The plea from members of various concerned citizen groups isn’t preposterous.
A ceasefire certainly does not result in peace. But it provides a pause to think afresh an issue as it would on the Kashmir situation by all sides. It would help to sit down and think how to tackle the unending imbroglio without resorting to eye-for-eye approach. Kashmir yearns for peace and its people deserve justice, enjoyment of peaceful life in free, fearless and violence free environment. It is incumbent for the Central and state governments to strive for such peace in the Valley.
The leaders of all mainstream parties of J&K met in Srinagar and with one voice advocated the idea of asking the government in Delhi to go for a unilateral ceasefire during the forthcoming holy month of Ramzan and the revered Amarnath yatra. It is different that the BJP, which was part of the deliberations presided over by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, has now distanced itself from the proposition.
The appeal for truce has been addressed to the Centre and the party leaders have decided to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is scheduled to visit Srinagar on May 19. The ceasefire would be the focus as first priority agenda. If given nod immediately then the CM and her PDP-BJP government in the state has to take a lead in declaring that the security forces will resort to shooting only in extreme situations and in self-defence.
Let there be no violence in Kashmir during Ramzan and Amarnath yatra. The plea from members of various concerned citizen groups isn’t preposterous. The Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group headed by an eminent Kashmiri legal eagle has been very active during the last many months, taking the initiative for a peaceful dialogue between the authorities and different sections of society in J&K, so that peace can be restored in the Valley. These efforts have not succeeded so far mainly because neither the troublemakers nor the government has given up fighting each other.
The plea for a unilateral ceasefire by the state government and all parties has the chance of putting an end to violence by rabble-rousers in the Valley that can provide respite from the daily killings and bloodshed.
A unilateral declaration of ceasefire in the middle of a conflict is not a new idea. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee unilaterally declared a ceasefire on the eve of Ramzan and found that the impact on the situation, on the ground and on public morale in the Valley, was tremendous. The security forces were told not to fire unless absolutely needed and only in self-defence. The people in the Valley responded by welcoming this, and militants suspended violence during Ramzan that year.
As a Kashmiri, I noticed that PM Vajpayee would not be sure till the last moment how his unilateral declaration would be received in the Valley. But the next morning he must have felt reassured that the response was positive. Not only during Ramzan, peace prevailed for some more time afterwards.
At the press conference, next to the helicopter hangar at the airport, he was questioned by newspersons and the fourth question was: “Prime Minister sahib, will the talks be within the framework of the Constitution or outside it?” The PM replied: “Baat insaaniyat ke dairay mein hogi (Talks will be held within the framework of humanity).”
Mr Vajpayee was speaking straight from the heart. The newspersons were stunned at his off-the-cuff reply. This was Mr Vajpayee’s inspirational moment for which he is still remembered in the Valley with great affection. It touched hearts and did not compromise on any national position. His approach and the empathy with which he looked at the people of Kashmir helped him win much support in the Valley.
The confidence Mr Vajpayee gained with these two moves — the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire and making it clear that talks will be held within the framework of insaaniyat — helped him in tackling the situation and restoring peace for some time. It also allowed him to acquire space for starting a wider dialogue with different sections of society at different levels.
Mr Vajpayee didn’t lose anything by his unilateral declaration of ceasefire or his statement about working within humanitarianism. In fact, he became more hopeful about creating peace in the Valley, which he thought would equip him to deal with Pakistan more effectively. Later, he widened the theme by adding Kashmiriyat and jamhooriyat (democracy) to his insaaniyat theme, widening his appeal as a national leader.
The Kashmiri boys are joining the terrorist organisations and consequently are being eliminated in the encounters. Security forces and the J&K police have achieved great success, and collateral killings of civilians are on the rise. This implies that despite the pressure being exerted by security forces, the local youth are not relenting from joining the path of terrorism. Security forces have a policy in place where trapped local terrorists are given an option to surrender with assurance of their life being spared and further rehabilitated.
Essentially it is a humanitarian gesture extended on the premise that those following the self-destructive path of violence do so because of professional indoctrination, aided and abetted by foreign powers and they need to be given every opportunity to get back into the fold of civilised society. Sadly, many entrapped terrorists refuse to listen to their elders and choose the path of death and destruction.
Ceasefire may help put a brake on the accelerating militancy and terrorist actions in Kashmir and help the local boys to think afresh, and for others to review the Kashmir situation and tackle it without resorting to an eye for an eye approach. Kashmir yearns for peace and its people deserve justice and enjoyment of right to decent life in violence free environment.
For a 13 million population, accommodation for a unilateral ceasefire for Kashmir demanded by CM Mufti, her government along with all the political parties during Ramzan and Amarnath yatra is not a big deal. There has been a good precedence in the past. PM Modi has to take a call and act as a statesman and demonstrate himself as a modern leader rather than a right-wing BJP stalwart. There is always national consensus for such gestures in Kashmir situation. The Congress, the left parties and all the regional parties are likely to support the PM on Kashmir.
Mr Modi as PM or his government has nothing to lose if it declares ceasefire. On the contrary, it will certainly widen the appeal in Kashmir. During the ceasefire, Pakistan is unexpected to create any trouble on the Line of Control. Even if it indulges in any mischief, the Indian Army — which is keeping an effective vigil — knows how to beat it whether during the ceasefire or otherwise.
The writer is a senior Supreme Court lawyer and chairman of Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org