Why doesn’t Kashmir Stand up for Ramzan Initiatives
Will bloodshed in Kashmir ever come to an end? This soul searching question can be more appropriately rephrased. Will bloodshed in Kashmir be ever allowed to end? Answer to it would at least make you understand the complexities of Kashmir situation and the wide spread tentacles of “prophets of doom” within and outside Kashmir that put spokes in every peace initiative.
Anti-peace brigade is the new development in Kashmir which spikes all such initiatives. But the unexplained issue is when Kashmir will stand up to this motley crowd of youngsters. Why the politicians have conveniently slipped into hibernation? They did it when minuscule KPs were forced to migrate; they did it when Amarnath pilgrims were targeted; they it when tourists were stoned and killed one of them; they did it when school bus was stoned.
Hope of peace was rekindled, of course on cautious note, in the second fortnight of May this year when three significant announcements were made that have potential to improve situation in the Valley as well as relations with Pakistan. PM Modi who is known for taking unexpected and bold decisions, this time focused on Kashmir. With only one year left of his mandated 5-year rule, Modi Govt unexpectedly ordered “unilateral ceasefire” in Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan. The Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh made this surprise announcement on the eve of Ramzan accepting this appeal of All Party Meeting (APM) of 9th May this year–. Initially, he dismissed it saying that J&K Chief Minister hasn’t discussed the issue with him. But just seven days later, he accepted the same demand even without meeting her. The intervening period was utilised to create an atmosphere for rejection of the move “in the interest of security”. First, the State unit of BJP disassociated from the “unanimous” appeal and little later, Army Chief and Rakhsa Mantri forcefully “rejected” it. And now there are hints of extension of the ceasefire beyond Eid if relative peace is achieved.
Many security experts and political commentators opined that the suspension of anti-militancy operations at the time when Security Forces had upper hand is a tactical mistake. Opposition criticised Modi Govt describing it as yet another BJP’s U-turn on Kashmir and “proof” of lack of clarity. Be that for the politicians, the move was indeed, bold and path breaking that did rekindle a hope, at least for the common man, for end of bloodshed in Kashmir. But the later developments eluded return of peace in Kashmir in near future.
More than a major CBM, it perhaps is the biggest proof of the Centre ‘respecting’ the publicly expressed views of Kashmir’s mainstream political parties and that too on security matter. The earlier unilateral ceasefire during Vajpayee’s time was decided by the Centre and the then CM, Dr. Farooq Abdullah was hurriedly summoned to Delhi to take him on board before the announcement was made with fanfare.
Ten days later, Rajnath Singh made another U-turn when said that the “Govt. of India is ready to talk to Kashmiri separatists”. Even though it was with a caveat that the dialogue would be within the ambit of Indian constitution yet it is a departure from earlier stand of no dialogue with those who work to break-up India. Kashmir has been one of the issues that haunt Modi for its “failure” to restore peace, much less resolving it during his tenure, killing of many militants notwithstanding.
The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), a loose conglomerate of three top well known separatist leaders- SAS Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik- made in 2016, has given a guarded response to Rajnath Singh’s offer of talk. Though marginalized in the changing scenario due to “rebel” stone pelters and serious hawala cases yet JRL is the most important separatist leaders to open dialogue. Unlike in the past they refrained from putting any pre-condition for talk except for “clarity” of the agenda due to conflicting statements of different Ministers on dialogue. BJP’s trouble shooter, Ram Madhav is more forthright in opening talk with separatists but Dineshwar Sharma first wanted anger to be calmed. Public posturing (for world opinion) apart, they are not likely to engage with Delhi without Pakistan’s nod.
The third important development too came unexpectedly, this time from Pakistan. Amidst loss of lives of people and property on both sides of the border in J&K, Pakistan’s DGMO Maj. Gen. Sahir Jamshed Mirza contacted Indian counterpart Lt. Gen. A K Chauhan around 6 P.M on 29th May and sought “respecting 2003 ceasefire” on the border. Both DGMOs agreed to fully implement the ceasefire in “letter and spirit” forthwith to stop cross border firing in J&K. Many commentators attribute this rare change of heart to Pakistan’s financially instability. China came to her help for maintain foreign exchange reserves. The Financial Action Task Force is expected to review soon Pakistan’s ability to prevent terror financing. Internationally isolated, the impending elections in Pakistan and India’s Ramzan ceasefire too compelled Pakistan to show to its “sincerity” towards India. Whatever may be the factors, it came as huge relief to dislocated border families in Jammu who have fled from their villages and taken shelter at safer places after Pakistan targeted residential areas during Ramzan.
Guns fell silent but only for six days as Pakistan broke it on 3rd June by martyring two BSF men and injuring some civilians in Akhnoor sector. It is not the first time that Pakistan back stabbed India and Sunday bloodshed on the border only reaffirmed its credentials of betrayal and treachery. The security experts had cautioned against taking Pakistan on face value, given the existing trust deficit with Pakistan.
Giving peace in Kashmir another chance is still a welcome step though “hawkish” elements and many army veterans were critical of temporary suspension of operations against militants and offer of talk with separatists as under pressure militants get a breather and may regroup and consolidate their positions. But political moves are also vital to win the hearts and minds of the people. The anti-ceasefire groups do not realize that restraint by the forces is the sign of strength and not of weakness. Moreover, if military action is the only solution then peace would have returned to Kashmir long back.
Earlier, Modi Government was criticised for its “iron-fist” approach in Kashmir which they opined that “Modi wouldn’t let it go”. PDP too had been lamenting that Modi Government’s “tough approach” towards Kashmir that had left the PDP cadre not only disappointed but also isolated in their “karambhoomi” (Kashmir). PDP has already lost much of its support base especially its bastion, South Kashmir by stitching “North-pole South-pole” alliance and now, ‘all tough approach’ is considered to be the last nail in its political future.
Emergence of un-reigned stone pelters is another challenge for the security forces. They are gun-toting militants in the offing. Burial of slain militants is thronged by thousands of mourners where militants are given free-for-all gun salute. This and emotional religious discourse eulogizing the “martyrdom” of the killed militants is enough motivation for new recruitment. Many stories are doing rounds in Kashmir’s social media that promote “respect” for slain terrorists and stone pelters. One video has gone viral which showed the mother of a killed militant, in an unprecedented way, snatching a gun from a nearby militant and fired in the air to give his son her salute at his burial. Another story doing round is the mother visiting her injured militant son at the hospital, literally pulling him up for not choosing “martyrdom”. These are the tips of growing sentiments that needed careful analysis and handling otherwise all CMBs would go waste.
“Is killing the only solution in Kashmir”? It is a frequently asked question. The fact is that the resounding success of “Operation All Out” killing nearly 300 militants, didn’t take Kashmir nearer to durable peace. On the contrary, situation is going from bad to worse. Killing of every militant or stone pelter is breeding more militants and today, they don’t go across the border but get training within the Valley. The recruitment of youth in militancy increased from 21 in 2012 to 53 in 2014 to 88 in 2016, 126 in 2017 and 81 so far in 2018. This upward trend of recruitment including quite a number of well-educated youth into the ranks of militancy is a major cause of concern besides failure of Govt. to check disturbing trend. Former DGP Kuldeep Khoda has aptly attributed it to the failure of “political grid”.
It is no secret that mainstream politicians including Ministers and Legislators are scared to visit their own constituencies as people are angry with them. One of the reasons is PDP’s alliance with BJP. It is as Mufti Sahib had said North Pole-South-Pole alliance. But it is too late for both the alliance partners to charter a different course and their unpopularity is in fact forcing them to swim together for the remaining years of their rule. The embattled Mehbooba too had no option but to keep reiterating the need for resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, despite knowing well that Pakistan is untrustworthy and treacherous. To please her political constituency, she always equates India with Pakistan in the border firings and killings, even when it was Pakistan that broke its own sought ceasefire.
Modi has picked up the script from the Vajpayee’s time to go in for an extra mile to give peace a chance in Kashmir. In Srinagar, PM Modi owned the decision to release first time stone pelters to ensure their return. Jammu which always has diverse view on Kashmir was holding CM responsible for release of 9000 such boys, many of them have return to same activity.
Although Mehbooba and others fondly recall Vajpayee’s 19 November, 2000 gesture which was extended thrice till 31 May, 2001, yet it was not successful initiative. Contrary to build up perception, more security forces personnel were killed during Vajpayee’s ceasefire. Five months of ceasefire (Dec. 2000-April 2001) saw killing of 158 SF personnel, 183 militants and 278 civilians as compared to killing of 129 SF men, 294 militants and 241 civilians in the corresponding months of 1999-2000. The available data shows that SF killing rose from 452 in 2000 to 613 in 2001 while militants killed increased to 2020 in 2001 from 1520 in 2000. While peace eluded then, it may be the same story this time as well because it is not wholehearted politically supported. By ordering ceasefire, the Govt has, in a way, conceded that its earlier strong arm policy didn’t deliver.
After ceasefire, the perpetrators of violence are busy in throwing grenades at public places. The grenade attacks have been common and may not cause serious damage but it is designed to provoke the security force to retaliate and cause loss of life of the passersby.
Success of “unilateral ceasefire” move in Kashmir runs counter to Pakistan’s vested interests. Jaish-e-Mohammad Supremo, Maulana Masood Azhar has mocked the Ramzan ceasefire initiative. In an audio clip, Masood told his people that the cessation of operations by the Indian security forces has left space open for the Jaish in Kashmir to resonate with their firing. Operating in tandem with Pak army he has openly threatened India of JeM intensified operations in Kashmir. A group of 20 JeM militants has reportedly reached in Kashmir to target security forces to escalate violence and bleed Kashmir even in Ramzan.
On the flip-side, this negative response of militants and Pakistan provide an opportunity for the Centre to turn the table on them through effective psychological operation using available channels including social media to wean away the people from the influence of these radicalised militants.
The ceasefire initiative is as much significant for Modi Govt as for all mainstream political parties which have sought this CBM. But unfortunately none of them has come in open in support of it and galvanized its cadre to motivate people to put down violence taking benefit of Ramzan initiatives. On the contrary, they have gone into hibernation. Leaders are busy on tweeters and issuing statements criticizing the security forces, always a soft target, which they have been doing for long time. What is their contribution to check stone pelting or throwing grenades? Mehbooba has addressed her workers rally and beseeched separatists to come forward and start dialogue besides reiterating Mufti Sahib’s slogan, “na grenade se na goli se, baat bane ge boli se”. But it is not enough. She should open her own back channels with separatists and also call another APM to motivate all leaders to reach out the people through and make this initiative successful. Ground work is more important for any political leaders than tweets. They must stand up for success of Ramzan’s peace initiatives.