by Khursheed Wani
For the second time during ongoing Kashmir insurgency, the government in New Delhi has announced a unilateral ceasefire in the month of Ramzan. The first ceasefire, announced on November 19, 2000, by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA regime continued till May 31, 2001. Ironically, it failed without any headway. The ceasefire announced by the Hizbul Mujahideen had already failed. It actually dealt a major blow to the outfit due to infighting that followed the withdrawal of ceasefire.
Unlike 2000, the population in Kashmir, especially in the southern region, is rebellious, overtly supporting militants and disallowing mainstream political leaders to venture in. The series of encounters invariably found the local population attempting to frustrate the security cordons and help the holed up militants escape. Dozens of young men were killed in such operations and hundreds were wounded, many losing their eyesight to pellet showers. The unbridled use of power against the civilian population did not help in kneeling them to submission. In fact, the rebellion grew and occupied intellectual spaces and institutions. A decision on allowing schools and colleges to open on a particular day turned into a major challenge for the authorities.
The rebelliousness that began with the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016 did not show any let up despite the repressive measures employed by the government forces. It actually triggered more recruitment into militant ranks, an uptick in incidents of rifle snatching, bank robberies and killing of civilians on suspicion of being informers. The militants actually rule the roost in the southern districts. With the killing of several cops and political workers by militants, the situation hit the rock bottom with no signs of improvement in sight.
The Army responded to the situation in a similar way as it did in the early 1990s. Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat declared Operation All Out in May 2017, to launch a major offensive. It was announced that the protesters who dared to go closer to the encounter sites would be dealt with like ‘terrorists’. Eventually, dozens of civilian protesters were killed in and around the encounter sites. After every encounter and civilian deaths, there were reports of more recruitment to militant ranks. A year down the line, the operation failed to yield results.
The cease-fire was announced in this background. It appears to be the compulsion of the government to find an alternate method to address the explosive situation.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti needed the breather more than the people in south Kashmir. She relentlessly pleaded with Delhi to intervene and finally she was asked to take the mainstream political parties on board. It appeared the call for a ceasefire in the wake of Ramzan and Amarnath yatra was pre-scripted to be made in an all-party meet in Srinagar on May 9.
The ceasefire offer has no strong foundation though. It was not approved by the cabinet committee on security. The defence ministry squarely rejected the suggestion when it floated in the all-party meet. Gen Rawat did not give up iron fist method and even reminded of bombings in Afghanistan and Syria.
This is the reason that home minister Rajnath Singh dialled up Ms Mufti to convey that the center agreed to the cessation of hostilities for a brief period.
The ceasefire announcement is fraught with dangers both at the political and strategic level. The militants have rejected the offer and separatist political leadership is not on board to take the process further. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq genuinely sought the road-map after the Muslim month of fasting was over. There appears to be none in sight.
Worse, the cessation of combat operations did not deter militants to loot ammunition in Srinagar and money from a bank in south Kashmir. The symbolic ceasefire on borders in vogue for 15 years was brazenly violated from both sides in RS Pura sector in Jammu on May 18, causing several fatal casualties. Pakistan summoned the Indian High Commissioner to report the casualties on their side while a pall of gloom descended in Jammu areas after the devastation caused by heavy shelling.
This makes the situation precarious for Mehbooba Mufti who has desperately pinned hopes on this cease-fire. She requires a toehold to calm tempers in south Kashmir and intends to pursue ‘a developmental agenda’ but the situation does not seem to be going on a perceived line.
The biggest irritant on the ground has been the show off between angry people and the army. If the non-initiation of combat operations (NICO) is adhered to in letter and spirit on the ground level and militants chose to go off the public and security radar, there is a chance of improvement in overall atmosphere. However, Ms Mufti is required to take some additional initiatives. There are hundreds of people languishing in jails, some of them recently held on flimsy grounds of taking part in militant funerals. The state government can take up the issue of prisoners taken during the NIA crackdown. If the ceasefire offer is not complemented with other related initiatives, the political situation is bound to worsen and that may have a far-reaching impact on the stability of the PDBJP alliance.