To restore peace in J&K, the Indian government must engage Hurriyat leaders, pave the way for State elections, possibly along with General elections, and help in the formation of the next elected government. But most importantly, the army and para-military forces have to be pulled out from inside Kashmir.
I went to participate in a candlelight event paying homage to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's statue on February 16, two days after the dastardly terrorist act in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, in which about 44 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed.
The event was organised by about 200 Dalit students on Hazratganj main crossing in Lucknow. The condolence meeting by Dalits students was sombre and no slogans were raised. At the neighbouring Mahatma Gandhi statue, a smaller number of nationalist groups of different shades were crying hoarse and shouting anti-Pakistan slogans, a sight that may have made Gandhi cringe.
The crucial question that arises is that why do such terrorist attacks continue to take place, if the Indian government, as claimed by the Prime Minister, has already given a fitting reply to Pakistan after the Uri terrorist attack in the form of a surgical strike? There is a clamour among the Hindutva hardliners for a stronger surgical strike. If the 2016 surgical strike has not deterred Pakistan based terror groups or the Pakistani Army, what is the guarantee that a fresh one will? And how many surgical strikes are issued before it triggers a full-fledged war? And who knows when the war will degenerate into a nuclear one? In fact, the Government of India's hard-line position against Pakistan and refusal for dialogue has made the situation worse.
While in Afghanistan the United States prepares to pull out its troops, India has been left in the cold. Donald Trump, who till now had adopted a reprimanding attitude towards Pakistan for giving shelter to terrorist organisations, has now realised their importance in brokering a peace deal with the Taliban. Now he ridicules Narendra Modi as someone who tells him that India has built a library, undermining the Parliament building made by previous Indian governments in Kabul. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi, who did not spare any international forums to demand isolation of Pakistan for its role in promoting terror, failed to convince even one important nation. China blocked the Indian attempt at United Nations to declare Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, the man behind the 2001 Parliament attack and also behind the recent Pulwama incident, to be named a global terrorist. Russia, which was considered close to India, is now building a military partnership with Pakistan.
The Indian government, like in past terrorist attacks, continues to blame Pakistan for the Pulwama terrorist attack. Can the Pakistani government be held responsible for JeM's act? India thinks so, but the rest of the world doesn't agree with this point of view. Will Pakistani government risk supporting such an attack on India when it is just about to host US-Taliban talks in Islamabad and is happy to be back in the good books of US? It desperately needs the US financial help to sustain its security apparatus.
India must realise that the victim card it plays is not isolating Pakistan but is increasingly making India helpless. In no position to launch a full-fledged war because of the impending danger of the use of nuclear weapons, it is in India's interest to buy peace with Pakistan and restore normalcy in Kashmir.
Facing marginalisation in Afghanistan peace talks, Indian government through its Army chief Bipin Rawat has signalled that it is willing to talk to the Taliban. This same government refuses to engage with the elected government of Pakistan, has failed to work out a coalition in J&K with People's Democratic Party and does not acknowledge the presence of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which possibly has more hold on people than any political party there.
In fact, it questioned Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for having had telephonic talks with Hurriyat leaders recently. It doesn't believe in dialogue and doesn't want anybody else to dialogue with anybody else. This holier than thou attitude has played havoc with people of J&K.
If the Indian government has no qualm about talking to the Taliban then it should reconsider its position on avoiding dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiri political actors. Imran Khan has pre-empted India by taking the Kartarpur Corridor initiative forcing it to cooperate as the Indian government cannot afford to hurt religious sentiments of the Sikh community. It should initiate a full-fledged dialogue process at the highest level. It cannot hope to have a better combination than Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the helm of affairs in Pakistan. It is a pity that there are attempts to cow down Navjot Singh Sidhu for advocating dialogue with Pakistan, who seems to be the only Indian politician who is trying to inject some sanity in the otherwise virulent atmosphere created in the country in the name of nationalist politics.
To restore peace in J&K, the Indian government must engage Hurriyat leaders, pave the way for State elections, possibly along with General elections, and help in the formation of the next elected government. But most importantly, the army and para-military forces have to be pulled out from inside Kashmir. The Indian government has to trust the J&K government to run its own affairs with the help of local police to control law and order situations like in other states. Army's role should be limited to protecting borders only. Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) must be given a silent burial, vocal demand for which was made by Omar Abdullah when he was serving as Chief Minister.
In essence, until the Indian government stops treating Kashmir like its colony, peace is unlikely to return to the valley. No government can use pellet guns on its own people.
We have moved away from the Gandhian values, especially in the current regime headed by Narendra Modi who doesn't visualise Gandhi's role beyond the sanitation campaign. And we have to rely on our Constitution to bring back normalcy to Kashmir. Narendra Modi has to expand his 56 inches chest to allow a larger heart to extend a hand of friendship and peace to people of Kashmir, its political actors, even those of separatist hues, and Pakistan. It must reach a written or an unwritten arrangement, just like the one with China, to not let soldiers from either side use any firepower.
Both governments will have to jointly deal with terrorists because terror organisations based in Pakistan are hurting the Pakistani population probably more than the Indian population, something which very few people in India realise.