The leadership in the Valley is showing a much welcome and visible concern for the common man. Normal day to day problems are the focus of attention for not only by the State government but also the Huriyat leadership, political parties (mainstream and separatist) and the security forces. The most astonishing move was a welcome call given by Geelani to the Kashmiri Pundits on 17 April, when he addressed nearly 100 persons of the displaced community who have responded to the State Government’s appeal to return to their homes. The veteran leader asked them to move to their ancestral homes and not live in isolated places, assuring them of safety. He took pains to emphasise that the separatist movement was not directed against them. One can assume from this development that the Hurriyat now realises that it is curtains for politics of disruption. It is becoming conscious of the fact that the people are well aware of what is good for them or otherwise and is finally making an effort to understand their agony. It is acknowledging that times have changed and it should also move with the times or face the danger of being left out of the political dynamics currently unfolding.
The next significant development is the impetus that the army seems to be giving to its well established policy of connecting with the people. Cordial relations have existed between the Army and the civilian population in Kashmir since independence when Indian forces entered the Valley to rid it of the barbarian Mujahedeen hordes sent in by Pakistan to subjugate the land. There was always, and even today is, a brisk intercourse between the Army and the people. Thousands of Kashmiri’s earn their bread as army contractors, labourers and suppliers amongst other business enterprises. The Army spends a major chunk of its maintenance budget on local goods and services and all this money goes towards sustaining the local economy, especially in the remote districts of the Valley. Villagers far and wide cannot forget the rescue and rehabilitation done by Army soldiers during natural disasters and accidental fires etc. Herdsmen and shepherds in the upper reaches benefit immensely from army’s doctors and veterinary staff who help save their herds from disease and fatal disabilities. Above all, Kashmiri’s are fully conscious of the sacrifice of precious lives which the security forces have made, in protecting their life, property and honour.
So, what is new now? Senior Army officers are reaching out to the people to put in place credible confidence building measures and the general public is fearlessly voicing its woes and problems – army convoys should be timed for when civilian traffic is low, militants who have completed their jail sentences should not be stigmatised forever with the label `released militant’, intelligence gathering should not become a source for miscreants to settle personal scores, are a few of the many significant points that have emerged from such interactions. It is yet to be seen whether these demands will be met or not but, at least, an effort is being made.
However, things are not so bright and cheerful on other fronts. Pakistan is as abrasive as ever and is not likely to forsake its hold in the Valley easily notwithstanding its own rather tenuous standing in the international community. Now with the killing of bin Laden on its soil, it may become even more belligerent, leading to a sharp increase of attempts towards orchestrating violence in the Valley. It also has to be seen whether the new found love for the people that the separatists are exhibiting is genuine or part of a larger Pakistan sponsored plot to rekindle disruption and divisiveness in the Valley.
What is happening is for the larger good, it is something that the government should welcome and encourage. However, this is just the beginning and a lot needs to be done, the events of 2010 have unambiguously demonstrated the dangers of complacence, and of hasty, politically motivated decisions that lead to undermining of the security grid. Such dangers can only deepen, particularly in the context of inputs that the latest ISI strategy is to combine renewed infiltration by heavily armed terrorists, with escalating civil unrest, to ensure that Kashmir remains in a state of chaos and unrest.
The acid test will be the manner in which things unfold in the next few months, the level, degree and success rate in infiltration once the weather opens, the attempts made to engineer disruption and discord during the all important Shri Amarnath Yatra and the tourist season, translation of the success of the Panchayat elections into empowerment and development on ground, the ability of the State government to en-cash politically on the emerging situation in ushering peace, prosperity and development in the region, the ability of the central government to, at least limit, if not totally contain, Pakistan’s very obvious, very belligerent and evil designs in the region. All this and some more will go towards proving that the situation is actually on the mend. The authorities should view this unfolding development positively and at the same time stay well prepared for all possible adverse fall outs and misadventures that may be on the drawing board at this moment itself.
While giving a proactive response to political developments the State government should not relent from providing good governance, the centre should not relent from its initiatives to gain the confidence of the Kashmiri people and integrate them into the national mainstream and, above all, the security forces should not relent from their primary task of challenging inimical designs by belligerent neighbours while maintaining law and order within.