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26 June, 2018

Kashmir on the edge

BRP Bhaskar
Exclusive to The Gulf Today
Jammu and Kashmir has just been through a cataclysmic week. The chain of events began with the Bharatiya Janata Party pulling down the state’s two-year-old coalition government in which it was the Peoples Democratic Party’s junior partner.

The state then came under Governor’s rule and the security forces announced withdrawal of its unilateral Ramadan ceasefire.

Thus the stage was set for full-scale ‘cordon and search’ and ‘search and destroy’ operations by the security forces.

Militants did not honour the Ramadan truce but there was a perceptible drop in violence during the holy month. The situation took a turn for the worse with the killing of Shujaat Bukhari, Editor of Rising Kashmir, a highly respected journalist who had been striving to promote peace, by three gunmen in Srinagar on June 14.

A public protest against the murder paralysed the valley. The government responded by placing separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Jeelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Yaseen Malik under detention or house arrest.

The PDP-BJP alliance was one which should not have come about because it was doomed to fail. But the results of the Assembly elections of 2014 left few options. In the 87-member house, the PDP won 28 seats, most of them from the Kashmir valley, and the BJP 25, all from Jammu province.

In the agenda for alliance hammered out by the two parties the BJP, which had been opposing J&K’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution, agreed to maintenance of the existing position. Taking into account the PDP’s demand for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives security personnel impunity, it also agreed to examine the possibility of de-notifying disturbed areas.

Above all, the BJP committed itself to the idea of sustained dialogue with all stakeholders, including the Hurriyat Conference, to build a broad-based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues.

The agenda was merely a device to facilitate sharing of power. For the BJP it gave the opportunity to be a part of the government in the Muslim-majority state for the first time. No attempt was made to implement it.

There was no immediate cause for the two parties to part ways. When the BJP summoned its ministers to Delhi they thought they were being called to discuss preparations for next year’s Lok Sabha elections.

Ram Madhav, BJP General Secretary in charge of J&K affairs, informed them of the decision to pull out of the government. He told the media that the BJP was withdrawing from the government as terrorism, violence and radicalisation were on the rise and it would be apt to hand over the administration to the Governor.

While there was a spurt in civilian violence in the valley in the recent past, in the form of stone-pelting by youngsters, the overall picture emerging from official statistics was one of casualty figures of security personnel falling and those of militants and civilians rising.

It is disingenuous to blame Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and the state government for any deterioratuion in the security situation since central forces are the main instruments of law and order in the state.

There is much speculation on what prompted the BJP to wreck the alliance at this stage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s critics believe it was done with an eye to the Lok Sabha elections.

Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP leader and bitter Modi critic, said the party would use the Kashmir issue to accentuate communalism and polarisation ahead of the elections.

An outburst by former BJP minister Lal Singh suggests that the way the state police foiled the concerted effort by the party to save the accused in the case relating to rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua may have also influenced the decision. He accused the Kashmir journalists of creating a wrong narrative and ominously reminded them of the expereince of Shujaat Bukhari.

Security forces gunned down Dawood Ahmed Safali, said to be chief of “Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir”, and three others on Friday at Nowshera in south Kashmir in the first action against militants after the imposition of Governor’s rile. Media reports quoted security establishment sources as saying they had prepared a hit list of 21 “top terrorists”.

Experience does not justify the assumption that a more muscular policy will yield better results. The problem in Kashmir is a political one and a lasting solution can be found only through the political process.

Cynical pursuit of an erroneous course in the hope of short-term political gains can have deleterious consequences in the long run. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 26, 2018. 

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