Rajnath Singh’s Challenges in Changing “Fate & Face of Kashmir”

Rajnath Singh faces the challenge of deciding on the continuation or otherwise of the Ramzan ceasefire.

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Rajnath Singh’s Challenges in Changing “Fate & Face of Kashmir”

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Home Minister (HM) Rajnath Singh is no greenhorn as far as J&K is concerned but his current visit to the state comes at a juncture when only an accurate reading of the situation will bring rational decisions.

Earlier visits, mostly during times of high levels of violence, could be addressed with a generic approach. What makes the HM appropriate for the current task is his reputation for the use of a conciliatory approach mixed with a measure of pragmatism.


Challenges Faced by Home Ministry

Political compulsions and the necessity of toeing a hard line in the face of severe turbulence over the last two years have never afforded Rajnath Singh the opportunity to pursue options other than hard ones.

There can be little exception to the adopted approach, as political outreach without a position of strength would not have gained much for the government. Graduated steps were undertaken to dilute the adopted strategy through measures such as appointment of an interlocutor, but the big risk was the decision to announce a unilateral suspension of operations for the Ramzan period.

Primarily, the HM faces the challenge of deciding on the continuation or otherwise of the suspension of operations beyond the Ramzan period.

In addition, the last fortnight has witnessed conciliatory noises by different stakeholders, including the Hurriyat, and the government has been testing waters with limited statements about its intent to speak to one and all, without really deciding on any fixed course. A call will need to be taken on this contingent upon who all decide to meet Rajnath Singh in Srinagar, since he is usually not averse to meeting anyone.

While there may have been criticism for the different voices emanating from the government about the approach to operations, political outreach and reopening talks with Pakistan, it is perhaps a strategy which meets the needs of the situation. Any premature commitment with a sense of certainty will limit the options.

A floating of ideas and opening space for dialogue (with the demonstrated intent through the suspension of operations) was perhaps a good option.

However, in light of the continued violence, albeit at reduced levels, it is not easy to perceive whether it was the best decision.


No Alternative Leadership

The situation has to be measured by weighing the other factors which are impinging on opinion across the public divide in India. Pakistan’s decision to call for a ceasefire at the LoC and international boundary (IB) of the Jammu sector was not a surprise, and the government was prepared for it.

What it wasn’t prepared for was the intense few days of ceasefire violations in Jammu leading to the evacuation of over 95,000 civilians and the subsequent repeat of violations even after the announced decision to respect the 2003 ceasefire.

This, along with the well-planned events post the Friday prayers, leading to attempts to instigate the CRPF through attempted lynching and the run of grenade attacks may have dampened the enthusiasm for continuation of suspension of operations beyond the Ramzan period. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, in her brief, is likely to push for an extension, to include the Amarnath Yatra period. This, in light of Rajnath Singh’s visit to Jammu and the violations-affected areas, who is likely to be pressed for revocation of any peace initiatives in the absence of any conciliatory response and repeated violations.

What is under intense questioning is the return of the Hurriyat as an entity of importance, sufficient enough to be considered for outreach and talks even as it remains under severe criticism.

The absence of an identified or even nurtured alternative leadership is going to cost dearly and reduce our options to almost none.


Situation Can’t Be Viewed in Isolation

The halt to the momentum of successful operations by the Army in conjunction with other security forces is being cited as a major disadvantage and would obviously be a limiting factor in the ultimate decision to extend the suspension of operations or not. Jammu’s political goodwill element, very assiduously managed by New Delhi thus far and known to be on the decline, would definitely not be in any mood for soft measures — it would need more convincing.

If the extension is decided upon, the proxies in the Valley and elsewhere would work overtime to ensure a violent disruption of the Amarnath Yatra and create all the negativity associated with such an action. That is a huge risk for the Centre. Security for the yatra is not limited to simply placing troops along the route but involves intensive preparation through domination and a certain measure of pro-activity which under suspension of operations could be limited.

While there has been public approval in Kashmir for the suspension of operations due to the relative absence of violence and some strains of tourism appear to be picking up, there are enough spoilers who wish to remain in confrontation mode.

In such a situation, both the state and Central governments would be under intense pressure regarding more conciliatory gestures without a matching response. A level of greater strictness towards the vicious elements among stone throwers; rearrests of those whose FIRs were revoked and still involved may actually be viewed positively by the public.

It is too early to say which way the decision on extension will go but the inputs being given to the HM will need to be very carefully weighed if the right decision is to be made. Rajnath Singh does seem to be level-headed, and the government is not viewing the situation in isolation but in conjunction with the fast-evolving geopolitical situation affecting India’s strategic options.

(The writer is a veteran Lieutenant General, who commanded the Srinagar based 15 Corps. He is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets at @atahasnain53. The views expressed above are of the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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