A window of rare opportunity to break a 20-year-old cycle of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is presenting itself.

Opportunities, says ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, multiply as they are seized. A leader doesn’t just make things happen, he is able to see when destiny beckons and the stars are lined up in the right constellation. Then the opportunity for resolution and a chance to change the course of history presents itself.

As the shots hit Hurriyat leader Fazl Haq Qureshi coming out of a mosque in Srinagar this month, but missed their mark in stopping the dialogue process between the Hurriyat and the Centre, it was one more indicator that the opportunity for a resolution in Jammu and Kashmir is presenting itself. A window of rare opportunity to break a twenty-year-old cycle of violence that must be seized.

It was rare enough to hear Home Minister P. Chidambaram admit in parliament what his government took great pains to deny for months — that he was in ‘quiet talks’ with separatist Kashmiri leaders. He backed it up with other announcements, withdrawing several paramilitary battalions from the valley, and pushing Jammu-Kashmir police into the ‘frontlines’ of state security. Each of those initiatives would have been unheard of some years ago, but point to the fact that the Central government, bolstered by wins in successive elections, today feels empowered to take them.

Ironically, the most far-reaching initiative for the resolution of the Kashmir problem to date was the one taken not by this government — but the NDA government that preceded it, when it announced a ceasefire along the Line of Control in November 2003. That ceasefire, which has largely held for six years, became the springboard for all the initiatives that followed, including the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus.

Since 2003, the two sides have followed a 4-step plan laid out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he pursued negotiations with President Musharraf (2004-2007) viz., to move the army back to the barracks in Valley towns like Srinagar, Baramullah, Kupwara and Anantnag, transfer control to paramilitary forces, build up the J&K police force, and then to work on cross-LOC linkages- transport, trade, tourism.

Relative calm at the LOC was followed in the years by relative peace in the valley. While many in India may be uncomfortable admitting it — Pakistan’s actions, or lack of them there in the recent past have helped. They’re the reason the fires that raged over two successive summers: the Amarnath agitation in 2008, and protests over the Shopian murders in 2009 were able to burn themselves out. And the State witnessed two general elections (2004 and 2009) and two State elections (2002 and 2008) — each one overturning the government in power, without any volatility. Pakistan’s virtual acceptance of the LOC as a more permanent “Line of Peace” is best reflected in its latest efforts to reorganise parts of POK — and give Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status.

Many wounds have had a chance to heal in this time — according to official estimates the number of violent incidents in a year at the peak of militancy were 6000. Last year, they numbered 400. Seventeen per cent of the population suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2004 — a number that has steadily decreased. Perhaps the greatest healing will only follow the return of Pandits to homes they were driven from nearly two decades ago — last month the community came together with former Muslim neighbours in Srinagar’s Rainawari to renovate the abandoned Shiv temple there. These are all positive signs that should be counted even as we chronicle levels of infiltration and fidayeen attacks which we resolutely need to combat.

Finally, the rarest part of the alignment is the transfer of power to a new generation of leadership across the board. In the mainstream, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Leader of the opposition Mehbooba Mufti may disagree on everything else — but they are fully behind the current dialogue process with the Hurriyat, and their own solutions for the State differ only marginally. For the separatists, the old guard of Geelani may never come on board, but others like Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat have already deferred to the Hurriyat’s Gen-next: Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Sajjad and Bilal Lone to move ahead with talks. Three young men with a tragic and powerful common bond — they lost their fathers to terrorists on exactly the same day 12 years apart (May 12), targeted for trying to talk to New Delhi. They’re accompanied by a powerful voice of peace who has made the journey from the gun and prosecution by the State, JKLF chief Yasin Mallik. The biggest change is the call by the Hurriyat for the NC and PDP to work with it on a solution, thereby overturning a decades-old stand of being the “sole representatives of the Kashmiri people”.

‘Azaadi’ may not be a viable option for any of them today — but what New Delhi needs to recognise, and prepare the nation for is that none of these leaders can go on endlessly with the status quo. “Silence or absence of overt defiance by the war weary Kashmiri should not be treated as a change in the sentiment,” warned Sajjad Lone in his 2006 paper: Achievable Nationhood. Both the Mufti’s doctrine of Self-Rule, and Abdullah’s concept of Autonomy (passed unanimously by the J&K assembly in 2000 but rejected by the Union cabinet) find many areas of common cause.

Interestingly, each of them proposes solutions, shorn of the rhetoric, that can be found within the Indian Constitution — which is imperative. For the government, to move forward would involve the sort of flexibility it has already shown in the Naga peace process (more power to the state, changing nomenclature of the government and head of government etc), and others.

In Qazigund this October, the Prime Minister linked peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir with the India-Pakistan peace process calling for a new ‘humanitarian agenda’ as a basis to restart talks with Pakistan. And perhaps paraphrasing Sun Tzu’s words on the urgency of the moment he offered up an Urdu couplet:

Yeh jabr bhi dekha hai taareekh ki nazron ne?

Lamhon ne khata ki thi sadiyon ne sazaa payee

(These are the lessons of time: for the mistakes made by moments, the punishment is meted out to centuries.)

In terms of Jammu and Kashmir, the real mistake would be for the Prime Minister to fail to seize the moment now.

( Suhasini Haidar is Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)

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