Peace in the Valley

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat
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An Army ceasefire for a month will not help Kashmir

SUMMERS HAVE BEEN a fraught time in Jammu & Kashmir for almost a decade now. This year is no different. Since January, Indian armed forces have notched up a number of successes in neutralising terrorists in the Valley, especially in the restive districts of south Kashmir. On May 9th, at an all-party meeting in Srinagar, the Army was requested to observe a ‘ceasefire’ for the month of Ramzan and the Amarnath pilgrimage season.

In his response a day later, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said that this request can be considered, provided there be an assurance that troops in the Valley are not attacked. He cited the events of 2016’s summer, when the Army disengaged for a while but came under severe attack from terrorists and disaffected civilians (the so-called ‘stone pelters’). The question is back in the court of Kashmiri politicians: can they provide such a guarantee?

The answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. The reasons are easy to discern. At each step of the ferment in the rebellious province, civilians have been used as a political tool by parties to further their goals. The way this happens is simple: when a party wins power in Srinagar and sets down to govern the state, within no time opposition parties begin using stone pelters to create disturbances to bring down the government a notch or two in public estimation. By the time a government’s tenure is at its end, it has no control over events in the Valley. Then it is the main opposition party’s chance to govern the state. But it is also its turn to have stones pelted at it. In this bargain, the entire political space has been ceded to such elements over the years. The only time the state gets some respite is in winter, when everyone huddles indoors. The complaints made by mainstream politicians of the Valley’s sufferings need to be viewed in this context of seasonal strife.

For democracy, the good thing about this pattern is that contrary to claims that the Valley has been ‘militarised’ beyond all hope of normalcy, one can see signs of vibrancy in the state’s competitive power politics. The trouble is that it is a destructive form of politics that makes life difficult for everyone in the state. The challenge for its politicians is to abandon this ugly equilibrium in favour of something positive. Asking the Army to suspend its operations does not aid that effort.