The Big Story: A tale of two ceasefires
As Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh prepared to visit Kashmir to review the Ramzan ceasefire declared by the Centre, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a significant statement on Tuesday. It was not the defence ministry’s job to assess whether the Ramzan ceasefire was successful, she said, but to guard the border and retaliate when provoked. Over the last few days, the distinction between the violence at the frontier and the violence in the hinterland of the Kashmir Valley has not been so clear. This week, for instance, Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said the Centre would be “constrained” to revoke the Ramzan ceasefire if Pakistan did not stop crossborder firing. Yet there are two ceasefires in the mix: the 2003 ceasefire declared on the frontier, which now lies in tatters, and the unilateral ceasefire declared by the Centre last month. Both have their own ambitions and terms of reference.
The Ramzan ceasefire was aimed at militancy in the Valley. It was conditional, and has been described as the “non-initiation of combat operations” rather than a complete ceasefire. The security forces reserved the right to retaliate, the Centre warned. In effect, it meant that the large scale cordon and search operations undertaken by security forces over the last year would be suspended, pausing the cycle of gunfights and killings that had become the norm in the Valley. Most of the militants killed in these operations were local Kashmiris, as were the civilians who died in clashes around the gunfights. It was meant to be a salve to the local anger that has been driving youth to militancy almost daily, perhaps even the start of a tenuous truce with local militant groups.
While one security report is said to claim that the ceasefire is a success, there are reasons to believe otherwise. Two days later, two girls received bullet injuries after the army opened fire during an iftar party organised by the army itself in South Kashmir’s Shopian district. There are also eyewitness accounts of paramilitary vehicles mowing down a civilian protestor. While alleged infiltrators were gunned down in the forests of North Kashmir, militant violence was scaled up, with almost daily grenade blasts in various parts of the Valley. Last night, heavily armed militants attacked an army camp in the troubled town of Hajin in North Kashmir as local residents took to the streets in support. Local recruitment to militancy has also continued unabated.
Meanwhile, guns boomed at the international border and Line of Control, taking a heavy toll on lives and property in border villages and also killing security personnel. The ceasefire that this violated was announced by Pakistan in 2003 and immediately reciprocated by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. For a few years, the ceasefire held, providing a vital window for talks with Pakistan. Over the last three years, it has been rendered virtually non-existent, and the Indian Army has cited infiltration bids at the border as justification for opening fire. It is this ceasefire that the directors general of military operations from both sides have frantically tried to restore over the past week, vowing to observe it in “letter and spirit”.
It would be naive to assume that the violence at the frontier and in the Valley is not connected: according to local residents in Jammu’s border villages, crossborder firing escalated after the Centre’s Ramzan ceasefire. Besides, according to the reigning common sense, when India and Pakistan talk, there is relative peace in the Valley. Recently, Kashmiri separatists said they were ready for dialogue with Delhi but with the old rider: involve Pakistan. But conflating the two ceasefires would defeat the purpose of both. It would also repeat the old fallacy in Delhi’s dealings with Kashmir, of treating all dissent and disruption in the Valley as the machinations of Pakistan. Crossborder infiltration and the violations of the 2003 ceasefire may be taken up separately. As Rajnath Singh visits Kashmir this week, he needs to listen carefully to the various and specific grievances that have prompted local youth to take up arms in Kashmir and the virtual rejection of the Ramzan ceasefire.
The Big Scroll
The ceasefire in Kashmir is an opportunity to reflect on the futility of perpetual conflict, writes Raghu Raman.
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Shoaib Daniyal asks what makes the politics of West Bengal so violent:
In 1977, the Congress lost power – it would never regain it – and the Left Front took office. Soon after, the new regime launched Operation Barga, which finalised land redistribution, and instituted an expansive panchayati raj system through which the party could exercise power in rural Bengal. Both measures all but ended the old feudal order with West Bengal now having the lowest proportion of large and medium landowners in the country. Even the few large landowners who remained had little political power in the countryside. In 1988, for example, 58% of panchayat members were poor peasants or agricultural labourers.
The power vacuum left by the exit of the landlords was filled by parties. So while in other parts of the country, politicians distributed patronage by caste or religion, here it was done by party affiliation. And while landlords or caste elite controlled the elected panchayat in other states, political scientist Atul Kohli noted that in West Bengal, party members dictated to local governments.