J&K border conflict: Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s lonely cry for peace

Despite J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti pushing for peace dialogue with Pakistan, BJP, her coalition partner in the state government, doesn’t want resumption of talks in times of “war”

Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Ashutosh Sharma

Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to extend a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan over a dozen times since January. Her worries have grown as the truce between the two countries lies redundant and border residents have been left to bear the brunt of animosity between two countries through ceasefire violations on an almost daily basis.

The voice of the Chief Minister, however, seems like a cry in the wilderness as her party PDP’s alliance partner in the state government, BJP rules out the possibility of dialogue with Pakistan in near future.

During Mufti’s recent visit to Poonch—where five members of a family were killed in shelling by Pakistan—she minced no words in criticising Modi government’s Pakistan policy. In a matter of fact way, she regretted: “We don’t have basic amenities but we have money for bullets and bombs. For how long we’ll continue to pay the price of Partition?” She went on to advise PM Modi to act like an “elder brother” and resume the peace process with Pakistan for cessation of border hostilities.

PM Modi, however, remains unmoved despite her frequent impassioned appeals and sporadic protests by the border residents. On the other side, the growing militarisation in the name of strengthening security apparatus in border areas has only multiplied the problems of residents. The encroachment of agricultural land coupled with repeated migrations, loss of crop, livestock and property, is only fuelling their collective trauma.

In fact, charges of sedition were registered against peaceful protesters in Kamore Camp area of Ramgarh sector—represented by a BJP legislator in the state assembly—last month. The demonstrators were agitated over frequent border firing incidents and resultant loss of life and property.

J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti: “We don’t have basic amenities but we have money for bullets and bombs. For how long we’ll continue to pay the price of Partition?” Mufti went on to advise PM Modi to act like an “elder brother” and resume the peace process with Pakistan for cessation of border hostilities.

While the separatist camp in the state believes that both the countries must “realise the futility of hostility and adopt a realistic and humanistic approach”, mainstream political parties seem divided over the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan for revival of ceasefire agreement in both letter and spirit.

“If we start digging graves, the matter won't be resolved… dialogue is the only way forward. We have to think how friendly relations can be cultivated. War is not the solution,” said Farooq Abdullah, chief of main Opposition party J&K National Conference, on Friday. His son and former CM Omar Abdullah has repeatedly called upon India and Pakistan to uphold the ceasefire agreement.

But the state unit of BJP holds an altogether contrary ideological position. Responding to CM Mufti’s recent statement, state BJP's chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi told National Herald: “At a time when we are being shelled and armed infiltrators are being pushed (into our territory), there can’t be any possibility of talks. We can’t go down on our knees before Pakistan, which is an aggressor. We are only retaliating. Dialogue can only be held in a conducive atmosphere. You can’t press for talks in the time of war.”

“The national interest demands that we should all stand together at the time of border firing and shelling. It doesn’t matter which government is at the Centre,” he maintained.

J&K BJP chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi told National Herald: “At a time when we are being shelled and armed infiltrators are being pushed (into our territory), there can’t be any possibility of talks. We can’t go down on our knees before Pakistan, which is an aggressor. We are only retaliating. Dialogue can only be held in a conducive atmosphere. You can’t press for talks in the time of war.”

Congress describes the Kashmir and Pakistan policy of Modi government as a disaster. The state Congress unit’s chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said: “In its chest-thumping rhetoric during election campaigns, BJP used its foreign policy towards Pakistan for harvesting electoral dividends in local politics. They created an impression that former PM Manmohan Singh was weak and BJP had provided a strong government to the country—which can deal with Pakistan more effectively. But now they are faced with a policy crisis and they can’t climb down.”

Citing the spurt in ceasefire violations in the last four years, he added: “The number of causalities of civilians and soldiers at the border have been witnessing a steady rise since the BJP has come to power at the Centre. This government is absolutely clueless how to engage with Pakistan diplomatically. It says that ‘talks and terror’ can’t go together. And border residents are bearing the brunt of this policy.”

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