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Manmohan misses peace bus in Kashmir

Manmohan misses peace bus in Kashmir
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir has failed to evoke any hope on the political front. His sixth visit as Prime...

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir has failed to evoke any hope on the political front. His sixth visit as Prime Minister of two UPA regimes was confined to laying the foundation stone of a power project and inaugurating another leg of the ambitious rail link that is aimed to connect Kashmir with rest of India.

Development and economic progress have been important ingredients of Delhi's agenda for Kashmir during the last 21 years of turmoil. The fact that the conflict had badly hit the infrastructure, thus limiting the services to the people, and paying attention to this critical area cannot be ignored, but bypassing of political issues has never been helpful even in capitalizing on the good things government would do from time to time.

Dr Singh's visit was marred by two audacious attacks on police and Army three days before his arrival. On June 22, militants killed two policemen at a point blank range, sending shivers down the spine of the security apparatus that has been treating militancy as history. A day after, on June 24, a more deadly attack on an Army convoy left eight soldiers dead, the highest number of Army casualties in Srinagar in recent years. In fact, the residual impact of militancy has not disappeared and the lull had given a "false hope" to people dealing with it. However, the number of incidents had drastically gone down.

Even the 2011-12 annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs was sanguine about the significant change that was taking place on the security front. "The incidents of terrorist violence declined from 708 in 2008, 499 in 2009 and 488 in 2010 to 340 in 2011. The number of security forces killed declined from 75 in 2008, 79 in 2009, and 69 in 2010 to 33 in 2011. The number of civilians killed also declined from 91 in 2008, 71 in 2009 and 47 in 2010 to 31 in 2011. The number of terrorists killed declined from 239 in 2009 and 232 in 2010 to 100 in 2011; showing the effects of better domination of the Line of Control and the resultant lower infiltration", noted the report with much optimism and hope for 2013.

However, after the hanging of Afzal Guru, the convict in Parliament attack case, the palpable anger and frustration not only among the general masses but also the separatist camp did indicate that the situation could take any turn. Resurgence of militants, which has become amply clear with the highly targeted attack on the Army, has put the situation in a different mode. What is more disturbing is the involvement of educated class of youth in the fresh spate of violence.

Analysts give many reasons for this change of heart among the Kashmiri youth. However, the common refrain is that the deadlock in political engagement, both at the level of India and Pakistan and Srinagar and New Delhi has shrunk the constituency of peace in Kashmir. From 2003-2007, Kashmir witnessed a radical change, with the serious engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad and Government of India and the separatists in Kashmir.

This revived the hope of a possible solution to the Kashmir problem. But things fell apart after Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf's debacle and the terrorist attack in Mumbai 2008; a major dent was caused to the peace process. This again opened up space for the hawks and those who have vested interest in violence. During his five previous visits to Kashmir, Prime Minister Singh had talked much about peace and reconciliation. He made a number of promises and also held Round Table Conference which threw up recommendations of Five Working Groups ranging from cross Line of Control measures to economic development, withdrawal of controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act and good governance.

With nearly no implementation of the recommendations of these groups, GOI's credibility again received a beating, thus further increasing the gap between Srinagar and New Delhi. The fifth and the crucial working group on Centre-State relations is yet to submit the recommendations in view of the showdown between two coalition partners, the National Conference and the Congress. In view of the happenings in the wake of Afzal's hanging and Centre's continued refusal to even consider partial withdrawal of AFSPA, the atmosphere in Kashmir needed a better political outreach. However, the attack on Army seemingly weighed heavily on Dr Singh's mind; he vowed to wipe out insurgency saying that the nation was united in doing so.

There cannot be any denial of the fact that protecting the sovereignty of the country is paramount, but the way GOI has itself been talking much about returned normalcy in Kashmir with the arrival 1.4 million tourists in 2012 and the season showing same indicators this year too, Prime Minister was expected to further widen the scope of reconciliation. This becomes inevitable in view of the change of government in Pakistan, which has said it wants to work for the peace, despite a little increase in violence in Kashmir. Reply to efforts at disturbing the peace in Kashmir can only be through the consolidation of gains made on the peace initiative during the last few years.

Militancy will not be wiped out completely even after tens of thousands of soldiers are deployed to do so. But the only way to discourage the sense that political goals can be achieved through violence is the political engagement with those who challenge the Indian rule in Kashmir and maximize the peace constituency. People of Kashmir have stakes in peace and whatever normalcy we have seen in the past two years is due to their will to see peace return to Kashmir. But it cannot be sustained by hard measures and without acknowledging the efforts of people to yearn for the peace.

Dr Singh was expected to talk about healing of wounds and recognizing the fact that people have been craving for justice on human rights front. But he chose to centre his talking point around the security concerns, which are no doubt important but do not surmount the political aspect of the Kashmir problem.

(The writer is editor of Rising Kashmir)

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