In a gesture that may help de-escalate the cycle of violence in Kashmir, the Centre has offered a unilateral ceasefire keeping the period of Ramzan in mind. Deliberately crafted as a humane policy departure from the no-holds-barred approach being pursued for a while, the Union home minister took to social media to announce it. The move is also designed to give the beleaguered CM Mehbooba Mufti a breather of sorts. Not to mention attempting to create a conducive backdrop before the PM’s visit to the state.
Kashmir’s political leadership has welcomed the move—not that they have much traction with the youth on the street or the general populace in South Kashmir. The ageing separatists are yet to formulate their response. But perhaps expectedly, one of the main jihadist groups operating in J&K, Lashkar-e-Toiba, has rejected the Modi regime’s first such gesture as “drama”. In fact, the Army and intelligence agencies were opposed to the idea, given the past record of militant groups using ceasefire as a window to regroup.
But the core policy drivers for Kashmir—Rajnath Singh, BJP-RSS pointsman Ram Madhav and even NSA Ajit Doval—pushed for it. It was a surprising turnaround within a few weeks, because Mehbooba’s initial suggestion was rejected outright by the state BJP. Indeed, Rajnath had to strike a balance, qualifying that “security forces reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people”.
A test on the ground did not take long coming. No sooner did the announcement come than there was a gunfire exchange in Shopian and two civilian deaths in a grenade blast in Srinagar. Nonetheless, the “Non-Initiative of Combat Operations” (NICO) may lessen casualties on both sides, and make the lives of common citizens a little less vulnerable in the holy month. Whether the guns fall silent or not, this softer stance could help restart the dialogue process—formal or Track II—with Pakistan, the Hurriyat and others, without which the firing cannot cease in a durable way, nor peace even contemplated.