Those who are adept at reading the tea leaves on the Kashmir issue may well find that the configuration is looking far better than it has for some years now. Even as winter tightens its grip over the volatile Valley, the militants find that they are skating on thin ice. The Hizbul Mujahideen militants, once the undisputed overlords of Kashmir, are in tatters today after their ranks have been decimated by the security forces. Many of its cadres have surrendered and its top leadership, or what is left of it, is at loggerheads with each other. The other militant groups are also somewhat directionless today following the turmoil in Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, widely credited with orchestrating militancy in the Valley, appears to be lying low in light of the renewed international scrutiny on terrorism emanating from the region.
While it is odious to draw comparisons, the contrast between an economically buoyant India and a strife-torn Pakistan has never been more stark. The result has been that many of the Valley’s youth no longer consider Pakistan as a viable option to throw their lot in with. Rather, they are eager to make the best use of the opportunities offered by a new age India. This is not to suggest that the era of militancy is behind us. There is no doubt that on seeing the ground slipping from underneath their feet, the militants will try to mount spectacular attacks in different parts of India. But the dream of wresting Kashmir away from India is now a mirage. Given these factors, the situation is very much advantage India. The challenge now is for New Delhi to capitalise on these favourable developments and take measures to win over the sections in the state that still remain alienated from it. So far, successive governments have singularly failed to read the mood in the Valley and act accordingly. The time is ripe to deliver on the promises of developing infrastructure and industry in the state.
So far, all efforts have been piecemeal and subject to political vagaries. Sticking points like the final resting place of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Butt’s remains — he was hanged in Tihar Jail in 1984 for the murder of an intelligence officer—should be resolved. If the government fails to act now, the mood could well change as we have seen in the past. The story of Kashmir has been one of squandered opportunities. This time round, the government must not add to that score.