Kashmir Needs a Charm Offensive

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The army issuing a commendation card to Nitin Gogoi who used a Kashmiri as a human shield against stone-pelters betrays total political bankruptcy of Modi regime in handling the Kashmir dystopia. Now brighter Nitins in the army would be emboldened to take a leap - from human shield to lynch for higher rewards, from a card to a glistening shield. All the while, a lame duck Chief Minister refuses to stir from an undeserved siesta.

Rebuffed by Pakistan in Modi's diplomatic efforts to break the chill in Indo-Pak relations and seething over recent beheading of two jawans the PM won't easily forget his 2013 words "The soldiers of our nation are beheaded and after a few days the Prime Minister of that nation is treated with chicken biryani".

So, detente is out. Political dialogue with domestic stakeholders wasn't ever on the menu of the present regime, so now all eggs in the military basket.

But will it work? The Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act 1990 granted the armed forces omnibus powers of search and seizure, arrest, and even to kill on mere suspicion with impunity in disturbed areas. Considering the massive deployment in Kashmir, twenty-seven years is a long enough time for the army to have 'enabled' Kashmiris to make up their minds. That hasn't happened. In recent times, it has not even been able to fully secure its camps or convoys from sneak attacks. Against 5 terror attacks on its camps/convoys from 1999-2013, 14 years, there were 11 sneak attacks in less than 2 1/2 years since then.

Indian soldiers patrolling at Kashmir-Pakistan border.Indian soldiers patrolling at Kashmir-Pakistan border.Kashmir stepped into the millennium with the dreaded cordon and search operations, CASO, at doorsteps. In 2017, CASO is back this time maybe in perpetuity as an operative part of army's Kashmir strategy. Now human shield is the latest armour in its kitty.

Having asserted that the military option is a beaten-up approach, what new can be tried? Gradual 'Ulsterisation'. An army that uses human shields as a strategy comes across as an army of occupation. Ulsterisation will lead to army units raised from carefully selected local recruits, more acceptable hence more likely to get local support. Besides, it would gainfully employ youth, the raw material fuelling the present unrest. But not the least, it would reduce casualties of army personnel from the rest of India. The body bags from theatres of operations in the valley to rest of India are inflaming puerile hatred against valley Kashmiris and those Kashmiris, particularly, students living outside the state. Whipping up hysteria merely complicates reconciliation.

Secondly, the Northeast holds a valuable lesson. If there is relative peace there, it is largely due to political breakthroughs. Rajiv Gandhi's Mizo accord settled the Mizo insurgency without any loss of sovereignty. In a like manner, the Rajiv-Longowal accord suffocated the Khalistan demand once and for all. Of course in both cases, the army chipped in by doing what it knows best - the 'softening up' .

Since Sheikh Abdullah's death, Kashmir has only been hemorrhaging goodwill for 'Hindustan'. People's participation in electoral process has plummeted to a record low, just 7% in Srinagar 2017 LS by-election against 49% for the whole state in 2014.

Kashmir urgently needs a charm offensive to accompany the disarm offensive. There is no alternative.


A R Mishra, Patrakar Nagar, Patna.

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