On May 16, the Home Minister had announced unilateral NICO, Non Initiation of Combat Operations, during the month of Ramzan. This was followed by the DGMOs of India and Pakistan declaring on May 29, that the 2003 ceasefire would be observed in letter and spirit. Both the initiatives came with stated and inherent caveats that the security forces will respond to provocative actions by adversaries and initiate action when a threat to lives and property was imminent. The progress has been turbulent. There have been a series of grenade attacks and a few violent protests in the valley. There was a major flare up on the LOC in the Akhnur sector on June 3, in which two BSF personnel died and some civilians were injured. After that however, the LOC/IB has been quiet.
As far as NICO is concerned, it is unilateral and the aim is to give respite, even though marginal, to the civilian population and the terrorists are not a party to the agreement. Their belligerence was predictable.
To state the obvious, both these initiatives will come to a naught if they are not part of a comprehensive peace plan or at least commencement of meaningful negotiations. In isolation, they are meaningless and we would be back to square one after the brownie points have been scored. There are many positive signs in respect of both.
The government has expressed its willingness to talk to the Hurriyat. On May 29, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, three key leaders of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) met and released a joint statement. “Let government of India give clarity on what it wants to talk about and speak in one language, we are ready to join the process.” These three leaders who were erstwhile rivals of each other, decided to come together under a loose coalition – JRL – in 2016.
The JRL, consisting of both the hawks and the doves, has become the most dominant force standing tall among the fractured separatist camp, including the Hurriyat and are the frontrunners for any dialogue process. However, they are fast losing ground to the youth.
Interestingly Pakistan-based Syed Salahuddin, head of the United Jehad Council, a conglomerate of militant outfits, has also come out in support of the dialogue. He said the United Jehad Council is willing to give its complete support, if it finds that India is serious in the dialogue process. This also indicates tacit approval of Pakistan.
No party, including the government, has talked about any pre-conditions. In my view, the time is ripe for a meaningful dialogue process to find a solution on the lines of Mizoram Peace Accord and the still to be finalized Naga Peace Accord. If all sides maintain course, an autonomy package can be worked out, social and political reconciliatory concessions made and separatists and militant outfits given clemency to join the electoral process as they did in the 1987 elections, albeit now under guaranteed fair elections.
This would also spur mainstream parties to become more active to win the population over. The ageing separatist leadership and the beleaguered people of J&K are willing. The nation must not lose this opportunity.
Track 2 dialogue and secret talks, including between the NSAs, have been in progress with Pakistan. Accommodating statements emanating from the deep state have been made. Pakistan’s future is intrinsically linked to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Gilgit- Baltistan. China considers peace a prerequisite for investing 50 billion dollars. Again, the situation is ripe for a meaningful dialogue to convert the LoC into an IB or to find a solution on the lines of the Four Point Formula. Both sides must not allow nationalist emotions and autonomous military factors to disturb the ceasefire.
Notwithstanding the operational strategy adopted by the Indian Army to punish Pakistan along the LoC by applying the logic that while we may suffer the enemy suffers more, “fire fights” along the LoC serve no useful purpose and have run their course. Both sides, by design or default, have been targeting the civilian population with artillery and mortar fire. On our side, 1 lakh people from 100 villages between Chenab and Ravi were displaced in the third week of May. The situation on the Pakistan side would be no different. States armed with nuclear weapons cannot fight wars. Neither side has the techno-military capability to make any difference below the threshold of war. Peace along the LoC will allow us to focus better on the counter infiltration grid and the dialogue process.
Last but not the least, the government needs to take the opposition, the media and the public into confidence with respect to the peace process. The Prime Minister or the ministers or their secretaries concerned must give out the formal intent of the government. Editors must be quietly spoken and the “neo nationalists” fed on political rhetoric must be reined in.
In my view this is the best opportunity in the last 10 years to bring about lasting peace in J&K and a “manageable peace” with Pakistan. Everyone concerned must remain steadfast despite the omnipresent hurdles. We must not allow political ideology and emotions to run away with realpolitik.
(Times of India)