Don’t let this murder thwart peace bid

Shujaat Bukhari’s assassination by unknown assailants outside his office in Srinagar’s Press Enclave underscores the extremely difficult circumstances in which journalists are functioning in India’s conflict zones. Bukhari, a leading journalist and editor of Rising Kashmir, came out of his office and had just got into his car when 3-4 armed men, who were waiting outside, sprayed bullets at him and his two personal security officers, who also lost their lives. The identity of the killers is yet to be established. Bukhari was a strong proponent of the rule of law and did not hesitate to speak up against the gun culture that has held sway in the Valley for almost three decades now. He represented the voice of sanity, not just in the media but also in several ‘Track II’ dialogues he was a part of. Bukhari criticised extra-judicial violence by state authorities as strongly as he did the wanton brutality of the militants. Indeed, he strongly condemned Kashmiri society, too, for its sanctioning of stone-pelting. Bukhari had described the recently-announced ceasefire as a “glimmer of hope,” the best way to “tackle the situation in which killings have become the new normal.” Clearly, those who assassinated him were opponents not just of the ceasefire but also of dialogue, moderation and reconciliation.

Bukhari’s killing on the eve of Eid was not without reason. It was aimed at not only silencing him but also at hijacking the peace process. On May 15, the Centre announced a month-long unilateral ceasefire in order to allow Kashmiris to observe Ramzan in a “peaceful” environment. That period has now come to an end and the Centre must decide whether or not to extend the ceasefire. Militant groups operating in Kashmir have, however, continued their violence throughout the ceasefire. Indeed, the number of attacks over the past four weeks is said to have doubled over the previous month. Clearly, those opposed to the ceasefire were provoking the Indian security forces repeatedly. With India standing firm in upholding the ceasefire, they targeted Bukhari. They will be hoping that his assassination will provoke India to call off the truce. 

India must not allow the militants or others opposed to the ceasefire to set the agenda for its peace process. Delhi should avoid a knee-jerk reaction. Whether or not to extend the ceasefire should be decided on the basis of what India’s Kashmir strategy will be in the coming months. The muscular approach adopted over the past few years was unproductive in dealing with Kashmiri alienation. India must therefore extend the ceasefire and follow it up by calling for talks with all sections of Kashmiri society. This is the best way to isolate those who are opposed to peace.

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Don’t let this murder thwart peace bid

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