It's time for a decisive battle on terrorism in Kashmir

14 Jul 2017 11:34:49

Tanay Chothani 

There comes a time in every government's tenure when its actions define its historic standing in the long legacy of a country. Needless to say, in the past three years, Modi has had multiple such incidents. From the demonetization gambit to the Uttar Pradesh thumping, Modi has usually been at the forefront, leading the way and setting the tone. But this latest defining moment poses a very different challenge, a kind of challenge the Modi government usually has not been very good at dealing with.

While on their Amarnath Yatra, an annual holy ritual for devout Hindus to a mountainous cave revered as the abode of Shiva, seven yatris (pilgrims) were fatally shot and nineteen were injured. Six of those killed were women. The assault took place on the first Monday of Shravan, one of the holiest months in the Hindu calendar. The Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba is suspected to be behind the attack. While some called it an attack on Kashmiriyat, others called it the epoch of terrorism in the Valley, with both the Centre and the State eliciting blame. But, one thing is certain, Jammu and Kashmir today stands at the crossroads.

For long, there has been a debate between the use of violence to enforce peace, a paradoxical reality in the valley, and the contentious issue of the human rights and autonomy of the state, guaranteed by what many call the provisions of Article 370 (a farcical argument in itself for those in the know). In an almost climatic sense, just the same morning, the state Human Rights Commission ruled in favour of compensation to a Kashmiri citizen used as a "human shield" by the Army against stone-pelters three months back, an issue which had widely split the general sentiment regarding Kashmir.

At the crossroads we stand today, it is first important to acknowledge the situation we find ourselves in. The problem in Kashmir is not new. If anything, it is one of the oldest conflicts existing in the world today, a colonial gift by the British. Insurgency flourished in the late 20th Century, and has continued into the 21st. Despite the fact that Jammu & Kashmir has acceded to India, Pakistan continues to passively and actively sponsor separatist movements of varying degrees and support violence to destabilize this Indian state. A compromise through dialogue is nearly impossible, especially with the extra weight thrown behind Pakistan by its "time-tested and all-weather friend", China. The situation has recently taken a turn for worse, with Pakistan getting over-confident of its position and the extra incentive in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a key component of the ambitious Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which violates Indian sovereignty over the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This in large explains the rise in terrorism related activities in the Valley as of late. More civilians, armed forces and also terrorists are dying in Kashmir this year than in the previous years. Needless to say, the situation is tense. Separatists are feeding off this, and with frequent closures, much of the economy and the state is in constant paralysis. A solution must be found fast. However, with a problem of this nature, often the case of the risks associated with the business of politics, a wrong step doesn't count it's losses in dollar bills, but in the lives of innocents.

So what does this attack do to the existing status quo? For one, it brings the spotlight right on the issue. While Kashmir has been an issue which every Indian has definitely heard about and seen on the news, it has never been at the forefront quite like it is now. This attack raises the dynamics of the issue. An attack on devotees going for a holy pilgrimage is ghastly enough, but with the extra attention on the halted Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, it now raises questions on Mr. Modi directly, who called himself a Hindu Nationalist in the run up to the 2014 General Elections. As two great symbols of Hinduism are affected, due to government policy, or the lack of it, what will Mr. Modi do next?

One solution has been lingering in the dark and has passively been used by the government, but may now grab the poster for Mr. Modi's Kashmir policy. The security apparatus has been accelerated, with many ideological supporters of the government spreading talk about a policy push to neutralise and severely dent the separatist movement in the Valley before the end of this year. The Army in Kashmir has taken an almost war like stance against terrorist activity in the Valley, with almost daily reports of encounters in the last few months. Compared to the 106 terrorists killed in 2014-15, 151 were killed in 2015-16 and 178 in 2016-17. In the first six months of this year, 98 terrorist deaths have already been reported, and at this rate, the number this year will well exceed the number last year.

However, as we have seen with terrorism worldwide, it exists not in the form of a human, but in the form of the ideology. The Jihadi Terrorism Wave in the New Century must be countered ideologically, if at all, or else it leads to meaningless victories, which often give political mileage, but rarely ever a fitting conclusion to the problem at heart. Mr. Modi has taken the lead in the global fight against terrorism of late, especially in the recently concluded G-20 summit in Hamburg. The initiative and intention exists, as has often been with many of this government's action plans and strategies. However, as the old cliche goes, actions speak louder than words. It is now over to Mr. Modi to act. He has the opportunity. He has the resources. He has the backing of the people.  What he doesn't have is the time to deliberate. It must come now, or this attack will settle into the dust of the age old debate of human rights versus terrorism.

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