India's fight against terrorism has been debilitated all these years by the lack of a robust and cohesive political culture to combat the menace. The hanging of Afzal Guru for his involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack case has once again brought into sharp focus the need to keep the public/political discourse on terrorism inclusive and de-linking the perpetrators' faith from their bloody deeds. One must punish the terrorist under the due process of law. But prevention is better than penal deterrence or cure. Having carried out the hanging in Delhi on February 9 - in accordance to the Supreme Court's judgement - the UPA government must, without further loss of time, call an all-party meeting to build a united national approach to check alienation and educate public opinion in Kashmir.
Rather than being kept curfew-bound and deprived of information, the people of Kashmir must be allowed to hear the voices of support for Guru and his family that are emanating from civil society, human rights activists and a section of the media across the country. They must come face to face with the majesty of the very system that the Pakistan-trained terrorists, who were 'facilitated' by Guru, sought to undermine by targeting the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001.
There will be a galore of provocations - such as separatist leader Yasin Malik's sharing of the dais with 26/11 conspirator Hafiz Saeed at an Islamabad meeting against Guru's hanging. The seemingly choreographed protest deserves a strong diplomatic riposte from New Delhi. But the reaction must befit our non-denominational secular status as opposed to those invoking religion to claim the Muslim-majority Kashmir. It's incumbent, therefore, for even the BJP today to repeat what Jaswant Singh said before the failed Agra Summit between AB Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf: "What they call as the core dispute is in fact at the core of our nationhood."
Kashmir is indeed at the core of a very divergent, very eclectic and very plural India. That message has to be a constant in the political discourse in the Valley where separatists clog the airwaves between two elections at the expense of a national narrative. Political parties must set aside their differences, their partisan electoral impulses, to dominate the discourse in the troubled state. They must devise special opportunities for Kashmiri youth to give them a stake in the survival and prosperity of the country. The challenge is to link the country's destiny with that of the alienated province. For that to happen, the political class will have to work together - and not at cross-purposes in a state whose territory is so often violated by the enemies of peace - for a bright future for the very people they profess to support.