In J&K, extend truce, start talking to ‘boys’

Deccan Chronicle.

Opinion, DC Comment

Civilian deaths stopped and this helped cool down the radicalisation of the uninitiated.

Pakistan violated ceasefire in Keri and Digwar areas of Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir. (Photo: PTI/File)

Just days before the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramzan, it’s a positive sign that the discussion in some government quarters is whether or not to extend the Ramzan ceasefire. This is suggestive of the fact that the experiment hasn’t yielded unhelpful results, although there were a few serious terrorist actions. The Pakistan-backed elements have obviously tried to be disruptive. On the Line of Control and the part of the international boundary that falls in J&K, Pakistani forces continued with their firing despite agreeing to observe the 2003 truce agreement in letter and spirit. In these circumstances, if the scale and frequency of terrorist attacks has abated in recent weeks, it’s due to the fact that the government’s initiative not to be proactive has been appreciated at the popular level. It gave them a respite from daily violence in the month of prayer and austerity. Civilian deaths stopped and this helped cool down the radicalisation of the uninitiated. An un-virtuous cycle was broken.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh has done well to visit the Valley in this period, and for once did not sound complacent and aggressive in his public remarks. He didn’t rule out discussions with the separatist Hurriyat Conference if the latter was ready.  This is the first time in the Narendra Modi government’s four years that the Centre appears to have made the move to calm the situation. So far, its policy rested on the premise that a heavy-handed approach, along with a dose of communal politics, would yield the desired result. This has proved to be manifestly wrong-headed. If the government sees its ceasefire initiative as being productive, it has the opportunity to build on it by actually initiating conversations with the disgruntled elements, the very people exploited by Pakistan in a systematic manner. This can be packaged in a pragmatic way so that no side has a sense of helplessness.

There’s not much to be gained by talking to the fruit-growers, tour operators or mainstream political parties. The time may have come to engage the “boys”. People like Hurriyat’s Syed Ali Geelani are unlikely to engage in a conversation. They have an ideological commitment to keep the fires stoked. Top separatists also fear being mowed down by Pakistan’s moles if they show any inclination for a dialogue. There are several examples before them. However, in Kashmir’s social-political milieu, there are many who are keen to be saved from the routine violence in the lives of the Kashmiri people. And while the Centre considers extending the Ramzan respite, it shouldn’t confuse this with taking the steps required to safeguard the journey of the yatris to the Amarnath shrine in a few weeks’ time. It is possible to do both with the acquiescence of ordinary Kashmiris.