Wednesday’s fidayeen attack in Srinagar is a reminder of the unfinished business India must attend to in Jammu and Kashmir. Suicide fighters took advantage of the cover provided by students playing cricket in a public school to open fire at the adjoining camp of the Central Reserve Police Force. In the larger context of the State’s unresolved political problems, the modus operandi of the terrorists or their choice of target is merely incidental. If it had not been Bemina, it would have been some other target; if it had not been the playground of a school, the cover would have been a crowded bus stand. The security forces must prepare themselves for more such incidents. Sensing the potential for another build-up of public disaffection in the run up to summer, groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and their handlers in Pakistan appear to have decided now is the right time to reactivate themselves. The attack was carried out on a day Kashmiri separatist groups in the valley had called for a shutdown demanding the return of the body of Afzal Guru, who was hanged and buried in Delhi’s Tihar jail last month for his role in the 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament. But in the long-drawn Kashmir conflict, Afzal Guru’s execution is nothing more than another opportunity for militant groups to hurt the Indian state whenever and wherever possible.
The Centre must recognise that the challenge it faces is both military and political. As it takes measures to deal with the threat of fidayeen attacks, the government needs to work proactively to implement the many sensible measures contained in the report of the Group of Interlocutors on Kashmir, beginning with the proposal that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has himself mooted of lifting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from those areas of the State where violence has abated. The report also wanted the Centre to move towards ensuring special status for Jammu and Kashmir, enabling the economic self-reliance of the State, and easing the movement of people and goods across the Line of Control. A review of all Central laws and Articles of the Constitution extended to the State since 1952 by a Constitutional Committee will also have to be done as part of the search for a settlement. Of course, the short-term response will have to be increased vigil and tough counter-measures from the security forces. But care must be taken not to further alienate the people of Kashmir in the name of counter-insurgency measures. Irrespective of what Pakistan can or cannot do, militancy can only be contained and defeated with the support of the people of the State. In political terms, this means the search for ways to meet the democratic aspirations of the Kashmiris has to be an integral part of India’s counter-insurgency strategy.