Talk it over: the Centre's role in J&K

Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement offering talks to the Hurriyat and Pakistan puts a seal on a series of moves by the Centre that signal a softer Jammu and Kashmir policy after two particularly violent years. His offer came a week into the Centre’s suspension of operations, with the condition that terror must end. Just a day earlier, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had suggested the ‘cease-ops’ plan could be extended. This in itself was significant, as he had earlier taken a very tough line. Last year, launching what he called “Operation All-Out”, General Rawat had said the Army would look “helter-skelter” everywhere for terrorists and anyone sympathising with them. Statistically, the hardline policy saw successes, as more than 200 militants were killed in the period after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, which had set off a wave of violence in the Valley. However, according to police estimates, 230 more young men picked up the gun during that time, many of them at funerals of militants. In fact, this became a cycle: as the level of disaffection among the population continued to grow, locals would gather in thousands at funerals, which became recruitment sites. In the past few months, however, the Modi government appears to have taken stock of its J&K policy and changed course rather dramatically. To begin with, the government authorised an interlocutor to speak with “all sections of society”, and he appears to have opened several conversations in the Valley, and nudged the government to declare an amnesty for first-time stone-pelters. Next, the Centre has taken care to back Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on a wide range of political issues, including replacing the Deputy Chief Minister, a post held by a BJP legislator. The cease-operations order, that came days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in Srinagar, has also helped recast the narrative, and given a pause to the seemingly unending cycle of violence, funeral, encounters and recruitment.

More needs to be done, and soon. To start with, the Centre must review actions by security forces that unfairly stifle ordinary life, such as cordon-and-search operations, restrictions on access to orchards during the fruit harvesting season, and suspension of Internet services. Second, it must act to rebuild the ceasefire on the border with Pakistan, and discuss the issue at a bilateral level. At the same time, it must be alert to all attempts at subverting the cease-ops initiative, which could come from Pakistan or from vested interests within J&K. Finally, the government should get its message out on its vision for a longer-term resolution to reverse alienation amid a polarised debate in sections of the media on the value of the ceasefire, which adds to the sense of anxiety in Kashmir. A window of opportunity has been created. The need now is to move quickly and seize it.


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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 7:58:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/talk-it-over/article24017311.ece

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