Let's Build on the Ceasefire, Regain Political Space in Jammu and Kashmir
jkupdate.com | 11-Jun-2018 03:18 PM

-Lt Gen (Retd) DS Hooda 
The Non-initiation of Combat Operations (NICO) by security forces, announced prior to the Ramzan period, is currently a hotly debated issue. In a sort of informal review a few days ago, the Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police stated, “The Ramadhan ceasefire has been successful thus far... The situation, particularly in South Kashmir, has eased.” 

A similar sentiment seems to prevail in the Ministry of Home Affairs which appears satisfied with the response to NICO and, as reported in sections of the media, could extend it beyond the holy month of Ramzan.

On the other side of the fence are some very respected strategic analysts who feel that this government initiative has come at an inopportune time. After the tremendous pressure that was exerted on the terrorists during "Operation All Out", the suspension of operations will only provide breathing space for them to regroup, recruit and emerge stronger. This argument is buttressed by the recent surge in grenade attacks on the security forces.

There is no doubt that the ceasefire (as the NICO is commonly called) is fragile, if only due to the fact that it is one-sided. All the terrorist groups have rejected it and one major terror strike could completely wipe out all the perceived success. As reported in the Daily Excelsior of June 3, a government source has stated, "Extension or no extension in the ceasefire by the Union government would depend on the level of violence during the remaining period of holy Ramzan month.”

In my view, the ceasefire has been a major initiative by the government and has immense potential. However, by linking the success or failure of the ceasefire primarily to violence levels, we are falling into a familiar trap. One reason that we have often misread the situation in Kashmir is because we have tended to look at violence parameters as the dominant metric in assessing the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The state government must not wait passively in the hope that violence and stone pelting will remain low but move decisively to take advantage of the ceasefire by a comprehensive programme to address some of the areas that have been severely impacted by the 30-year old insurgency.

The first of these is the civil society of Jammu and Kashmir. Caught between the security forces and the terrorists it remains mostly silent. When it speaks, it is vocal in its criticism of the government or stridently divided on regional lines. Now that the government has taken the somewhat risky step of the ceasefire, it must encourage the civil society to shed its reticence and come out clearly on the side of any initiative that can limit the horrific violence sweeping the Kashmir Valley. It is disappointing that people’s voices have not been raised enough against terror groups that have rejected the ceasefire.

The state politicians should take this opportunity and attempt to regain the political space that had been ceded as a result of the ongoing violence. The political mainstream’s inability to reach out to their constituents has debilitated the political process, as was evident in the extremely poor voter turnout for the Srinagar seat and the inability to hold polls in Anantnag. This is now the time for legislators to tell the people that conflict resolution will not come about as a result of stone throwing mobs and hartal calls by the separatists but when all parties, including the government, accept that violence alone cannot bring about political change. Maybe belated, but the government has taken the first step by implementing a unilateral ceasefire.

This period must also be utilized for engaging the youth, particularly those who have picked up arms and stones. This was also mentioned by the Prime Minister in his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir. However, mere words are not enough and must be followed up by specific actions. The new Surrender and Rehabilitation Policy remains mired in political differences between the PDP and BJP. Two months ago, a new policy for the Northeast, with enhanced incentives, was announced by the government. There were no murmurs by any political party.

The return of local youth who have joined terror groups, in whatever number, could be a key factor in how militancy plays out in the future. The political parties in the state must come together to accept a comprehensive policy which provides future hope to anybody willing to give up the gun.

For too long, success in Jammu and Kashmir has been held hostage primarily to security parameters – violent incidents, terrorists killed etc. In assessing the success of the ceasefire, we should look beyond this. This is the time to strengthen civil society, regain political space and break the recruitment cycle of local youth. I accept that all this will not be easy as the pains of the society and youth angst built up over decades of conflict cannot be easily healed. However, if we miss every opportunity due to cynicism or doubts about its success, we will remain standing in the same place.

The Home Minister is in Jammu and Kashmir to review the ceasefire. His decision should be based on the long-term benefits of this step. Sooner or later, a major terror strike will take place and the ceasefire will be under pressure or will be abrogated. At that stage, the government should already have taken some tangibles steps which provide the basis for moving towards conflict resolution.(The author is former Northern Commander, Indian Army, under whose leadership India carried out surgical strikes against Pakistan in 2016. Views are personal.)

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