When I first heard about the dastardly and brutal murder of seven Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, my first instinct was to condemn it and express my condolences to those affected.
Many voices similarly expressed anguish and anger, questioning the security arrangements for the Yatra. Some have accused the government of negligence in view of intelligence reports of an impending terror strike.
On its part, the government has expressed its determination to bring the killers to justice. Clearly, that is a top priority.
The government must also investigate any lapses in administrative or security measures that potentially allowed this attack to happen. But it should not end there.
Lessons From the Past
As always, when it comes to Kashmir, the question that confronts us is how we can reduce violence and get closer to peace. To help answer that, some context is necessary.
In August 2000, in another terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 25 people, mostly yatris and some locals, were killed in Pahalgam. At that time, we saw a similar pattern of condemnation, anger, and a resolve to not let terrorism win.
In Parliament, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that the attack was the handiwork of those who wanted to derail the peace process, which he had been championing. But here we are today, no closer to peace and grappling with yet another horrific attack.
In some ways, the security scenario in 2000 was worse than it is now. An estimated 2500 militants operated in Kashmir during those days.
Former Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen DS Hooda, suggests that terrorism today “is a very small issue as a handful of militants are active in the Valley and the Army can handle it on its own.” If that is the case, then a careful analysis of the attack will hopefully lead to a more appropriate policy response.
Attacks that Seek to Divide
While it is completely understandable to be angry about this latest carnage, we must not lose our heads.
The idea behind such attacks is most likely to provoke a response that worsens the situation in Kashmir. This is similar to what ISIS does in European cities.
ISIS leaders know that they are no match for Europe or the United States. But, if their actions generate a backlash against Muslims, they win.
Sadly, some have already taken the bait and are calling for harsher methods for dealing with Kashmiris, including replacing pellets with bullets for protesters.
There are likely to be television programs devoted to this attack, but I fear they may degenerate into slanging matches with full-on Kashmiri bashing.
There is also a chance of reprisals against Kashmiris living elsewhere in the country. If any of these things happen, then those who sprayed bullets on helpless yatris would have won a bigger victory.
One of the most effective responses to this attack would be to do the opposite of what extremists want. We should pursue strategies and policies that isolate extremists. That cannot happen if every Kashmiri is dubbed an extremist, jihadi or terrorist.
If the Modi Government can control the media narrative on China, it can very well control the toxic portrayal of Kashmiris by some sections of the national media. Tarring all Kashmiris with the same brush must end. This is a major irritant and is a virtual gift to extremists.
Second, political engagement can also have a big impact on isolating extremists. General Hooda argues that “there is a need of greater, mature political will to address the dissatisfaction growing among the youths of the Valley.”
General Hooda, with deep experience in Kashmir affairs, is acutely aware of the political vacuum that opens doors for extremist elements.
This is not to suggest that political engagement is a silver bullet. It is merely a beginning of a long, arduous journey.
However, to do nothing and expect change is to be unhinged from reality. Worse, to constantly vilify Kashmiris for the crimes of a few will be to actively push them against the wall and harden their hearts and minds. We know who benefits from that.
A mature and strategic policy response that focuses on genuine outreach to Kashmiris and isolation of violent extremists would not only be sensible but it would also be a tribute to the victims of the heinous crime on 10 July.
(The author, formerly with the World Bank, is a National Media Panelist of the Indian National Congress. He can be reached at @salmansoz. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)