The much-applauded development initiative of the Indian army - Operation Sadbhavana - is producing the unintended and undesirable result of further edging out the civil administration in the state, said Professor MM Ansari, one of the three central interlocutors for Jammu & Kashmir.
The key to the government's J&K policy should be to strengthen the state and local body administration and withdraw the army's presence from delivery of basic public services, Ansari told HT in an interview, arguing that there was a need for the "politics of good governance take strong roots".
Operation Sadbhavana (meaning Goodwill) was launched by the army in 1998, famously reinvented in 2002 to win the hearts and minds (Wham, as the army strategists called it) of people.
It has since been replicated by other central forces, who set up medical camps, repair and maintain schools, provide vocational training as well as construct toilet blocks, small bridges and culverts.
"It is simply not their job to provide education, health and other facilities… the objective was to carve an operating space for the armed forces but they have ended up narrowing the scope of the local bodies," Ansari, who was roped in at the instance of the PMO as one of the three interlocutors, said.
"There is no longer an emergency situation as may be in the past…. There should be willingness to accept that normalcy is returning and restore the constitutionally-mandated space for every pillar," he said.
"There are elected bodies such as panchayats… Let them take the responsibility for their mandate," he said, acknowledging that the local machinery may not be as efficient and well-oiled. "Otherwise, it will completely rust".
Ansari -who backed the J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah's move to hasten the phased withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) -asked him to do the same for the state's Public Safety Act (PSA).
"The situation is conducive for gradually withdrawing draconian laws as peace has gained a foothold. People should be rewarded for helping bring peace. Else, they will not trust the government…," Ansari said, insisting that security forces should also be moved out of residential areas which leads to friction with locals and fuels a militant mindset.
Ansari was one of the three interlocutors who handed their roadmap for peace to home minister P Chidambaram. Journalist Dileep Padgaonkar and academic Radha Kumar were also appointed as interlocutors on a one-year term that expired in early October.