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Kashmir: The long term will be tricky

It’s true that the two parts of the state, Jammu and Kashmir, are currently polarised to the extent they’ve never been before. The number of young Kashmiris joining terror groups is at an all-time high according to the state police. The Hurriyat seemed to be preparing the ground for talks with New Delhi before the situation changed and the state came under Governor’s Rule. But the script remains unaltered.

columns Updated: Jun 23, 2018 16:50 IST
Chanakya
Chanakya
Hindustan Times
Police take guard behind a barricade as Kashmiri protesters clash with police on the outskirts of Srinagar after forces killed four militants at Nowshera village in South Kashmir on June 22, 2018(Hindustan Times )

The crisis in Kashmir has been cyclical over the past decade and a half, perhaps longer. There’s dialogue, or at the least, the promise of it, between India and Pakistan and between New Delhi, the state government and the separatists. There are terror attacks and instances of stone pelting. There are killings, of terrorists, militants, members of the security forces, and civilians; and there are funerals. There’s hope and disenchantment, grief and anger. Things seem to be getting better, then they aren’t. There’s a democratically elected state government, and then there’s President’s Rule. The specifics may be different each time, but there’s a script that stays mostly the same.

It’s true that the two parts of the state, Jammu and Kashmir, are currently polarised to the extent they’ve never been before. The number of young Kashmiris joining terror groups is at an all-time high according to the state police. The Hurriyat seemed to be preparing the ground for talks with New Delhi before the situation changed and the state came under Governor’s Rule. But the script remains unaltered.

Enough has been written about why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ended its alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and also the timing of its decision. There’s also been a lot of commentary on how New Delhi will manage the state now. It is important to look at this across two time horizons.

In the short term, the Central government will be hoping it can get through the summer without any significant increase in terror attacks and protests (including stone pelting) in the Valley. Given the current environment in the state, it is unlikely that this objective can be achieved, if it is indeed achievable, through dialogue. The central government’s preferred approach could be more policing and more operations by the security forces. Even a surgical strike against terror modules just across the border with Pakistan can’t be ruled out. Apart from weakening terror groups ahead of the winter — there’s typically a lull in such activity, and also in local protests during the winter months — this could also add to the BJP’s political capital across India ahead of elections in three important states later this year and the Parliamentary elections in 2019.

Simultaneously, New Delhi could, now that it is in complete charge of the state (and running it through technocrats) embark on an intense bout of welfare and developmental spending in an effort to engage with Kashmiris. Even if it doesn’t work, this could give the government something to talk about.

The Central government’s thinking may be that a combination of these two could see it through the next three to four months. The boiling pot that’s Kashmir can then be safely put on the back burner till next spring. The cycle can then begin afresh.

Chanakya has steered clear of the question of elections in the state because the answer to that is anyone’s guess (with a maximum of two, maybe three people in New Delhi knowing the answer). As things stand, we are unlikely to see one in 2018, and the Election Commission may not be too keen on holding elections in the state along with the parliamentary elections (although Chanakya would be happy to be proved wrong on both counts).

The long term is trickier. There are four dimensions to this.

The first is Pakistan. India’s western neighbour goes to the polls in July, and most opinion polls say the Pakistan Muslim League (N) will return to power. There’s nothing to suggest that the party will be able to exert the kind of control over the country’s all-powerful army that it not been able to in the past, but New Delhi and Islamabad both understand that they have to sit down to talk at some time. This may not happen till the second half of 2019, after elections are over in India and a new government has been sworn in.

The second is the state’s local political leadership. The BJP controls Jammu but Kashmir is under the PDP and the National Conference (NC). Its dalliance with the BJP has cost the PDP dear. Its soft separatism may not hold the appeal for Kashmiris it once did and party chief Mehbooba Mufti may have to consider taking a more extreme position. It isn’t clear whether the NC will benefit from the disenchantment with the PDP. The result could be a political vacuum that needs filling.

The third is the leadership of what Kashmiris refer to as the resistance. The Hurriyat seems to have lost the standing and the credibility it once enjoyed. Even as it talks to the Hurriyat, New Delhi will need to find other leaders of the resistance, both dissidents from the Hurriyat, as well as entirely new ones to talk to if it wants to achieve a breakthrough (always being careful that it isn’t creating a monster).

The last is the people of the state who are caught between their local leaders, the Hurriyat, militants, and the security forces. To address their grievances, New Delhi needs to succeed with its short-term strategy; a strong and stable local government has to be in place; and India and Pakistan, and the central government and local resistance leaders need to be talking. If that doesn’t happen, Kashmir will stay stuck in its loop of hope, tragedy, and violence.

First Published: Jun 23, 2018 16:49 IST