In the euphoria of the innovative political experiment of a government formed with cooperation between the Jammu and the Kashmir regions it is good to be positive about the future. It has taken considerable courage on the part of both BJP and PDP to adopt a mature approach towards politics and management of the situation in J&K. An understanding has been arrived at after shedding core issues from respective manifestos and national interest has been given the priority. There were other options but quite obviously the best interest was served by the joining of hands by the parties which won the people’s mandate in the Jammu region and Kashmir region. There are contentious issues which continue to fester and it would be difficult keeping these from cropping up from time to time but political maturity would dictate that these be placed on the back burner even as the government pursues an agenda to bring true governance to the State. Among the areas of immediate concern would be the reconstruction efforts to overcome the disastrous effects of the floods in both regions in Sep 2014, enhancement of the quality of winter management of Kashmir and Ladakh (not forgetting higher reaches of Jammu), as also the provision of basic amenities like health care. By virtue of its isolation and security situation the state has also suffered in terms of quality education and even basic skill development which would give the youth a chance to compete for jobs in the job market outside the state. The announcement of an IIM and an AIIMS for the state is a welcome one. All such institutions must be aimed at becoming centers of excellence. Business development and cooperation between Jammu (as the business hub) and other portions of J&K must be sought particularly in expansion of tourism, construction trade and other development areas. There has been limited dialogue between the regions ever since the tense days of 2008-10 when Kashmir was rocked by the turbulent stone throwing agitation. It would be good if the government can set up ways of enhancing business and development dialogue to allow the stakeholders to throw up ideas and identify those areas where they can effectively cooperate. J&K is afflicted by a problem of too few entrepreneurs and too many seeking government jobs. This aspect must be addressed holistically through public information and outreach as well as soft bank loans and expertise.
All the above will be contingent upon the security situation remaining conducive to economic and social activity. While security does drive economics it is equally true that economics drives security. Thus to view security in isolated terms and purely from the point that absence of violence spells a secure environment would be a folly. The only major change in the security situation has been the ability of the Army and the Police to prevent any resurgence in strength of terrorists and terrorist leadership has been effectively curtailed for some years. Beyond that the potential of violence in different forms remains. Pakistan’s intent has not changed, it is only temporarily on hold because of the complexities of its internal security and the situation on the western border. The LoC and the IB sector have been live from time to time without any control on the triggers that bring about such exchanges leading to untold misery in the lives of the border population. Infiltration is under control but there can never be a guarantee that innovative methods and alternative routes will not lead to one bad season which can fill up the hinterland. Even if this is prevented there are enough fuming surrendered terrorists who were not integrated into society despite promises by past governments.
A secure environment is one in which the potential of violence is reduced and there is an absence of anti-national activity. The new government will have to work hard towards ensuring that those who can pick up arms against the state and follow an anti-national ideology abjure violence and look towards rest of the nation as their nation. Besides the development agenda and the continued pro-active deployment of the Army to create a stable environment there needs to be a public information outreach and perception management designed to create greater positive vibes in the population. There will be many obstacles in the way towards achieving anything in this sphere, chief among them being AFSPA (J&K 1990). The Army terms it an enabling legal provision to allow it to function unimpeded without frequent reference to civil authority. The public, local media and human rights (HR) activists call it draconian. The problem lies in the perception about the law, towards which we have never worked. An enabling law is a must to allow the Army to operate and lead the stabilization and subsequent move towards the resolution stage. The perception of the law must be protected, projected and ensured; name of such a law is irrelevant. Those who do not know J&K use harsh language and maintain irrational stands forgetting that the adjuncts of AFSPA all relate to mitigation and guidance to project the correct position. Three such adjuncts are – the Dos and Don’ts of the Supreme Court given in 1997, the SOPs of Northern Command directing how exactly CI/CT operations will be conducted (Rules of Engagement) and the operating principles of the Army’s military civic action program, Sadbhavana. When you read these in conjunction with the provisions of AFSPA, there appears nothing draconian about the instrument. The lesson from this is the need to have smart practices and a comprehensive approach towards public information management without which anti-national elements rule the perception game.
Another threat to security in J&K is the visibly enhanced presence of radicalism. With the events in West Asia, widespread usage of social media and the continuing efforts to impose a version of Islam which is radical in belief an attempt is being made to bring J&K into the international Radical Islamic fold. This has to be fought socially, culturally and realistically. Not much has been done in the regard and for some years the footprint of Radicalism is gaining ground in the mosques of the Valley, in particular. Better intelligence, control of financial conduits, watch over seminaries and public sermons as well as the promotion of J&K’s local Islamic religious and cultural content are some of the non-kinetic ways of countering this threat and changing the narrative.
The Kashmiri Pandits tend to get forgotten. Among the worst sufferers of the tragedy of J&K their safe return will bring greater sanity into the environment and help build the ‘bhaichara’ of old. Without the Pandits the Valley cannot be what it should be. The government is not required to force the issue but create the enabling environment which will ensure their safe return.
‘Savour the Moment’ was my message on the day of government formation, 01 Mar 2015. That message was designed to create positives and prevent entry of unnecessary questions on the longevity of this political experiment. I remain confident that the moment will become a period in which peace will return to J&K and the state will find its true position in the integrated Indian nation.