The government of India has asked security forces not to launch operations in Jammu and Kashmir to enable “peace loving Muslims to observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment”.
The unilateral initiative from the government came a few days after the chief minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, and most political parties made the appeal.
In the past, a similar initiative had been taken by the Atal Bihar Vajpayee government to negotiate peace with the Hizbul Mujahideen in the year 2000, which ultimately failed to bring peace to the state.
The prevailing internal security situation in J&K indicates growing concern on three counts: steady increase in local militant recruitment and violence; repeated attempts by mobs to resort to violence and disrupt ongoing security forces’ operations; and growing frustration among some segments of the youth, resulting in the creation of an emotional disconnect with the state.
This hardening of attitudes on part of the separatists and protesting youth, resultantly led to stringent measures by security forces, which had become the target of violent mobs, at times to the extent of being lynched and getting seriously injured. The recent past witnessed a series of encounters, with several terrorist leaders being neutralised. This created an operational momentum in favour of security forces.
The decision to stop the initiation of operations, except in self-defence or to protect the population in an area, is always fraught with operational risks. Therefore, the discomfort of security forces with such initiatives is understandable. From their perspective, such measures provide armed groups a breather, allowing them to regroup and strengthen. This enhances their residual capability and gives them the ability to hit back harder over time.
Considering these circumstances, the appeal for a ceasefire and the acceptance of the same by the government needs closer examination, especially since this is likely to receive both support and criticism in the days to come.
The decision must have been a tough call for the government given the possibility of its failure to yield desired results. However, it is only the political leadership of the state, which can and must initiate such bold steps with an aim to create a disruptive impact. Despite difficult circumstances, several possible reasons can be ascribed to the decision.
One, the decision can reverse the negative tide and give peace a renewed chance. It can be argued that terrorists should have declared ceasefire first. Contrary to this argument, the government has a taken the high moral ground by taking this step, which is essential under circumstances in which perceptions matter.
Two, this move will discredit any segment among the separatists or terrorists which refuses to reciprocate the move. Therefore, the responsibility for violence and unrest shall rest solely on those supporting disruption.
Three, the move will help reach out to the youth of the state directly. This is critical under the prevailing conditions, where many among them do not see the separatists as their representatives. This will create the requisite psychological bridge to further facilitate peace initiatives.
Four, the measure also has wide ranging political support within Kashmir. This will help bring together all peace-loving forces in a united move to initiate change against the negative sentiment.
Five, the non-initiation of operations initiative on the eve of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to J&K creates the necessary sentiment for him to reach out to the youth of the state directly. Given his ability to create such a connect, the decision creates the very opportunity that can usher change.
Six, the decision allows for all affected segments of the society to step back and possibly re-evaluate their position. This will stall the cycle of violence that was snowballing to disturbing levels. It will also provide the opportunity and conditions to try the option of dialogue in pursuit of lasting peace.
Seven, Ramzan is a time of fasting and prayers. The step taken by the government will blunt the propaganda that tends to give a religious colour to decisions of the state. It will also initiate the necessary emotional opening for seeking peace.
An internal security situation will always present decision dilemmas for the government, especially in states like J&K. However, if the solution to such situations is considered political, then the government of the day must receive full support for taking the initiative to give peace a change, even if it comes along with the obvious accompanying risk of terrorists receiving a breather. This is where the security forces must not only support this initiative but also sensitise the rank and file to the larger cause for which they have and will continue to serve the nation selflessly.