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Kashmir 2018: New Threads, Old Weave

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Srinagar: An elderly woman walks past security jawans standing guard in a street during curfew in Srinagar on Sunday. PTI Photo by S Irfan(PTI7_31_2016_000114B)

Fireworks started the very first week of New Year. This time people of Jammu region witnessed large-scale violations of the India-Pakistan Ceasefire Understanding (2003) with intense cross-LoC/IB shelling and calibre-escalation from small arms to light, medium and heavy mortars.
The death toll in January alone equalled that of the entire 2017, a year which itself witnessed a six-fold increase in ceasefire violations compared to 2015. Inevitably, the latest flare up compelled over 40,000 residents to abandon homes—impacting women, children and elderly the most. Strong Indian retaliatory fire is reported to have caused similar if not more damage on the Pakistani side.
In the Kashmir Valley, Operation All Out of security forces (SFs) has achieved success in eliminating the top militant leadership. But the flip side has been an unacceptable casualty ratio (one SF for two militants); uptick in militant recruitment that too from among educated-affluent sections; Jaish predominance; and, the worrisome trend of fidayeen attacks. Given these limitations of the hard security posture, time may be ripe for a sincere, sustained and meaningful political outreach. Army Chief Bipin Rawat too recently underscored the importance of “political initiatives going hand-in-hand with military operations in J&K to bring peace.”
So, what prevents the current Central dispensation from pursuing the Holy Grail of political dialogue that Kashmiris have always favoured?
Is it because the Government does not want to get real to fix Kashmir? Or is its interest best served by addressing the issue within the framework of national security and developmental agenda?
Evidently it is in denial to acknowledge that Kashmir is a longstanding political issue crying for a one-time resolution. And such an outcome can only emerge from a political process beginning with a comprehensive and sustained dialogue with all the stakeholders, including the Hurriyat. New Delhi would have to abandon its inborn resistance to engage them for it is not rocket science that the Hurriyat leadership represents anger and militant sentiment, has wide-ranging civil society support and among others requires to be a necessary part of the dialogue process.
On its part, the Hurriyat needs to recognise the efforts of Centre’s Special Representative (SR), Dineshwar Sharma, in sincerely pursuing a dialogue with a wide cross section of people in J&K. Hurriyat’s unwillingness to engage the SR is perhaps understandable because in the past it is the apex political leadership that dialogued with them.
But in changed times, why must the best be the enemy of the good? Surely the separatists could show flexibility and nominate their own representative(s) to engage with the SR as a step towards political-level engagement.
Meanwhile, death of three youth in the latest SF firing against protestors in Shopian has stirred up renewed protests. Each such youth-killing adds yet another layer of resentment and despondency to perceptions of four-generational betrayal by the Centre. British historian Eric Hobsbawm, in another context, termed this politics based on memories.
Yet, despite persistent unrest, entrenched misgiving and public-societal support for militancy, the counter-narrative of youth trending to be stakeholders in a fast forward of embracing change is encouraging. Youth from a slew of professions, arts and sports are motivated enough to fulfil their ambitions nationwide.
Far more requires to be done within the Valley itself: the promise on delivery of governance and development, as the rationale for PDP aligning with BJP, must materialise. Kashmir is a first-rate hub for education, IT and tourism. Engagement and entrepreneurship in these areas could serve as defining components of youth transformation. Sports of myriad forms, art, theatre and music, as platforms for youth exchange across regions, would help in inter-regional trust building and throw up more comprehensively educated icons of change.
These diagnoses are inextricably linked to improvement in the overall security situation ensuing from a political outreach by the Centre and a forward movement in India-Pakistan relations as the latter is doubtless a stakeholder in the resolution of the J&K issue.
It is rightly said neither India nor Pakistan can achieve their full potential without burying the hatchet. The path to normalisation of relations lies in Pakistan starting the process of unwinding export of terror and support to militancy in Kashmir. Following elections due in June, Pakistan would hopefully have a stable new government. That may perhaps be the time for India to attempt breaking the logjam to resume bilateral dialogue.
And as the American journalist Fareed Zakaria recently suggested “Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a more powerful leader, must go the extra mile with Pakistan the same way US President Richard Nixon reached out to Communist China or Ronald Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev of the erstwhile Soviet Union.” Such a breakthrough would go to make a political resolution of the J&K issue a lot easier.
Meanwhile, initiation of a political dialogue and peace process by the Centre would help re-storying Kashmir.
(Air Vice Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak is part of the Track II process in Jammu and Kashmir.)