Kashmir has been under curfew for over a fortnight after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8 and people are in desperate need of political succour. Union home minister Rajnath Singh finally reached the Valley last week and though civil society representatives boycotted him, the senior minister managed to utter a few words of solace: “We want an emotional bond with Kashmiris, not a relationship of necessity.” It is a case of too little, too late, but it is one step in a long journey that the governments in Srinagar and New Delhi must take if they want to address a complex issue that needs healing.
The Valley has been in distress and Wani’s killing was the proverbial last straw. The violence that followed the killing of Wani was something that chief minister Mehbooba Mufti should have anticipated. She should, in fact, have analysed the reasons why youth from her bastion of South Kashmir found Wani an attractive role model. Alarm bells should have rung in New Delhi too. It was known for over a year that Wani was operating and changing the face of militancy in Kashmir; that locals were coming out in large numbers to attend the funerals of dead militants; that the locals were hindering counter-insurgency operations by shouting pro-azadi slogans and preventing soldiers from proceeding towards their targets.
Truth and reconciliation is a step forward and if Mr Singh is serious about forging an emotional bond, then the government must accept that like previous governments, they too are guilty on several counts: First, for judging ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir through the number of tourists visiting the Valley; second, for believing that the military can solve the problem for them; and, third, for hoping that economic packages – one was given last year by the NDA government after the devastating floods – can help them buy their way out of what is essentially a political problem that needs sustained dialogue.
Mr Singh has promised to review the use of pellet guns but that is only one of many steps that are needed. Ms Mufti had protested against the same guns during the 2010 agitation but allowed their use this time round. The chief minister has called for lifting of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act in phases and wants a dialogue with stakeholders, including the separatists. We have heard the same during the earlier phases of turmoil in the state. Mr Singh and Ms Mufti must stay the course, for if they don’t, there will be a repeat of hostilities in the Valley --- as violent and intense as the current one.