The government’s move to appoint a former IB head in getting a sustained dialogue going with the various stakeholders of Kashmir is not a standalone decision, but one in a pattern of carrot and stick manoeuvres.
The ability of the Narendra Modi-led government to pull out a card that the commentariat least expects continues. The latest such decision is the announcement of Dineshwar Sharma, former director of the Intelligence Bureau, as the ‘special representative’ of the Centre in a ‘sustained dialogue’ with various stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir.
Initially, this move perplexed both those who take an ultra-hawkish stance vis a vis Kashmir as well as those who fall in the ‘bleeding heart’ camp. Many among both camps seemed to posit this move as a ‘U Turn’ from the Modi government’s perceived hawkish stance of going full throttle in the use of force in Kashmir. However, the reality may not lend itself to such simplistic binaries.
In hindsight, right from the much-debated alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to this move of initiating a dialogue, a clear pattern emerges.
Being a part of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and through it, the Modi government at the Centre, acquired an undeniable political stake in the affairs of the state. With an increasingly bitter sounding Abdullah clan that has often cynically pushed an obscurantist line – their SOP while out of power – Mehbooba Mufti may have otherwise felt tempted to outdo them due to political expediencies. To an extent, the PDP has probably been kept from unleashing complete competitive appeasement as a policy to go one up over its opponents in the Valley who keep pushing the goalposts farther and farther. Instead, even within her own limits, Mehbooba Mufti has made statements that few politicians from the Valley have ever found the gumption to.
Sunanda Vashisht, on one such speech by Mehbooba Mufti, wrote: On August 2, 2016 Mehbooba Mufti delivered a speech that is probably the most important speech of her career so far….
...She rebuked her audience for turning blind eye to the reality of Kashmir today. She rued the fact that mosques were being used to coerce and threaten women and children to come out and protest. She was distressed that young girls were being stopped on streets and were asked to dress ‘modestly’. She wondered what would happen to a land where a 10-year-old is so steeped in fanaticism that he can slap a senior citizen. She expressed anguish that Kashmir could go the same way as Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. ‘Syria has Azaadi then what are guns doing there? Do we want to make Afghanistan of this Jannat that we have?’ She asked angrily. And then most importantly she made no bones when she said ‘Is there a saazish to keep our children illiterate, unemployed so that it is easier to hand them stones?’
Further, after the Uri attack, the Modi government has raised the temperature against terrorists, their infrastructure and their funding. While many thought the ‘surgical strikes’ were a new normal that the current administration has established, the forces have gone further and had a largely successful year in inflicting casualties against terrorists. Becoming a popular face in the terrorist circles in Kashmir has meant certain death in a few months.
Many high profile names have been felled; Burhan Wani and Sabzar Ahmad Bhat come to mind immediately. Not only has the top of terrorist organisations been targeted, the numbers too have been impressive; terrorists have been killed in very high numbers in both 2016 and 2017. The crackdown has been so intense that many observers reckon this is the worst time to be a terrorist in Kashmir and terrorist networks have been reduced to all but a pale shadow of their heyday. The forces too have had the freedom to innovate and back themselves in situations of crises such as the one Major Gogoi found himself in.
There has also been relentless action against funding channels of terrorism and separatism. The National Investigative Agency has cracked down upon separatist organisations and their style of raising, receiving and collecting funds through various illegal means, including hawala channels, for funding terror and unrest.
While this is the ‘stick’ in the proverbial ‘carrot and stick’ policy, there have been quite a few carrots too. Prime Minister Modi had announced a Rs 80,000 crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir to fund 63 major development projects. This included Rs 7,854 crore in flood relief, reconstruction and flood management. The Centre has already sanctioned Rs 62,599 crore till September 2017. Even the Goods and Services Tax has been passed in Jammu and Kashmir, just like it went through in other states.
Essentially, the policy has been to be hard with hardliners and reason with the rest. This policy, as outlined above, has met with considerable success. On the ground, the terrorists are arguably at their weakest and the forces have gained a considerable upper hand. From such a position of strength, wanting to talk is no capitulation but a sign of confidence in one’s ability to negotiate with and perhaps even coax various stakeholders to make concessions towards finding a political solution. Eventually, the problem has political dimensions and those need to be addressed to resolve it.
Some people have expressed their reservations over whether Dineshwar Sharma plans to speak to separatists or not. While not fathoming a guess over whether he actually will, even if he does, they are clearly in a much weakened position and would not bring much to the table to press the negotiations to move their way.
It is in this context that both Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Na Gaali Se Na Goli Se’ statement as well as his government’s move to appoint a former IB head to be their special representative in getting a sustained dialogue going, should be seen. It is not a standalone decision, but one in a pattern of carrot and stick manoeuvres.