“Hurling a shoe,” remarked Omar Abdullah wryly, “is better than hurling stones.” In his August 15 address to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Abdullah finally found the words many have been waiting months to hear. But it remains unclear how he intends to deliver on his calls for dialogue and peace. Ever since the anti-India protests, which have dogged Mr. Abdullah's time in office, started to escalate this June, his administration has displayed few signs of having a coherent vision for action. The arrests of secessionist leaders followed by efforts to buy peace with them; the arrests of stone-throwing youth and simultaneous promises of jobs for them; appeals for dialogue matched by murderous police action: all these have been deployed in bewildering, aimless succession. The reality is that the Islamist extremists spearheading the anti-India protests that have led to the loss of almost 60 lives this summer have no interest in peace. The protests have allowed a new generation of radical Islamist leaders, like Massrat Alam Bhat and Asiya Andrabi, to seize leadership of the anti-India movement in Kashmir. But the protests aren't, as some polemicists have claimed, a Kashmir-wide mass uprising. The violence remains concentrated, as it has been since the summer of 2009, in urban parts of the districts of Srinagar, Baramulla, Pulwama, and Anantnag — the historic heartlands of the anti-India movement in J&K. The current protests are nowhere near as large as those that tore the State apart in 2008: and that makes the failure to address them inexplicable.
Fine words and promises cannot stem the rising tide of blood on Kashmir streets. It will need governance — a task the ruling National Conference-Congress alliance in the State has shown little interest in. Ever since he took power in 2009, the Chief Minister has relied on administrators of breathtaking incompetence. The rot has been most marked in the State police. Much of the killing on Kashmir's streets came about not because the protests threatened to overwhelm authorities, but because lethal force was indiscriminately used by panicked, wretchedly led police. J&K's civil bureaucracy has done just as badly. High officials have proved unable to secure a semblance of governance in the face of secessionist fiat — or to build bridges with communities devastated by the violence. As though this were not enough, politicians from the National Conference and the Congress have been missing in inaction. Only a few have been visible on the streets of their constituencies, reaching out to those who need them. Mr. Abdullah needs all the help he can get from the central government but he must first act to demonstrate on the ground that Jammu & Kashmir has a government.