Kashmir Valley is on the boil again. If home minister Rajnath Singh's statement in Parliament on Thursday is to be believed, along with the 38 deaths and 2,180 civilian injuries in firing, one police officer died and 1,392 security men were injured in the attack by agitating crowds.
It has been like this in J&K, off and on, for nearly 30 years. A child who was born in 1989 is now a 26-year-old young man.
What has he seen in the last three decades? Curfew, clampdown, terrorist attacks, dead bodies, deserted streets...
Yes, it was a grave mistake on Jawaharlal Nehru's part to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations and promise a plebiscite. But Nehru can't be blamed for all what is going on there?
Successive governments of different political affiliations, both in New Delhi and Srinagar, have contributed to the mess we are in.
While bringing back normalcy has to be the immediate goal, winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiri youth must be the next priority. In this regard, Rajnath Singh's statement is a welcome move.
The home minister, under severe criticism over a large number of Kashmiri youth being hit in the eye with pellet shots by security forces, announced the setting up of an expert committee to suggest alternative to this non-lethal weapon to control crowds.
Long-term political solution, however, will require concerted efforts to evolve a consensus among the elected Kashmiri leaders, the Union government and prominent opposition parties.
|Aren't the security forces seen by many in the state as an occupying force? (AP)|
We need an interlocutor for J&K for ten years - as former Union home secretary K Padmanabhaiah was for Nagaland - who enjoys trust and confidence of all stakeholders, who will connect with all shades of opinion-makers in and outside the Valley, and painstakingly carves out a template which appears a win-win scenario for all.
To begin with, a little introspection and soul-searching will do us no harm.
For nearly 30 years, the Centre has been maintaining around 3,50,000 troops in J&K.
Has their presence made the lives of ordinary Kashmiris more secure than in the 1980s?
Aren't the security forces seen by many in the state as an occupying force?
Shouldn't it be given that as a nation basically inimical to us, Pakistan would do what it has been doing all these years?
Pakistan is busy doing in Kashmir what it had done in Punjab in the 1980s and the early 1990s when it instigated, financed, trained, armed and even exported Khalistani terrorists in the state.
The Khalistani insurgency failed largely because the vast majority of Sikhs didn't embrace militancy. Sadly, that is not true about Kashmir today.
We need to find out why most people in the Valley don't feel connected with the rest of the country. There should be a concerted attempt to win over the youth of the state who have been radicalised over the years, if not decades.
It must be understood that the alienation of the Valley is the culmination of the sordid saga of arrest/dismissal of CMs on dubious grounds, rigged elections, mal-governance, rampant corruption, lack of employment, steep decline in tourism, excessive use of force by security agencies, and of course the role of Pakistan in providing funds and arms to anti-India elements in the Valley.
Social networking has become a tool of instant dissemination of negative developments aggravating the situation.
J&K isn't just a law and order problem. It is primarily a political issue which can only be tackled politically: by restoring people's trust in government/security agencies, and allaying fears and anxieties about trampling on the state's special status.
Also, it's time the Centre realises that AFSPA can't - and should not - be a permanent feature in the lives of Kashmiris.
Though it's not the author's contention that the armed forces in the state do not need legal protection, this one single move would garner a lot of goodwill for the government.
But the real normalcy will come only when the state witnesses economic development at the grassroots level.
The youth of the Valley can't be allowed to be left idle to be misused by anti-India forces. The government can involve apolitical youth icons to connect with the youth to wean them away from militancy.
IIFA, for instance, holds its annual function in different world capitals, why not in Srinagar?
In the 1960s, most Bollywood blockbusters were shot in Srinagar and Pahalgam; with secure conditions, they can be brought back.
Likewise, the Centre can ensure the state hosts sporting events. Though it will require a lot of efforts to successfully hold these events in J&K, the windfall of the entire exercise would be immense.
In all these things, the government must not come across as a weak, compromising player. The policy of blowing hot and blowing cold doesn't help; it sends mixed signals.
Political leaders of the Valley who support terrorists and don't accept India's Constitution must be put behind the bar indefinitely.
Above all, we should upgrade our surveillance and intelligence gathering and apprehend infiltrators at the porous entry points.
Last but not least, we must shame Pakistan internationally by publicising its irrefutable involvement in acts of terrorism in India. Kashmir is a long battle. We need to play it that way.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)