It’s most ideal time for a ceasefire but are relevant actors already on board?

Zafar Choudhary. Updated: 5/16/2018 5:45:41 PM Features

A not-so-difficult dive in the hearts and minds of everyone engaged on two sides of the situation in Kashmir would suggest that it is not helping any side. Allowed unattended and uninterrupted, this could take catastrophic proportions. Between February and April this year there were some evident signs of shift in approach from one side but the other side, perhaps, couldn’t take the value out of the message.

Or, may be, there was very little time to gasp and react before some other events dismantled the initiative at its very take off. The essential backroom exercise to build confidence, it also appears, was missing. A call for ceasefire as announced by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti after an all party meeting on Wednesday is just a reiteration of what Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat and J&K Police Chief SP Vaid have already said in a different phraseology. Rawat’s and Vaid’s mention is important as who else would have a better analysis of a security approach versus political approach.

As Jammu and Kashmir awaits Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit later this month, perhaps his last major itinerary before the country gets into national election mode, a ceasefire announcement could help build a high moral ground to work at on his ‘Kashmir promise’ in his last year of current term in office. It is, however, not clear whether the Chief Minister had a discussion with the Home Minister and the top security commanders on the maintainability of the ceasefire as in the absence of that such an important proposal may get reduced into one of various sentiments and not a serious policy advice.

The empirical background
By the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir looked badly disappointing, from the counter-insurgency operational perspective. Perhaps for the first time in a decade the security forces had reached a terrible situation where they lost at least one soldier upon killing two militants. This is considered bad in any such situation anywhere in the world. The Surgical Strikes of 2016 had though served as a loud political message of drawing new thresholds in strategic deterrence on the Line of Control but there was a very little impact of them on situation inside the Valley of Kashmir. April 2017 was a tipping point when militants forced such a situation that the state’s ruling party, with a lot of security might on its command, had to request for postponing of the Lok Sabha elections in South Kashmir. It was a day after the Central Kashmir had a blood soaked poll with percentage going back to the pre-normalcy years of 1990s. It was perhaps at this time that someone coined the ‘Operation All Out’. The last thirteen months have seen some major operations with surgical precision. The security forces have hit targets and returned with success of their choice. All these operations appear to have been backed by two critical elements –a political carte blanche and scientific intelligence. At several occasions the Army, the CRPF and the state Police have claimed that they have been pretty successful and have been able to make dominance, particularly in the restive South Kashmir. What next? This has also been the time when highest number of young people has signed up for militant ranks. Let’s not overlook this reality. Both trends put together –security forces achieving success in killing militants and more young people voluntarily becoming militants –suggests that there is no early end to the cycle of violence in Kashmir. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and lot of other people keep on warning that with this pace of developments Kashmir could become another Syria. Isn’t it already becoming one? Is it okay to have a bleeding Syria in India? If Kashmir becomes a Syria, would the flames remain confined to the four walls of the Valley.

These are some critical questions which must compel everyone for some non-traditional political thinking. At this point of argument one must bring in the czars of last one year of anti-militancy operations: Gen Bipin Rawat and DGP SP Vaid. It serves a good policy purpose to understand what they say. Speaking at a passing out parade on April 15, Gen Rawat said, “there is hope that the situation in Kashmir will improve...It's not gone wrong. There are some youths in Kashmir who have strayed and have been radicalised. They think they can achieve their goal through guns”…“but the time is not far when even they will be convinced that neither the forces nor the terrorists will be able to achieve their goal. We have to together find a way for peace and we will be successful in that”. Packaged in a political phrase, Gen Rawat’s this statement exactly translates into the following: ‘Let’s have ceasefire and work together for peace’. Isn’t it? He had also mentioned about ‘Kashmiriyat’ and the University of Kashmir: “the concept of ‘Kashmiryat' had to be brought back and the process initiated from the University of Kashmir”.

It is sad that in less than a month a Professor from Kashmir University chose a different path. To revive that Kashmiriyat, said Gen Rawat, “we need to get our act together. It is not difficult. We have to get our act together, sit down together, work together and make sure that we all get united and bring about peace”. In this particular speech, Gen Rawat made extensive use of ‘we’ and ‘together’. Who did he address? If the other parts in ‘we’ and ‘together’ are the Kashmiris, then he was implying for ‘ceasefire’. Police Chief SP Vaid was indeed a little more candid in clearly calling for a political initiative. In an unusual twitter chat with the netizens on April 12, Vaid said, ''gun and violence is not the solution”…”talks between all parties, including neighbour (Pakistan) is the only solution”….“I personally feel that the gun is not the solution”… .“let every party concerned, including even our neighbour, talk it out and sort out”. Gen Rawat and DGP Vaid have abundantly clear statements that have done well in their domains and now it was the political leadership to take it further.

Speaking at Madhopore, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, Narendra Modi said that he would want to pursue Vajpayee’s doctrine of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’. This evoked very positive response from Kashmir, including a statement of welcome by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. There is a lot of messaging and practical push that has happened in between but the challenges were enormous and unusual. The Prime Minister is again headed for Jammu and Kashmir and ahead of that there is a call for ceasefire. This is not a new idea. Vajpayee did this. The desired results couldn’t be achieved but the intent served a larger purpose of building trust for further initiatives. A ceasefire at this stage is needed more than at any point before.

It is needed to break the ongoing cycle of violence where all sides are able to step back and leave a space for thinking. Building peace and stability in Kashmir is among the promises Prime Minister Modi has made to the nation.

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