The Big Story: Tangled peace
As the month of Ramzan begins, the Centre has asked security forces not to launch operations in Jammu and Kashmir. “Security forces reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people,” tweeted Home Minister Rajnath Singh, as he announced the decision on social media. It has been read as a ceasefire, though former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah pointed out the Centre would call it a NICO, or “non-initiation of combat operations”. Either way, it seems to be a change of heart in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which denounced Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s proposal for ceasefire just days ago. It is a welcome break from the maximalist position taken by the Centre so far and could be a valuable chance to end the cycle of violence in Kashmir.
But peace in Kashmir is a tangled issue. On the same day that the Centre announced the ceasefire, a gunfight broke out in South Kashmir’s Shopian district and protestors were injured by shotgun pellets. In Srinagar, a grenade blast injured two civilians. Separatist leaders of the Hurriyat have held off on a response until they meet. Meanwhile, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the major militant groups operating in the Kashmir Valley, has rejected the ceasefire, calling it “drama”. Previous ceasefires, whether declared by militant groups or government, have led nowhere. In 1994, when the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front laid down arms, it got no response from New Delhi and was decimated by other militant groups in the Valley. In July 2000, the Hizbul Mujahideen withdrew a unilateral ceasefire in two weeks after it failed to start talks with Delhi. Then in November 2000, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government declared a unilateral Ramzan ceasefire and extended it by five months. Militant groups did not respond and, according to commentators, security force casualties rose sharply. The ceasefire failed, commentators point out, because Pakistan was not kept in the loop and because Vajpayee was hemmed in by the hawks in his government.
Given the complicated channels of power that operate in Kashmir, the gesture of a ceasefire needs to be supported by backchannel dialogue with Pakistan, talks with the Hurriyat and cultivating a strong domestic constituency for peace. In spite of the sabre-rattling on the surface, there may have been signs of a thaw in recent months. Last month, for instance, both the Indian and Pakistani army chiefs seemed to speak the same language, invoking a political resolution to the Kashmir dispute, leading to speculation that there may have been backroom work. Now, the Pakistan Army’s statement that it is willing to formally join any dialogue process with India could provide a vital opening to push forward with the peace process. In the past, Pakistan’s military and political leadership have pulled in different ways (unless the generals were in directly in power), often undermining dialogue with the civilian government. This could be an important moment to engage both, as well as the separatist leadership in Kashmir.
The Big Scroll
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal delves into the fraught history of goodwill gestures in Kashmir.
- In the Indian Express, Firdous Tak calls the ceasefire a chance to break the cycle of violence in the Valley.
- In the Hindu, Sanjay Kumar argues that the Opposition needs alliances, rather than social coalitions, to win elections.
- In the Economic Times, Rajyasree Sen comments on the nama row in Gurgaon, saying that an understaffed police needs to focus on law and order rather than on people offereing prayers.
Sruthisagar Yamunan explains why the Supreme Court needed to step in on the Karanataka controversy:
“The Constitution in Article 361 provides governors immunity from judicial interference for a reason. The assumption here is that the governor will discharge his duties in a fair manner, respecting Constitutional propriety. Article 361 is no license for arbitrary functioning.
While the courts have reiterated this time and again, the governors do not enjoy absolute immunity when they cross the line. In SR Bommai vs Union of India, which went into the use of Article 356 of the Constitution by the President to dismiss a state government, the Supreme Court made it clear that decisions of the President under Article 356 should be fair and he should keep in mind the great political and constitutional consequence of exercising this extraordinary power.”