Kashmir ceasefire long overdue

Indian parmilitary troopers stand guard in Srinagar on May 18, 2018. Security forces in Jammu and Kashmir were put on high alert May 18 ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the state on Saturday May 19. / AFP PHOTO / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA

The Centre’s decision to announce a unilateral ceasefire in Jammu & Kashmir is a welcome, albeit long-overdue, step. The Union government has called on the security forces to refrain from initiating operations against militants for a month coinciding with Ramzan. This is a goodwill gesture aimed at making things a bit easier for Kashmiris during a period of fasting and prayer in the run-up to Eid. But also, the ceasefire is aimed at de-escalating the conflict. Over the past three years, militancy in the Kashmir Valley has surged. Militant attacks have grown and there is a rise in the number of youths joining the militancy. Public support for the militants has increased as well, driven partly by rage against the armed forces. It has manifested itself in serious episodes of stone pelting, where civilians as well as police personnel have been injured, blinded and even killed. As worrying as these protests are the participation of civilians in encounters between the armed forces and militants. It is to restore a measure of calm in the Valley that the Centre has announced the ceasefire.

The Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest militant group in J&K, has not responded to the ceasefire offer yet. The Hizbul leaders are believed to be in discussion on the position they should take. Having suffered heavy losses in encounters with the security forces in recent months, the Hizbul could be tempted to join the ceasefire, if only to get some breathing time from the immense pressure they have been under. The Hurriyat has dismissed the ceasefire as a “cosmetic” step. The J&K government must nudge the separatist grouping to support the ceasefire. It is possible that various militant groups will exploit the ceasefire to attack the security forces. The latter must remain vigilant. During the Ramzan ceasefire in 2000, 129 people, including 43 civilians, were killed. Still, the ceasefire is a risk worth taking. The “cooling-off period” it provides opens up space for a political initiative. The Centre, the J&K government, Opposition parties, civil society and the separatists should join hands to use the ceasefire to restore normalcy in the state. The ceasefire would be a wasted opportunity if at the end of a month or two, it is business as usual and Kashmir slides back to stone-pelting and encounters.

During his visit to the state on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid foundation stones for several road infrastructure projects. These will improve connectivity and ease travel. While development is necessary, it cannot by itself bring peace. The political issues that have kept the conflict alive for decades need to be addressed. He must offer unconditional talks to all sections of Kashmiris.

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Kashmir ceasefire long overdue

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