Has Mehbooba Mufti’s outreach yielded any positive results in Kashmir?
Seeking to bring peace to the Valley, the J&K CM seemed to have ignored other parts of the state.
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Mehbooba Mufti has throughout her tenure attempted to be an optimist, at times even utopian. She has regularly called for the youth to shun violence, has announced that guns and stones are not an answer, sought to lodge FIRs against the army for retaliating against stone pelters and even forgiven those indulging in violence. All in the belief that Kashmiri youth would respond to her requests of curtailing violence and the valley would rise to its earlier pristine glory. Her soft approach has been contrary to the hard one adopted by the centre and security forces.
Simultaneously, she had requested for a unilateral ceasefire, especially during the period of Ramzan. The government responded with NICO (Non-initiation of Combat Operations) and once implemented, she appealed to Pakistan and militant groups to follow suit. As expected, none responded. The LeT officially rebutted her offer.
She has attempted to appease masses by appealing as a state against the removal of Article 35A, supported the Valley by ordering a state crime branch probe into the Kathua rape case solely on religious grounds and has even been regularly requesting the Hurriyat to join peace talks. All her actions seem to be revolving around the valley. She has tended to ignore other parts of the state, seeking to bring peace to the Valley.
J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had requested for a unilateral ceasefire, especially during the period of Ramzan. [Photo: Agencies]
Her comments appear to present a picture that she has the interests of the Valley and its youth in her heart. Her calls for talks with Pakistan have been ignored by the centre as the government continues to blame Pakistan for fermenting violence in the valley. She has at times blamed Pakistan for the casualties along the borders, while at times she has adopted the Hurriyat line of talks to resolve Kashmir. Her regular demands for initiating talks with Pak have even had her dubbed as an anti-national.
Her basic fault remains in her belief that violence would reduce if security forces limit their actions. It is this belief which has pushed her into seeking a ceasefire. NICO has resulted in the army stopping cordon and search operations, launching operations against local militants in built up areas unless attacked, thus reducing stone pelting. Since no local militants were slain, there were no burials, hence lesser would join militancy. However, all this is a temporary measure. Local militants would soon display their colours and compel the army to relaunch operations. It is time she and her government accept ground realities and act, failing which militancy, which has reduced in tempo would rebound.
The reality, especially as it concerns the valley is lack of political outreach. While she has been making her appeals, her political outreach essential to win the trust of the population, has been missing. Most of her elected MLAs have rarely ventured into their constituencies to spread her word, solely fearing security concerns. Thus, governance and alongside it, her calls for shunning violence, have had almost no impact across the region.
She has simultaneously made no effort to reduce the influence of the Hurriyat, which allegedly controls violence in the Valley based on their hawala funds and direct instructions from Pakistan. They have ignored her appeals and even refused to respond to her. When Irfan Sheikh raised his voice against the Hurriyat, the video of which went viral, she should have exploited the same politically, which she failed to do, allowing the Hurriyat to regain the initiative by releasing the second video, in which he apologised for his outburst. It was only Jatinder Singh of the BJP, who exploited it.
Her utopian belief may have worked had the Valley not been radicalised, violence paid for by hawala funds and the youth had opportunities to release their pent-up energy in other spheres. Her blaming and accusing security forces for excessive force, by lodging FIRs has only angered the nation, though may appease the locals.
The reality is that security forces are in the region for a purpose. They neither seek to target locals nor operate against them. When challenged or threated they would respond. Their task is to target militants, locals or Pak launched. In the process, those seeking to distract them, leading to own casualties, would become casualties. She is aware of the multiple social media groups, created and supported by anti-national elements, which incite the public to move into encounter sites, desiring forces retaliate.
It is these casualties, either of local militants or stone-pelters killed, which breed more militants.
She has refused to accept that it is glorification of eliminated militants which has led to more youth joining militant ranks. The chants during the burial, firing of small arms and large crowds, with words of praise by over ground workers and Hurriyat representatives, incite the crowds and draws in recruits into militancy. This has been proved by the recent study conducted by her own police. Logically, she should have stopped family burials for eliminated local militants, but it would impact vote banks, as also initially lead to more violence, hence has been continued.
The BJP-PDP combine in Jammu and Kashmir, is possibly a government of convenience as both parties represent different vastly different regions of the state. While the PDP has maximum seats from the Valley, the BJP has them from Jammu. Both are desperately seeking to hold onto their vote banks and hence have failed to come together to find common ground in the state. Even the surrender policy is held up due to variations in view. In the bargain, both regions have suffered and neither has trusted the coalition.
It is to her credit that despite all shortcomings of the coalition, they have held together. She has held the fort and attempted to appease the population during the uprising post the elimination of Burhan Wani. Any other weak-hearted chief minister would have resigned, to gain public sympathy, but she held forth. The government at the Centre has been providing every assistance in every manner, yet on ground, visible change is missing.
There is still time. Outreach by the government, positive development, limiting the influence of the Hurriyat and renewed investigation by the NIA and ED, could change the structure in the Valley. She can herald this change, but then must climb down from her utopian heights and take the bull by the horns. If she does not act, this combination may not return in the next elections.