Terrorist-induced incidents in the Kashmir valley have come down over the last one year, and so has the infiltration even though local terror recruitment has seen a rise. An uneasy calm that had prevailed in the Valley after the revocation of Article 370, 35 A and the division of the state into two Union Territories, has now paved way for a more confident one despite the threat of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism looming large on the people.
The fears of large-scale violence and protests that many had prophesied is behind us now. This is significant since a large number of additional troops deployed last year have now been withdrawn. Panchayat by-polls are set to be held soon and there is genuine interest among the people of the Valley to take part in the electoral process because they eye development and better quality of life for themselves and their future generations.
Yes, Kashmir is yearning for development and the Narendra Modi government should not miss the bus, just like previous governments did.
This is the sense that I gathered from Kashmiris, both young and old, during my last week’s trip to the Valley — I traveled from Srinagar to the Line of Control in Tangdhar sector and the troubled areas of Pulwama and Shopian. A broader understanding that emerged during my stay was that people were willing to look ahead rather than remain stuck in the past. And their demands are not very high. All they ask for are jobs, education, roads, electricity and the internet.
Yes, despite the government spending thousands of crores in Kashmir over the last several decades, the demand of the people of the Valley are still very basic, like in any other state of India.
Govt should not lose yet another opportunity
Kashmir has presented a number of opportunities for the central government to initiate peace and development in the past, but all such opportunities were squandered away due to a number of reasons – major ones being lack of political decisiveness and the sustained approach needed to ensure Kashmir does not just remain a conflict business as many see it.
Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (retd) writes in his book Full Spectrum, in 1997, when General V. P. Malik took over as the Army chief, he sought to disengage from active counter-terrorism operations after almost seven years of relentless offensive that saw a large number of terrorists being killed. General Malik had met Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and suggested that it was time for the Army to return to its primary task in a phased manner. A panicked Abdullah telephoned then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral who tentatively asked General Malik to remain engaged.
“When Lt General Rustom Kaikhusro Nanavatty took over as Army Commander of Northern Command in 2001, the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir had again started to show signs of revival, following a hiatus of 18 months of relative peace after the Kargil Battle,” Subramaniam had written in an article for ThePrint.
“Lt General Nanavatty and his team submitted a strategy document — Jammu and Kashmir (J&K): Strategy for Conflict Resolution (2003) — to Army headquarters, and later sent copies of it to many senior government functionaries like then-Home Minister L.K. Advani, Home Secretary N.N. Vohra, and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh,” Subramaniam had written.
Lt General Nanavatty had advocated an all-encompassing strategy rather than just a security-related one. However, it remained where it was – on paper.
The Manmohan Singh government also lost opportunities during its 10-year rule when terrorism was brought down to a manageable level. Although an attempt was made, it did not have the political seriousness needed.
And now, after 2016, when the killing of local terrorist Burhan Wani led to a spike in terror activities, for the first time, insurgency in the Valley has come down to a manageable level.
‘Visible’ development is key
While the government has appointed an affable old school politician, Manoj Sinha, as the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, it would be too much to expect from one man alone.
Those who matter the most, today, are the government employees at the ground level – from those in civil administration to the police – who must put their act together. The constant complaints regarding the administrative machinery that one hears about are related to the local Tehsildars, block development officers, and SHOs.
Also, while the L-G is working towards improving the system in the Union Territory, it is equally important to have visible development – infrastructure push. Visit the Valley and you will hear people say this wherever you go: ‘Despite over a year of abrogation of Article 370, no development is being seen on the ground’.
For the government to win the confidence of the people, visible development is equally necessary, just like the systematic changes being done that will yield results later.
Move away from kill-based approach
I have argued in the past against the kill-based approach in Kashmir. The Army has now said that they are going to focus more on arrests/surrenders and that the government is working on a new surrender policy.
Both these are very important steps. Interestingly, the 15 Corps in Srinagar have done away with their points-based reward system for recovery of weapons by soldiers. These points helped the individual units to get commendation.
To see a truly fruitful phase, higher points should be given for ensuring arrests and surrenders, and only in very specific cases — of dreaded terrorists — should this system of kills be encouraged. Moreover, the killing of recently joined terrorists is not a great shake because they have zero training. And as Kashmiri journalist Javaid Trali tweeted, “…it is the time for unconditional acceptance in view of rehabilitating our misled youth — by offering them sustained psychological support, & meaningful assistance. High time to manifest the collective consciousness!”
Winning hearts and minds is not a job that should be left to the security forces. It is the job of the political and civil administration. And if they don’t do their job, we will miss the bus again.
Views are personal.