Kashmir: Rhetoric vs Reality on the ground

India must not rise to the bait but the Government appears happy to walk into the trap

PTI Photo by S Irfan
PTI Photo by S Irfan

Sachin Pilot

We are drowning in grand rhetoric. Taking a cue from the top, ruling party spokespersons are losing no opportunity to send messages that seek to alarm and reassure in the same breath.

An image is sought to be projected that cross-border terrorism has assumed alarming proportions and that steps are being taken to tackle it through visionary diplomacy and leadership. In the time-tested recipe of propaganda, the rhetoric takes an old threat, that of terrorism, and mixes it with high words.

Of late, terror strikes have become more focused. By attacking our defenders in uniform, Indian sovereignty is being challenged in a provocative manner. The outrage such attacks excite across the country seems well understood by the perpetrators. The perpetrators understand that atrocities against civilians invite political responses, whereas same crimes against people in uniform drive simmering conflict towards an armed engagement, with greater sense of fear and insecurity in the community.

Loss of our fine men is indeed painful and tragic. However, not a single life should be lost in vain. This is precisely the reason to steer clear of macho public postures divorced from circumstances on the ground.

These provocations, which are happening with ever greater impunity, underline failure of the government to anticipate such targeting. It is clear that India's enemies see the futility of a conventional conflict. Despite mounting evidence that their strategy in Kashmir has shifted to attacking the symbols of Indian authority, no preventive measures have been taken.

An important prerequisite for that to happen is the presence of a robust and reliable cross-border intelligence network. Intelligence arises from a community that wants peace and disapproves of violence. It is a painstaking process that needs greater engagement of the people in decision making, improving the life of the average citizen with respect to their access to health, education and opportunities for gainful employment and political participation.

Development agenda cannot be separated from security and strategy. The present government in Jammu and Kashmir has failed to win confidence of the people. Infrastructure and other sectors that could have become drivers of economic growth and urbanisation have stagnated.

Local entrepreneurship has not been encouraged through simplified regulation, marketing support and general regulatory forbearance. People of the valley have historically been sensitive to signals from New Delhi. Low voting percentages and anecdotal evidence shared at funerals of defence personnel point to a dangerous lack of faith in the inclusive agenda of the central government.

Absence of on ground development, combined with alienation from ruling party's political and social priorities has managed to spectacularly alienate the people of Kashmir. The wise approach of constant community engagement to arrive at agreed positions has been abandoned. There is no effort to forge a political consensus to assure everyone that continuity is an important ingredient of our approach. Berating political opposition while joining hands with a party with separatist agenda in the state has exposed what is at heart expedient power-mongering. Hawks have been allowed, even encouraged, to drive wide wedges between people and the establishment.

In terms of securing our people and our borders, this combination of conflicted policy and zero development carries a number of worrying implications. On the one hand, Kashmir lags the rest of the country in several development parameters. This gap threatens to widen. Investment and employment climate remain forbidding. There is flight of talent from the state and no infusion of talent that accompany growth of economy, especially services, seems forthcoming. From a security point of view, information sources rooted in the community have withered away. There is a constant fear that helping law enforcement would endanger the concerned from both sides.

An important objective of sponsors of terror is to make our attitudes towards law enforcement more rigid and stereotypical. It is their intention to translate their cowardly acts into greater suppression of our own people. They hope that this will widen the circle of people with suspected loyalty, and generate even more discontent through the travails that they will have to undergo.

While this display of strength in the middle of a largely unarmed, peace-loving, and suffering population may be occasion for self-congratulation in the short term, in the long term it would drive people away from looking to the state for solutions. It also reduces the importance of that vital moderate community leadership that modulates and articulates popular sentiment.

We must not rise to the bait. We must remain true to the spirit that moves our faith in democracy, our respect for advancement of all our fellow citizens, and to forge a new India through partnership, not diktat. We must nourish local leadership and not transplant outside managers who lack knowledge and sensitivity. We must, even as we prepare to defend our nation by the most modern means available, deepen our commitment to a life of peace, dignity, and prosperity for our all of our citizens.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines