Things in Jammu & Kashmir are clearly on the mend. This is why politicians are jumping on to the demilitarisation bandwagon. In this sense, the Union government’s decision to examine the issue is a positive development. However, too much is at stake to allow the issue to become a political football. The current issue seems to have taken a life of its own from rumours that India and Pakistan are close to a behind-the-scenes deal that could see a quick settlement of the dispute. It has, therefore, triggered off a positioning exercise among Kashmiri politicians that has seen Hurriyat’s Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Bilal Lone of the People’s Conference and even Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen pressing for the idea. The People’s Democratic Party leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who has sought to position his party between these separatists and the mainstream Congress and National Conference, probably felt a bit left out and is now seeking to stake out his political territory as well.
Demilitarisation was first mooted as a stand-alone idea by General Jehangir Karamat, former Pakistan army chief who is now its ambassador to Washington, in September 2005. Later this was taken up by President Pervez Musharraf who linked it to his four-stage solution that included identifying a sub-region of the state, giving it self-governance and creating a joint management structure on top. At the time of the Karamat proposal, India had made it clear that it was not against the idea, but that the timing and extent of demilitarisation was a sovereign decision that only New Delhi could take. The key component here, it underlined, was the security situation in the Valley. In other words, demilitarisation was directly linked to the end of terrorist violence in J&K and the elimination of its support structure across the Line of Control in Pakistan.
Common sense shows that demilitarisation would follow the end of violence, not precede it. Since the army and the central police forces are organised units, it will be easy to pull them out quickly. On the other hand, getting scores of terrorist groups to end their activities will be a messier exercise. To rupture the security grid in anticipation of peace is to put cart before the horse.