People carry the coffin of slain editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper, Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, during a funeral procession at Kreeri, some 40 kms north of Srinagar(Waseem Andrabi/ HT)
People carry the coffin of slain editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper, Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, during a funeral procession at Kreeri, some 40 kms north of Srinagar(Waseem Andrabi/ HT)

The government’s Kashmir policy needs a reboot, writes Barkha Dutt

Else, as Shujaat’s assassination shows us, things could become entirely irretrievable
UPDATED ON JUN 16, 2018 02:48 PM IST

The assassination of Shujaat Bukhari -- a friend and colleague -- throws me back to a chilling personal memory of Kashmir. The year was 2000. Then, like now, there was a ceasefire in the valley -- this one called by the Hizbul Mujahideen as a faction of its militants began historic talks with the Vajpayee government. Obviously a gigantic amount of back-channel work had been conducted by intelligence agencies to enable the first-ever dialogue of its kind. Those days, the Vajpayee vision of peace allowed interlocutors to explore breakthroughs without fear of being labelled traitors. But, alas, those who have advocated dialogue in Kashmir have always paid with their lives. Within days of the talks the Hizbul called off its ceasefire because of India’s principled refusal to make space for Pakistan at the same table.

I was in Srinagar reporting the story. Two days later, on August 10, I ran out of my hotel at the sound of a blast. Many other journalists from the press colony nearby (the same area where Shujaat was killed) were also running in the direction of the explosion. Within minutes, we would discover that this was a booby trap. A second more powerful bomb had been planted in a car; the first blast was a ploy to lure us to the spot. Pradeep Bhatia, photographer with the Hindustan Times, was the fastest on his feet. He was killed instantly. I remember cradling the blood-soaked body of Fayaz, another photographer, dragging him out of the melee, while simultaneously trying to remain cogent in my television report. Needless to say the talks with the Hizb collapsed after the terror strike on the media. Worse, the militants of the Majid Dar faction who had been willing to talk to the government were subsequently killed by Pakistan-backed groups.

While we await the results of the investigation, the assault on Shujaat could be similarly motivated. As does the murder of Aurangzeb, a soldier of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, who was abducted and killed by terrorists while he was on his way home for Eid. The government was to take a decision on extending its unilateral ceasefire beyond Ramzan; now that seems impossible.

But in the 18 years that tragically bookend the murders of Pradeep Bhatia and Shujaat Bukhari, Kashmir has changed perilously. Terrorist violence and Pakistan’s role in the valley is a constant. But the security forces had been vastly successful in containing militant activity. They had deftly brought the state to a situation where the onus was on political imagination to make the next move. That never came. And the vacuum grew alarmingly large. As the use of the ‘anti-national’ label became inanely commonplace, the irony is that it is in fact politicians who have let down soldiers with an inconsistent, unthinking Kashmir policy.

While all governments have made some mistakes, in the last four years especially, New Delhi’s Kashmir policy has been dangerously unsteady. It has lurched wildly between hardline jingoism and sheer denialism. Even the announcement of a ceasefire -- a gesture I otherwise welcomed -- seems to have been done without any ground work. It abruptly followed a phase of tough-fisted ground operations. Contradictions in the Kashmir policy mirror the ideological chaos of the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. The untenable coalition has fed the extremists on either side instead of being able to tame or moderate them.

Supporters of the BJP -- and you will see this on social media -- are unwilling to confront the resurgence in local militancy that some of us have been warning about for three years. When I factually reported that Burhan Wani’s father is a government school headmaster and Zakir Musa had studied engineering, I did so to make the point that generalised rhetoric about education and laptops vs stones won’t change much. For stating mere facts rightwing supporters vilify and smear us as if we are militants. News channels have done immeasurable damage to prospects of peace by tarring all Kashmiris with the same brush. Our refusal to create and engage with moderate Kashmiri voices is fast leading us to a point where there will be no one sane to represent the other side. Meanwhile police officers in the valley say women and children have begun to snatch weapons from men on duty. The funerals of those killed by the forces have become recruiting grounds for new militants. And when Kashmiri policemen travel back to their village, they sometimes cloak their faces to avoid being recognised.

India is absolutely right in rejecting the airy-fairy United Nations Human Rights Council report on violations in Kashmir. The report pretends terrorism does not exist. And of course we must damn Pakistan for its role in using terrorism as a weapon of asymmetric warfare.

But some mistakes are our own. The government’s Kashmir policy needs a reboot. And a start would be to restore the writ of the state and eliminate the inchoate paradoxes of the BJP and PDP partnership with governor’s rule.

Else, as Shujaat’s assassination shows us, things could become entirely irretrievable.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
It takes courage to push a conversation that evokes almost zero public sympathy in an audience that is inclined to believe that consent has no place on the marital bed(Shutterstock)
It takes courage to push a conversation that evokes almost zero public sympathy in an audience that is inclined to believe that consent has no place on the marital bed(Shutterstock)

The conversation India refuses to have

By Namita Bhandare
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 08:01 PM IST
In the past few years, India has broken traditional silences on sexual abuse, on consent, and on the rights of sexual minorities. It’s time to break another traditional silence
Close
What other, newer democracies find relatively easy — conducting an election, the counting of votes, the peaceful transition of power — seems to have befuddled the US. There can be and must not be any normalisation of gross prejudice or violence(AP)
What other, newer democracies find relatively easy — conducting an election, the counting of votes, the peaceful transition of power — seems to have befuddled the US. There can be and must not be any normalisation of gross prejudice or violence(AP)

After anarchy in the US, reimagining the middle ground

UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:53 PM IST
Governments have to learn how to engage with those who did not vote for them. Citizens have to learn how to converse amidst ideological divisions
Close
Mohammed Siraj led India’s breakthrough in the ongoing tour of Australia. But he grew up playing tennis ball cricket and first held a real cricket ball only five years ago.(Getty Images)
Mohammed Siraj led India’s breakthrough in the ongoing tour of Australia. But he grew up playing tennis ball cricket and first held a real cricket ball only five years ago.(Getty Images)

The secret weapons of a fast-bowling nation

By Rudraneil Sengupta | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 03:31 PM IST
Surprise finds are making their mark in the India bowling line-up, but they aren’t coming up through the system.
Close
A New York street in the 1920s. Just two decades earlier, in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, people had feared their cities would be buried in manure. Then the internal combustion engine took horses off the streets altogether, a shift often used to illustrate the unpredict-able fallouts of new tech.(Shutterstock)
A New York street in the 1920s. Just two decades earlier, in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, people had feared their cities would be buried in manure. Then the internal combustion engine took horses off the streets altogether, a shift often used to illustrate the unpredict-able fallouts of new tech.(Shutterstock)

The horseshit paradox: Why fears about tech are wildly exaggerated

By Charles Assisi | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 03:11 PM IST
Our world runs on complexity. And no machine we have created — or look likely to create — can truly navigate that complexity by itself, says Charles Assisi.
Close
It is no surprise that all kinds of protests are being seen in many parts of the world at the moment(SHUTTERSTOCK)
It is no surprise that all kinds of protests are being seen in many parts of the world at the moment(SHUTTERSTOCK)

This decade will be decisive for democracy, capitalism

By Shashi Shekhar
UPDATED ON JAN 03, 2021 10:07 PM IST
There is another fact which needs attention. Human civilisation has always discovered new light in the darkest days of crisis. With this hope, let us welcome this new decade.
Close
A vibrant corporate capitalist base also leads to additional revenues for the State — which, in turn, can be used for greater welfare for the marginalised and creating a more level-playing field in terms of opportunities(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
A vibrant corporate capitalist base also leads to additional revenues for the State — which, in turn, can be used for greater welfare for the marginalised and creating a more level-playing field in terms of opportunities(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

In defence of reformed capitalism

PUBLISHED ON JAN 02, 2021 07:05 PM IST
Targeting corporate capitalism won’t help. It is essential for growth and democracy. Focus on reforming it.
Close
A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with a Covid-19 vaccine, Lima, December 9, 2020(AFP)
A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with a Covid-19 vaccine, Lima, December 9, 2020(AFP)

A robust public broadcaster can guard against anti-vaccine rumours

By Mark Tully
PUBLISHED ON JAN 02, 2021 07:02 PM IST
There seems no reason to doubt that a large number of Indians are, to say the least, undiscriminating in the source of news they chose to watch. This will make them liable to fall prey to false information which can undermine the vaccination campaign.
Close
The silence and loneliness of being on my own is no longer intimidating. In fact - and I know that sounds a little perverse – I’ve enjoyed it. So this morning I feel I don’t want to lose it. At least, not completely.(HTPHOTO)
The silence and loneliness of being on my own is no longer intimidating. In fact - and I know that sounds a little perverse – I’ve enjoyed it. So this morning I feel I don’t want to lose it. At least, not completely.(HTPHOTO)

Goodbye to all that? I’m not so sure

UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2021 06:55 PM IST
The honest truth – and you’ve probably guessed it by now – is that I’m going into 2021 with a little trepidation or, if that’s too strong a word, more than a touch of hesitation.
Close
n many ways, Modi’s economic vision resembles that of the United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States President Ronald Reagan. Both faced an avalanche of opposition to their push for economic reforms(PTI)
n many ways, Modi’s economic vision resembles that of the United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States President Ronald Reagan. Both faced an avalanche of opposition to their push for economic reforms(PTI)

Farm stir: Latest attempt to stop Modi’s reforms

By Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda
PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2021 08:06 PM IST
The Opposition may continue to denigrate him, but millions see in the PM a rare determination and willingness to take risks and cleanse the rot
Close
US President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, December 29, 2020(REUTERS)
US President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, December 29, 2020(REUTERS)

Biden has no record of missteps on India

PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2021 08:06 PM IST
With the Chinese amassing troops along the border, Indians want to see more, even as they acknowledge that the US will not conduct its foreign policy to please India, echoing a Democratic congressional aide who is normally sympathetic to India but is frustrated by “constant pushing on China”.
Close
Ancient calendars could be intricate, beautiful, but confusing. Above is a section of the ancient Mayan calendar.(Shutterstock)
Ancient calendars could be intricate, beautiful, but confusing. Above is a section of the ancient Mayan calendar.(Shutterstock)

Lend me your years: How the Indian National Calendar came into being

By Rachel Lopez | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2021 08:29 PM IST
See how, back in 1955, an elite team headed by astrophysicist Meghnad Saha untangled India’s confusing variety of almanacs.
Close
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)

Poonam Saxena writes on the true heart of the Indian home, the aangan

By Poonam Saxena | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 07:04 PM IST
It now lives on largely in books and film, but the courtyard was where we cooked, celebrated, slept under the stars on summer nights.
Close
After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a New Year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a New Year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

A ‘new’ India can’t be built by abandoning the core values of our founding fathers

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 06:01 AM IST
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where an Indian identity is determined by citizenship, and not divided by the narrow domestic walls of caste, region or religion. Where true secularism demands that no state authority promote or discriminate against any religion, where equal respect for all faiths must be the basis of our constitutional secularism.
Close
The farmers’ protest may be geographically limited, but the ripples it has caused are international.(ANI)
The farmers’ protest may be geographically limited, but the ripples it has caused are international.(ANI)

The year is almost over, but scars will remain

By Shashi Shekhar
PUBLISHED ON DEC 27, 2020 06:13 PM IST
The year 2020 will be known as a year of bias, discontent, isolation and apprehensions. These can be brushed away by blaming the pandemic, but the virus merely amplified existing tendencies.
Close
The argument Covid-19 did not permit the session is specious. For a start, Parliament’s earlier functioning disproves it. The monsoon session was held in September when daily cases crossed 95,000. So how can a situation when the increase has reduced to under 25,000 be a credible reason for not holding the winter session?(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
The argument Covid-19 did not permit the session is specious. For a start, Parliament’s earlier functioning disproves it. The monsoon session was held in September when daily cases crossed 95,000. So how can a situation when the increase has reduced to under 25,000 be a credible reason for not holding the winter session?(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

Parliament should sit more often

UPDATED ON DEC 26, 2020 07:36 PM IST
The bigger moral argument rests on the belief Parliament is special. It represents our nation. It speaks for us and symbolises our resolve. So if the temple of our democracy ducks the challenge of functioning in a time of the virus what’s the example it sets for the rest of us and what’s the message it sends to the world beyond our borders?
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP