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19 February, 2019

Beyond the threat of militancy
bRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

In a refreshing display of solidarity, the opposition parties, which were in parleys to forge alliances to block the Bharatiya Janata Party’s return to power in the elections due shortly, closed ranks behind the government last week in the wake of the suicide bomb attack at Pulwama in the Kashmir valley.

More than 40 security personnel were killed in the attack, the worst in more than a decade. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, “I will support the government and jawans at this difficult time.” He refused to discuss political matters for the time being.

His sister and party general secretary Priyanka Vadra, who was due to address a press conference jointly with another general secretary, Jyotiraditya Scindia, cancelled it after observing two-minute silence. The Central government in a statement vowed to give a fitting response. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the time and place of the response would be decided by the army.

The government revoked an order issued years ago granting Pakistan most-favoured-nation status and hiked the duty on Pakistani goods. Since the volume of its trade with India is small, the step is unlikely to cause Pakistan hardship.

A flurry of diplomatic activity resulted in the US condemning the bomb attack and asking Pakistan to do more to check the activities of militants. China, too deplored the attack but it refused to drop its opposition to the UN branding J-e-M chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist.

After Hindutva elements attacked Kashmiri students in some northern states, the Centre directed all state governments to ensure the security of Kashmiris. Across the nation, many people offered shelter to Kashmiris who felt insecure. The Central Reserve Police Force set up helplines for those in distress.

In Jammu city, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, curfew was imposed after protesters went on a rampage in Muslim localities. The local Sikh community accommodated the affected people in a gurdwara and provided them food.

Even after political opponents closed ranks social media activists continued partisan warfare. BJP campaigners posted a fake picture which they claimed showed Rahul Gandhi with Adil Ahmad Dar, the suicide bomber. Another fake picture purportedly showed Priyanka Vadra laughing after the attack.

A fake story alleging that Priynka Vadra had met the Pakistan army chief in Dubai earlier this month was also in circulation. BJP opponents posted clips of Modi’s critical comments on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s handling of a militant attack in 2012, juxtaposing them with Rahul Gandhi’s statesmanlike response to the latest strike.

The Modi years have seen a hardening of the government’s attitude towards militancy as well as a rise in violent protests in the valley. Jammu and Kashmir has been without an elected government since People’s Democratic Party Chief Minister Mahmooda Muft resigned last June following the BJP’s withdrawal from the ruling coalition.

When Satya Pal Malik, a politician, was appointed Governor in August there were reports that he would begin talks to restore normalcy. However, he took no steps in that direction. Officials exploring possible political and military responses to the bomb attack found that the current state of India-Pakistan relations and the ground situation in the valley offered few options.

Former Union Home Secretary GK Pillai told a newspaper that war was not an option as it would be hard to get international support for such a step at this point. “Pakistan gets its strength from disgruntled Kashmiris,” he said. “There is hence a need to reach out to the people of Kashmir. That is where this government has failed.”

Alok Asthana, a retired Army colonel, felt that the core issue was being ignored. He added, “Why are local Kashmiris, many of them relatively well off and educated, ready to lay down their lives in this manner? If this is addressed even moderately, everything will fall into place.”

Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said India had lost its advantages in many domains because of the authorities’ myopic vision and blinkered outlook. It now needed a national security policy, not reaction, he added.

Election eve is not an opportune time for a new political initiative. Nor is it an opportune time for an adventurous course. In the circumstances the government needs to restrain hotheads whose activities can exacerbate the difficult situation.

India cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that beyond the challenge of militancy in Kashmir lies a political problem which demands a political solution. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 19, 2019

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