Post abrogation of Article 370, incarcerating political leaders, imposing internet restrictions, downgrading the state into a Union Territory, segregating Ladakh and deploying enhanced security forces, relations between the state’s, largely valley-based politicians, and the centre had deteriorated. The world, though accepting that abrogation of Article 370 was India’s internal matter, believed India was subduing freedom and rights of the local populace, especially when it imposed multiple restrictions. Demands for lifting media and internet curbs flowed from multiple nations and organizations. Those objecting were hesitant to accept that security actions were undertaken to prevent violence, which with passage of time was proved right.
Security forces, freed from political pressure, were able to create a situation of near normalcy in the valley. Subsequent release of political detainees and formation of the PAGD did nothing to reduce the distance. The successful conduct of DDC elections was icing on the cake.
Looking in hindsight, it does appear that the government had planned. Governance was better, multiple projects languishing for decades were launched and Central Government initiatives, denied to residents on account of Article 370 were implemented. COVID continued to play spoilsport as academics suffered, initially due to security restrictions and subsequently lockdown imposed due to the pandemic.
The political ice had to be broken and a positive message transmitted. This was done when the Prime Minister interacted with the state’s political leaders and parties. The meeting had no fixed agenda. While the intention of the centre was to convey its progress, future intent and lay down it’s redlines, for the state’s politicians, it was an opportunity to project their views on the current situation and place demands to reverse some decisions. Restoration of statehood, a major demand was accepted, and the home minister stated it as likely post state elections.
As Omar Abdullah mentioned, there was no point in discussing restoration of Article 370. All sides satisfied themselves by accepting that it is currently sub-judice and the only authority which can restore it is the Supreme Court. The Government conveyed that in case local political parties desired elections, then they would need to support the delimitation exercise, currently underway in the state.
Though not officially stated, there was general satisfaction on the security environment and side lining of the Hurriyat, which had blackmailed State Governments and were self-appointed representatives of the populace. With the Hurriyat effectively blocked, stone throwing had come to a standstill. Similarly, protests and hartals, which were a regular feature in the valley, had stopped. The ceasefire, leading to almost zero infiltration, opened doors for reducing the number of active militants in the valley.
Success in counter terrorism and counter infiltration grids enabled security forces to switch strategy from eliminating terrorists to discouraging youth from picking the gun. Surrenders were increasing. Stray incidents of terrorism, including targeting of innocents by terrorists continued, however Kashmir was moving towards normalcy. Tourism, the first sign of major economic activity was back with a bang. The Amarnath Yatra, which had to be shelved due to the pandemic, could have given a boost to the state’s handicraft industry.
The delimitation exercise, which was initially objected to by all valley political parties, is now acceptable. For elections and return to statehood, delimitation is the first step. Political leaders, who had earlier announced a boycott of the delimitation commission have nominated members to interact with them. It does appear that the centre has managed to push its way into the political mould of the region.
With the ceasefire holding and Pak issue, in the Afghan crisis, the security environment along the LoC is stable. With reduced terrorist activities in the region, apart from Mehbooba, no other political leader mentioned talks with Pakistan. This also flowed from the reality that the Hurriyat, which offered support only if talks with Pakistan was raised is now defunct.
With claims of Pakistan ignored, lack of global support to resolving the Kashmir embroil-go, valley politicians have realised that Delhi has effectively pushed its Kashmir policies. The stalling of the Chinese in Ladakh, active participation in the QUAD and enhancing ties with the EU and Middle East nations has ensured that Kashmir is no longer on any international table. With successful conduct of DDC elections, as also reduced violence, there are no reasons for the world to doubt that Kashmir is anything but normal. The statement from Mehbooba Mufti that she would not contest elections till Article 370 is restored is largely ignored as it is only intended to gain local sympathy. Everything will change once elections are announced.
Political analysts have stated that the PM’s meeting achieved nothing as there were no major takeaways nor promises made. They miss the point that the conference itself brought about a change in thought process of all political leaders who attended. They understood that the Government has a roadmap and is pushing the same at a fast pace. Placing roadblocks would harm their standing in the long term. They are also aware that the BJP is steadily making inroads into their turf and unless they cooperate, the BJP would gain greater space.
Some attendees stated that anger continues to grow in the valley. Signs of anger within local populace is visible in multiple ways, social media, protests, joining terrorist ranks and complaints by members of the DDCs. On the contrary, success in counter terrorism operations flows from pinpoint local intelligence, which is on the rise. Most terrorists are being eliminated close to home bases, implying local support for terrorism is waning and the populace desires peace and development.
There is no doubt that there is still work to be done. There is also no doubt that elections must be held, and statehood restored. However, for this to happen all stakeholders must come together to take the region forward. For once, the region is witnessing unity rather than antagonism and divisive politics.
The author is Major General (Retd)