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Why it is “Now or Never” in Kashmir ?

The appointment of Ex-IB Chief Mr Dineshwar Sharma, as an Interlocutor, may have been prompted by improved situation in Kashmir achieved by elimination of top militant leadership, subjugation of Hurriyat or the US pressure on Pakistan; but the fact is the step is the need of the hour and as such should be rightly welcomed by all. Will this initiative also meet the fate of earlier failed attempts or the whole issue has been planned with a precise course of action? We once again need not slip into complacency and treat it with “Now or Never” mind set. History must be kept in mind and petty regional politics kept away from the whole process. Appointment of Ex-IB Chief is a pointer in that direction.
The valley was stable till 2008, when the State Government decision to transfer 99 acres of forest land near Amarnath to erect temporary shelters led to one of the largest protest rallies in the history of the state.  Hurriyat’s call in August 2008, to cross the LoC to Muzaffarabad, resulted into large scale casualties making situation even worse. Burhan Wani was not a poster boy before he was killed. He only had a passion of being seen and admired in the Facebook pages like any other militant of Kashmir today. The whole episode after his death was perfectly orchestrated by ISI and the Hurriyat leaders to re-energise the dying insurgency, as never before. The situation became so grim that few months ago Government establishments were hush-hushly abuzz with whispers that Kashmir has slipped out of India’s grip. The situation worsened so much as videos of security forces being beaten in public and stone pelted became a hit in Kashmir and elsewhere for different reasons.The feeling of panic, inertia and paralysis in decision making was palpable.
The situation as it appears now is under control. So what has changed now? Has the situation been really contained now?
The Surgical Strike by the Indian Army across the LOC, was the indication of India’s intent to International community in general and Pakistan in particular to end its armed support to insurgency in Kashmir or be prepared for escalation. Domestically, the tables has started turning with the much famous “Maj Gogoi’s Episode”. The instant award to Gogoi by the COAS duly backed by the Central Government was the first indication of political will that the Army had been given a free hand in contrast to earlier feeling of fighting with hands tied. Since then Army has been on the front foot with relentless elimination of the terrorists. Apart from Kashmir, the political will of the present government has also been acknowledged globally during the recent Indo-Chinese stand-off. The spate of successes by Armed Forces and news reports that no one is willing to head LeT in valley has prompted some people to think that Back bone of militancy has been broken in Kashmir.
The suggestion that the situation is now conducive for political dialogue, since both Pakistan and Hurriyat have also been marginalized effectively has been propagated many times in the past and therefore should be viewed with pragmatic caution. History has proven that Armed Forces have always set the stage for a political dialogue but the advantage has always been frittered away by action on part of ultimate decision makers. Currently the world order is on the verge of a change with resurgent Russia and emerging China. The time seems ripe for a solution of Kashmir problem both internationally and domestically, where both State and Central Governments are now at sound footing.  Therefore it is “now or never”. We for therefore for the last time need to be very careful and not let the advantage again slip out of our hands once again.
Overcoming the Dilemma of Kashmiris
It must be understood by all that, a genuine solution to the conflict depends on restoring Kashmir’s confidence in a democratic and secular India with the creation of new job opportunities (within and outside the state), a clean administration and political freedom. The modern world dynamics demand that Kashmiri Muslims to decide whether to integrate with the Indian Muslims or Pakistani Muslims. This decision need to be guided by Sheikh Abdullah explaining in his speech, why he chose India. The reason given by him that 40 million Muslims remaining in India in 1947 far outnumbered the 27 million in the then West Pakistan should be the guiding factor and there should be no reason to discard that view now.
Multi-Pronged Approach
Some measures need to be taken expeditiously and jointly by State and Central Government, before we settle for a political dialogue for settlement of Kashmir problem.
Firstly, declaration of Interlocutor should not be seen as softening of stance on militant organizations. Elimination of Insurgency should remain the top priority now. The population-centric counterinsurgency (COIN) approach must dominate the agenda till the end. Both the prongs of this approach i.e. cutting off the insurgents’ supply lines by either providing incentives to the population for supporting the government forces, or by imposing costs on the population for supporting the insurgents. The general bias of the population-centric COIN perspectives must remain with winning the hearts and minds of the population, which essentially means convincing the people that the advantages of supporting the government against the insurgents far outweigh the advantages of supporting the insurgents. Therefore, there   should not be any let up in the offensive against terror till the elimination of the last terrorist. Operations by NIA and other government agencies should also be taken to their logical ends and there should not be any quid-pro-quo.
Secondly, the political process needs to be started at the grass root level first. Kashmiri Panchayati -Raj need to be re-energized and Village Panchayats made functionally effective. Police will have to find ways and means to provide effective protection to the functionaries at village and Block level.
Thirdly and most importantly, the real stake holders must be identified now. There are many moderate organizations apart from Hurriyat, who are willing to come forward and provide worthwhile constructive contribution towards the problem. They also need to be included this time.
Fourthly, the Socio-Economic problems which contribute towards anti-government sentiments must be addressed at priority. Kashmir can become independent in true sense if it is economically self-sustainable. Improvement of investment climate of private capital and entrepreneurship in the state must be encouraged by the State and Central Government. Creation of education hubs and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in Jammu and Kashmir region is therefore an essential ingredient of the package and must be planned and executed in order to divert the attention of youth towards progress and also to feed the industries in EEZ.
Fifthly, International community and Pakistan need to be engaged diplomatically to make the dialogue successful. Pakistan has bet its future with CPEC and it is in the interest of Pakistan to have peace in the region. China being the most important stake holder will be particularly interested in peace and stability along CPEC in POK including Kashmir. So Pakistan is unlikely to create any hurdles in the peace process in Kashmir.
The above measures must continue along with the process started by the Interlocutor.

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