Heighten vigil

The inauguration of a rail link between Banihal in Jammu and Qazigund in the Kashmir Valley by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi marks an important occasion for the state and the country. The link provides reliable all-weather connectivity between the valley and the rest of the country and can boost the state’s development by facilitating more trade and other economic activities and enabling easier movement of people.

The important event, however, took place  in the shadow of a major militant attack  on an army convoy in Srinagar on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit in which eight jawans were killed. Two days before that, two police men had also been killed in another attack in Srinagar. The failure of security in the state’s highly guarded capital just before the Prime Minister’s visit is a matter of concern. The militants were probably trying to send out a signal.

The Prime Minister made the right response by asserting that the country would fight terrorism with determination while at the same time offering to hold talks with those who shun violence. Ensuring of peace through security measures and willingness to engage disaffected groups have been the two important co-ordinates of the country’s Kashmir policy. An accent on development and better economic integration has been another component. These seemed to have had a beneficial impact as the state has enjoyed a period of relative calm in the recent past.

There was no major militant activity and disruption of normal life for many months and tourism, the economic lifeline of the state, had picked up. But then, the government has perhaps been complacent, as the run of peace could have been more fruitfully used to expand and deepen the political engagement in the state. Proposals for greater decentralisation have not been followed through and there has been no active initiative to reach out to disaffected groups. These need to be given a more substantial push in the interests of short term and long term peace in the state.

There is also the need to heighten vigil against an escalation of strife and violence. The proposed US withdrawal from Afghanistan may tempt militant elements and their supporters and sponsors to pay more attention to Kashmir. It may not possible for the present government to take any major initiative on Kashmir in the near future. But it must ensure that there is no deterioration of the situation.

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