Press The Pause button

In a major decision, the Centre on Wednesday asked security forces not to launch operations in Jammu and Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan. The security forces, however, reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people.  The announcement by the Home Ministry came two days ahead of prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday.

Last week, all parties of the state, led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, had in one voice advocated for a unilateral ceasefire during the month of Ramzan (which starts on Thursday or Friday) and the ensuing Shri Amarnath Yatra.

The BJP has expressed hope that the Centre’s decision to stop operations of the security forces will be reciprocated by all in the Valley.  Now the ceasefire would be the focus of the prime minister’s visit. An all-party delegation has already decided to meet PM Modi in Srinagar on May 19. 

A ceasefire is certainly not peace. But it lends a pause to think afresh on the Kashmir situation by all sides and how to tackle it without resorting to an eye-for-an-eye approach. Kashmir yearns for peace and its people deserve justice and a peaceful life in a free, fearless and violence-free environment. It is incumbent on the Central and state governments to strive for such peace in the Valley.

The Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group has been for the past many months asking for a peaceful dialogue between the authorities and different sections of the Kashmiri society to restore in the troubled Valley. These efforts have not succeeded so far, mainly because neither the trouble-makers, nor the government have given up fighting each other. The unilateral ceasefire will bring a respite from the daily killings and bloodshed to start thinking on those lines.

A unilateral declaration of ceasefire in the middle of a conflict is not a new idea.  Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had unilaterally declared a ceasefire on the eve of Ramzan and its impact on the ground and on public morale in the Valley, was tremendous. Security forces were told not to fire unless absolutely needed and only in self-defence. The people in the Valley responded by welcoming the gesture, and militants suspended violence during Ramzan.

As a Kashmiri, I noticed that till the last moment, PM Vajpayee was not sure how his unilateral declaration would be received in the Valley. But the next morning, he must have felt reassured that the response was positive. Not only during Ramzan, peace prevailed for some more time afterwards.

At a press conference, next to the helicopter hangar at the Srinagar airport back then, he was questioned by mediapersons. The fourth question was: “Prime Minister saheb, will the talks be within the framework of the Constitution or outside?” “Talks will be held insaaniyat ke dairay main (within the framework of humanity),” he said. Vajpayee was speaking straight from the heart. The reporters were stunned at his off-the-cuff reply.

This was Vajpayee’s inspirational moment for which he is still remembered in the Valley with great affection. It touched hearts and did not compromise on any national position. His approach, and the empathy with which he looked at the people of Kashmir, helped him win much goodwill in the Valley.

The confidence Vajpayee gained with these two moves — the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire and making it clear that talks will be held within the framework of humanity — helped him tackle the situation and restore peace for some time. It also allowed him to acquire space for starting a wider dialogue with different sections of society at different levels.

Vajpayee didn’t lose anything by his unilateral declaration of ceasefire or his statement about working within humanitarianism. In fact, he became more hopeful about creating peace in the Valley, which he thought would equip him to deal with Pakistan more effectively. Later, he widened the ambit of this insaaniyat theme by adding Kashmiryat and jamhooriyat (democracy) to it, in the process also enhancing his appeal as a national leader.

The latest ceasefire may also act as pause for local boys and young recruits to the terror factory to think afresh on the situation. The Kashmiri boys are joining the terrorist fold and consequently are being eliminated in the encounters. Security forces and J&K police have achieved great success and collateral killings of civilians is on the rise.This implies that despite the pressure being exerted by security forces, the local youth are not relenting from joining the path of terrorism. Security forces have a policy in place where trapped local terrorists are given an option to surrender with an assurance that their life will be spared and they will be further rehabilitated. Essentially, it is a humanitarian gesture extended on the premise that those following the self-destructive path of violence do so because of professional indoctrination aided and abetted by foreign powers and they need to be given every opportunity to get back to civilised society. Sadly, many entrapped terrorists refuse to give up and choose the path of death and destruction.

Pakistan, as usual, is unexpected to create some trouble on the LoC during the ceasefire. But the army, is quite capable of tackling such mischief, with vigil.

P.S. Narendra Modi as PM and his government has nothing to lose from the ceasefire. On  the contrary, it will help widen the appeal in Kashmir.

(The author is a senior SC advocate and chairman of Kashmir Policy & Strategy Group)