With an eye towards possible security fall-out of 2014 US troop-pullout from Afghanistan, Centre is working towards a new initiative in J&K to politically take on separatists in the Valley.
The government’s strategy is to use empowered sarpanches and panches to build a democratic movement in the valley at the grassroots level.
Top government sources said at the heart of the new plan is that even if each of the 33.500 odd sarpanches and panches have just 100 followers, a political movement of more than 30 lakh people is generated in a 120 lakh population state. Clearly, the hard line separatists understand its political ramifications as Tehreek-e- Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani last week compared the sarpanches and panches to Ikhwanis--a counter-insurgency movement of the 1990s--and in effect being legitimate targets of terrorists.
While discussing the ramifications of the US pull-out with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this month, the national security managers were of the opinion that a tranquil Line of Control (LoC) was central to peace in the Valley. It was pointed out that armed militant cadres had declined to some 300 in the state and six terrorists had sneaked in from the Poonch sector during the LoC firing this month. Kashmir separatists also saw a political opportunity when they said that LoC firing was part of the Kashmir problem.
In line with the proposed strategy, the Centre is in favour of giving area and not personal security to sarpanches and panches as giving out one gunman to all 33,000 would neither be efficient nor productive. While the state government continues to mull over incorporating elements of the 73rd amendment to further empower the state Panchayats, the UPA feels that sarpanches and panches could be nominated to the Block Development Councils through an ordinance till such time elections take place.