J&K highway closure will further alienation

The Narendra Modi government has clearly not thought things through, relying on military means alone in Kashmir.

The government has recently passed an order that allows the movement of only military vehicles on the national highway that links Jammu to the Kashmir Valley on two days of the week — Sundays and Wednesdays. Along with withdrawal of armed security from top figures of mainstream political parties, a move that exposes them as soft targets for terrorist guns especially in election season, the overt militarisation of the highway is probably the most confidence-disruptive step that could have been thought up. It also mocks our democratic credentials and offers a justification to elements globally that are not well-wishers of this country to say Kashmir is under a military dispensation.

When the order was passed recently, the government said it was a temporary measure until the election as more forces had to be inducted for the duration of the Lok Sabha polls. This is far from being a convincing argument. Polls have been held very successfully in Kashmir before, but the lifeline of the Valley was never closed to civilians. Moreover, only the Parliament election is being held now, though Assembly polls are also due. This makes the election exercise a relatively lighter one, requiring far fewer troops to supervise it.

Before Independence and Partition, in the era of the maharaja, the only metalled road that linked India to the Valley ran from Rawalpindi to Srinagar. The Kashmiri was not an Indian national. There were border checkposts and customs barriers between two distinct domains. When the Jawaharlal Nehru government began work on the 350-km highway, among other things, it was also to establish an emotional connect between the people of Kashmir and the rest of India. This connect has been rendered fragile for several reasons over time, and closing the highway to civilians cannot but make the Valley feel more isolated and more resentful. That’s a perfect recipe for exploitation by Pakistan.

The Narendra Modi government has clearly not thought things through, relying on military means alone in Kashmir. Between 2000 and 2014, the situation had been on the mend but the drastic change in policy by the present government has brought on great trouble. The striking disinclination on the government’s part to play a political hand in Kashmir has alienated practically the entire Valley. The middle ground has vanished.

Last Sunday was the first day the highway was off limits to civilians. Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP came out on the streets protesting. The National Conference too said sharp things. The coming Wednesday may further reveal the picture.

The decision concerning civilians and the highway comes in the backdrop of a host of other decisions that have left Kashmiris perplexed and sullen — withdrawal of security for not only separatist leaders but also leading politicians who hold up India’s standard in a sensitive and dangerous region. The only thing to do is to rescind the absurd order.

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