The Centre conveyed the message that benevolence on civilian front was a gesture that did not impede the serious business of putting down instigated violence.

 

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti remains engaged in a battle of wits with the separatists in a bid to retain her own political constituency in the state—that she is competitive and not combative towards the Hurriyat that fronts the separatists, is not difficult to grasp. Seen in this light, her moves to seek “amnesty” for arrested stone pelters and “ceasefire” during Ramzan are understandable, but it is for Government of India to ensure that the responses in these matters be kept to the principle of saving the human face of the administration, without giving any quarter to the perpetrators of violence. From the Centre’s point of view, it is important that the coalition government in the state does not do anything that comes in the way of the Army resolutely countering the armed terrorists in intelligence-based operations and the state police supported by the paramilitary—wherever necessary—maintains order in the streets. A certain weakness of the police on the law and order front has pushed the Army into situations of confrontation with the civilians.

It is good, however, that on the issues of both release of stone-pelters and Ramzan relaxation, the Army Chief has stated that counter-terror operations would continue where required and that stone-pelters supporting terrorists would be dealt with toughness. A message was clearly given to the adversary on behalf of the Centre that benevolence on the civilian front was a gesture that did not impede the serious business of putting down instigated violence.

A major gain for the nation from the functioning of the coalition government—howsoever imperfect—is that the effectiveness of the Army against the infiltrated terrorists has been maintained and measures have been taken to thwart Pakistan’s usual bid to step up cross-border terrorism in the summer months. In the first four months of this year, nearly 60 terrorists were eliminated in the valley—a disquieting part of this was that they included 27 local gunmen—while 29 security personnel also lost their lives, which is a heavy price to pay in the cause of national security. A totally political view of en masse release of stone-pelters on the basis of a built-up narrative of “all these being kids” ignored two serious concerns that a government responsible for law and order ought to have shown—drawing a distinction between youngsters who acted as pawns and the masterminds who plotted the violence from behind or right on the spot, and checking out with the families in every case to evaluate if they were willing to play a role in promoting peace through the boys set free without legal action. It is not clear if this was done. As it is the phenomenon of organised stone-pelting has reappeared and many new boys have been enlisted by enemy agents.

On the “Ramzan Ceasefire” issue, Mehbooba Mufti invoked the precedence of the A.B. Vajpayee government when a Non Initiation of Combat Operations (NICO) was ordered for a few months in 2001 to coincide with Ramzan, to generate pressure on the Centre. At that time the Srinagar airport was attacked by terrorists and this time around the halting of the Army’s counter-terror operations in deference to Ramzan has been followed by an encounter between the armed forces and terrorists in Shopian. It is only appropriate that the current suspension came with a clarification that the Army would have the right to retaliate if attacked. Ramzan is an all-important festival of a community and its celebration in public is a part of freedom of religion that should be exercised even in a disturbed atmospherics, subject to minimal regulations that local authorities might implement in everybody’s interest. The Ramzan gesture does bring political credit to the Mehbooba government and the Centre, but playing it by the ear does not detract from the strategic challenge that India faces in Kashmir on account of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism and the rise of religious extremism due to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba—an Ahle Hadis outfit—that have pushed the value system of Kashmiriyat totally into the background.

LeT representatives in Kashmir have rejected the concession shown by the government as a mere drama and called for continuing combat against the “armed occupational forces”. The Hurriyat leadership, which had all along been in the payroll of Pakistan, is now trying to bring Kashmir on the geo-political map of Islam’s struggle against its enemies—the trio of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Shah Geelani asked for protests on the first Friday of Ramzan to express solidarity with their Palestinian brethren. The shifting of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem ordered by President Donald Trump has added a new dimension to the “war on terror”.

The challenge in Kashmir is to establish the credibility and efficacy of a democratically elected government in terms of maintaining internal order, facilitating counter-terror operations of the Army by helping to prevent the loss of civilian lives and executing development projects all over the state. The coalition has remained too preoccupied with state politics to give full attention to the need for improving administration. It is time the state government reiterated the three-point Kashmir policy—that the undivided J&K is an integral part of India; that cross border terrorism will be met with zero tolerance; and that India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir cannot be resumed unless Pakistan expressly abjures terrorist violence.

India’s no nonsense approach to Pakistan has yielded rich dividends so far. India, US and other major powers have total convergence on the condemnation of Pakistan for providing safe havens to Islamic terrorists of various hues, from the Taliban to the LeT. India’s stand that talks and terror do not go together has won for the country a lot of respect in the world community. The Centre’s oversight on J&K should be strengthened even as the coalition government continues functioning in the state. The role of the Governor within the Constitutional framework to help out the state government on various fronts should be brought into greater focus.

D.C. Patakh is a former Director Intelligence Bureau

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