Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Srinagar, the capital of the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on Saturday (May 19) against the backdrop of what is being (incorrectly) referred to as a “ceasefire” by the security forces, announced by the central government in Delhi.
This “ceasefire” is more accurately a cessation of counter-terrorism operations by the police and army for a 30-day period beginning May 17 to mark the fasting month of Ramadan. The caveat of responding if attacked by terror groups is part of the protocol.
This recommendation to cease combat operations temporarily against the terrorist groups was made by the Chief Minister of the state Mehbooba Mufti and to the surprise of most observers, the Modi government agreed to extend the olive branch, though there are many voices that have warned against such a cessation of operations.
Skeptics point to a similar initiative in J&K by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000-2001 and the limited success it had at the time. It has been argued by the skeptics that offering such a window of cessation of operations by the security forces is ill-advised, for it allows terror groups and their handlers to regroup, when they are under pressure; and that past experience has shown that such magnanimity by the state is misplaced.
If the cluster among the Kashmiri youth, that takes recourse to violence, has to be prevailed upon to give up the gun, they need to be given a more inspiring narrative of what lies aheadC Uday Bhaskar
Prospects of peace
What does the current initiative and the Modi visit to Srinagar mean for the prospects of peace in the troubled state of J&K – and the Kashmir valley in particular? Developments over the last few days do not inspire confidence, for the local ‘separatist’ leaders have termed this Mufti led initiative as “cosmetic measures” and the terror group, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) has rejected the cessation of combat operations as a “drama”.
To add to the bleakness, on Thursday (May 17) terrorists killed a 23-year-old local youth on the first day of Ramadan in the Bandipora area of north Kashmir.
Kashmir watchers aver that the mood in the valley is very dark and that many of the local youth feel despondent and are devoid of any hope, having lived under the trauma of terrorism and the steady inroads made by Islamist group who preach violence and bloodshed.
Certain red lines have been crossed and the deliberate targeting of a tourist who was killed on May 8 by stone-pelting is indicative of the wanton violence being indulged in by the local youth. Older Kashmiris this analyst spoke to were anguished at this turn of events and conceded that the younger generation has little respect for the indigenous “Kashmiriyat” ethos that once defined the local populace.
Violence in Kashmir has been steadily increasing and in 2018 security forces have neutralized 270 militants/terrorists, while losing 139 of their own personnel. Concurrently the civilian death toll is 145 and cumulatively this works out to 4 deaths per day in 2018, as of mid-May.
The number of local youth who are now taking up arms against the state is also increasing and this is cause for deep concern and a muscular security approach when dealing with one’s own citizens can only be a means to a larger end – a consensual socio-political accommodation of local sentiment, aspiration and anger.
Testing troubled waters
Thus Delhi and Srinagar have to test the troubled waters and the Modi-Mufti initiative must be welcomed despite the many misgivings. In August 2016, PM Modi reached out to the people of J&K and recalling his predecessor, Vajpayee, he advocated a political approach of a sustained empathetic “dialogue” that would combine insaaniyat (humanity), jamhuriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat.
If the cluster among the Kashmiri youth, that takes recourse to violence, has to be prevailed upon to give up the gun, they need to be given a more inspiring narrative of what lies ahead – such that equitable peace is given a chance to take root.
This narrative must also persuasively question and discredit the distortions of religion – particularly one that accords theological legitimacy to bloodshed in the name of Islam. Ramadan is an opportune moment to encourage deep introspection on such matters.
Civil society, religious leaders and the family have to be part of the enabling eco-system and this author has long advocated a greater role for the women of Kashmir. Who better than a mother, aunt or teacher to counsel the angry young youth about the path to be avoided?
Many tracks have to be pursued and PM Modi, who is a skillful orator, could use his Srinagar visit to reach out to one part of India that remains tenaciously alienated and create the necessary conditions for the local political leadership to close ranks and accord this Ramadan cessation of operations an earnest chance.
Given how tenuous it is, this peace initiative will have to be monitored a day at a time.
Chitrapu Uday Bhaskar, a retired Commodore who served in the Indian Navy, is one of India’s leading experts and outspoken critics on security and strategic affairs. Commodore Bhaskar is currently the Director of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), an independent think-tank based in New Delhi, India. He has the rare distinction of being the head of three think tanks during his career - the earlier two being the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF). He is a columnist, editor, and contributor of numerous research-articles on nuclear and international security issues to reputed journals in India and abroad. Bhaskar has an abiding interest in the visual arts, film and theater. He tweets. @theUdayB.