impunity.
The militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is a response to the militarization and choking of the political space for all political dissidents. Therefore, the NICO must be followed by release of hundreds of political prisoners, end the house detentions of senior Hurriyat leaders, and, most importantly, an end to the daily life restrictions, humiliations and violence suffered by civilians.
This will certainly create conducive conditions in which the Hurriyat and the militant leadership will find a credible and persuasive atmosphere to reciprocate positively to the political initiatives emanating from New Delhi.
The scepticism in Kashmir on any Government of India initiative is based on the reality that Indian states actions and words thus far have suffered from contradictions and inconsistencies. On the one hand, all governments in India from past to the present have always stated that through violence no issue can be resolved, yet they justify the massive presence of armed forces in Kashmir.
At this stage, the operations by militants have not witnessed any halt, obviously because the NICO is a one-sided affair, which has not been negotiated with militants. The militant leadership has formally rejected it.
It is certainly very important that India, Pakistan and militant leadership should agree on cessation of hostilities from all sides, but for that to happen, instead of egoistic policies, New Delhi has to engage with the stakeholders in a dignified manner and negotiate the terms of reference of the ceasefire. There has to be a proper mechanism for monitoring the ceasefire, which may be negotiated.
After the initiation of NICO, Home Minister has made a public announcement for dialogue with the Hurriyat and Pakistan. This statement came days after the statement made by the Pakistani Army chief mentioning that Pakistan favours resolution of the Kashmir dispute through a meaningful and comprehensive dialogue with India.
Even before the Hurriyat and Pakistan would have responded to the statement of Indian Home Minister, the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj contradicted her Home Minister wherein she said that, with regards to Pakistan, there cannot be any dialogue as talks and terror cant go together.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir and its leadership can effectively reciprocate to the statements made by Home Minister only when there is substantive clarity and the conflicting statements from various Indian officials stop forthwith. The Government of India has to speak in one voice and take bold political decisions. Addressing Kashmir problem through dialogue and also catering to the extremist sentiments of some in India simultaneously is impossible.
For the purposes of rhetoric the politicians may say anything, but it is impossible for India to find a solution to Jammu and Kashmir dispute while sidelining any of the parties, whether Pakistan or the representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has to be on board on any initiative, which is taken for the final resolution of Jammu and Kashmir. The fact that Pakistan has a caretaker government and the general elections are to be held very soon, is an important factor which should be considered before expecting any substantive forward movement from their side.
In the developing political situation, if government of India clarifies and further builds on to these initiatives, as has been desired by Kashmirs Joint Resistance Leadership, it will be incumbent upon the militant leadership and the JRL to show statesmanship, rather than brinkmanship.
In a recent positive development between the Indian and Pakistani armies, it has been decided that both will fully implement the mechanisms for observing complete ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and the working boundary as per the ceasefire agreement of November 2003. These statements so far have not been translated on ground in practicality.
If these statements are implemented with a visionary and sincere manner, followed by more improvements, then it can be further hoped that the Pakistani government should speak in unison, unlike their Indian counterparts and make efforts to assuage the sufferings of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
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