Kashmir never surprises. Its political parties continue to loot and misgovern and remain torn in their loyalty between India and Pakistan, while terrorists and security forces count dead and injured. You hear million opposing voices about how to settle this issue, all unrealistic. In 2015, the coalition government of the PDP and BJP tried to be different. They seemed eager to rid Jammu & Kashmir of terrorists and prop up the state’s fledging tourist business, infrastructure and economy.
It wasn’t easy as they had long been wedded to diametrically opposite political priorities. PDP believed in taking Pakistan, Hurriyat and terrorists on board for reaching a solution and according status of a sovereign state to J&K within the Union of India. However, the BJP’s sole focus was on development. It refused to deal with separatists or involve Pakistan in any discussion on J&K’s status. Yet, it knowingly walked into this untenable relationship, taking cue from Chanakya that sometimes one must take two steps backward for making a giant leap.
As subsequent events would unfold, Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister and PDP leader, turned out to be a bad stake to bet on. She kept releasing Pak agents, soft-peddling terrorists, pampering Hurriyat leaders, giving amnesty to stone-pelters, preventing state police from cooperating with security forces, lodging FIR against Armed Forces personnel and discriminating against Jammu and Ladakh in allotment of funds and development projects. She made BJP buy her bait that a unilateral ceasefire during Ramazan would send positive signals to terrorists and they would duly reciprocate. However, during this period, 73 terror incidents and 107 cases of stone-pelting took place and nine security force personnel and 12 civilians were killed.
BJP should have known that hired murderers do not reciprocate and unilateral offer of peace has no takers unless it is extended from a position of strength. They watched her actively pursue her secessionist agenda, yet they kept quiet, hoping that economic prosperity would draw majority of Kashmiris out in open to isolate separatists. This did not happen. Left with no choice, it withdrew support on June 19 and Governor’s rule was imposed for the 8th time in the state.
It is naïve to believe that the BJP timed its withdrawal to rally support of nationalists for 2019 parliamentary elections. If terrorists are not neutralised and benefits of development do not surface, it will have no PDP to blame. Also, to say that murder of journalist Bukhari, a campaigner for peace, and sepoy Aurangzeb snapped the BJP’s patience, is bizarre. Such killings have been a daily occurrence in Kashmir for years. The massive outpouring of local sympathy for Bukhari and Aurangzeb could possibly have led the BJP to sense that time had arrived to banish fear of terrorists from Kashmiris’ mind by giving Army a free hand, so that they speak up against those who had ruined their economy, radicalised their children and turned the Valley into a living hell. This was obviously not possible with Mehbooba at the helm.
It is not for the BJP alone to settle the Kashmir issue. It requires all political parties and people to reach to a consensus, but Indians hate consensus on any issue. Communists and liberal elites aggressively favour independence for Kashmiris. The Congress and National Conference believe in just fire-fighting and do not care if terrorist sleeper cells are set up and Kashmiri youths are radicalised and weaponised in preparation for the final war of independence. The PDP and Hurriyat long for a state that has all powers sans communication, defence and foreign policy. And, the BJP insists on treating J&K like 29 other states of India. How does one discover a common ground in these conflicting ideas?
Everyone would tell you that we must ‘talk’ to all stakeholders in Kashmir, which include Hurriyat leaders, terrorists and Pakistan to work out a ‘political solution’. But the question is, we talk for what? Is it for Kashmir’s independence, its separation, its merger with Pakistan or giving it the status of virtually a sovereign state within India? Since none of these is feasible, then what is the way forward? We cannot replicate Chinese experiment in Tibet by substituting population of Muslims in J&K with Hindus, nor we can split J&K in states of Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir or go for ethnic cleansing as Sri Lanka did against LTTE. So, the only option remains that we allow security forces to operate freely and push the developmental work aggressively, till stakeholders find a political settlement, acceptable to the nation. Let this be the last time when collusive politicians and terrorists have forced Delhi to impose Governor’s rule.
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing