The Union Government has declared “suspension of operations” in Kashmir during the holy month of Ramadan. A request for what was termed as a “ceasefire” was made by the chief minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, about a week back and the consent has come a few days before the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the state, which is slated for May, 19.
“I wholeheartedly welcome the Ramadan ceasefire and would like to thank @narendramodi ji & @rajnathsingh ji for their personal intervention,” tweeted Mehbooba Mufti in response to the decision made public by the Home Ministry.
In a unique response, the decision has been welcomed by the National Conference too. “On the demand of all political parties (except the BJP, which had opposed it) the Centre has announced a unilateral ceasefire. Now if the militants don’t respond in kind they will stand exposed as the true enemies of the people,” tweeted Omar Abdullah, the National Conference Leader of Opposition in the state Legislative Assembly. His father, Farooq Abdullah, has also welcomed the move and congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh for taking this “great step forward.”
It is notable that the BJP was not in favour of any such initiative at the time when the same was proposed by its coalition partner. “As long as there are terrorist activities in the valley, the security forces are duty bound to tackle it with utmost toughness. What is needed is terrorist activities should stop, operations would stop automatically. As long as terrorists are active in the valley, the security forces are duty bound to protect the citizens and the country,” said Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of the BJP and in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir, in the wake of the unilateral ceasefire demand made by Mehbooba Mufti.
Comparisons of the initiative are being made with something similar that was done by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2000. At that stage an initiative called Non Initiation of Combat Operations (NICO) was put into practice which, in effect, meant that operations against terrorists would cease in the holy month of Ramadan.
NICO was fuelled by an intense desire that Prime Minister Vajpayee nurtured to put an end to violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Notwithstanding the noble intentions, the policy failed to produce the desired results, despite being in place for five long months.
As an end result the number of terrorists operating in the state increased drastically, resulting in intense counter-terrorist operations in 2001 and 2002 by the security forces to neutralise the added numbers. Pakistan based terrorist organisations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad got an opportunity to invigorate their cadre and this led to the attack on the Indian Parliament, which took the two countries to the brink of War.
The NDA government and after that the UPA government learnt their lessons and subsequent requests for a ceasefire during Ramadan made by organisations like the Hizbul Mujahedeen were not acceded to. Now after 17 years, the clock has taken a complete turn; whether the initiative will bring about a better result this time round remains to be seen
The Indian Army had advised the government against taking the step in view of the past experience and the fact that terrorists’ operational in the Valley have not shown any inclination to cease operations. The security forces are wary of a repeat of 2000, they hold a fear that the good work being done since early 2017 in elimination of terrorists will come to naught.
The first set back to the initiative came within hours of the same being announced with the terrorist outfit, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), rejecting the same. LeT has termed cessation of operations as “treachery to the martyrs.”
“Ceasefire is not an option. We deem it as sin to the sacrifices rendered in the freedom struggle. We are the heirs of martyrs and opting for such choice is treachery to their blood,” said Abdullah Ghazanwi, spokesperson of LeT. Even as the announcement was being made terrorists opened fire on an Army Patrol in Shopian District of South Kashmir. This should serve as an indicator of things to come.
The only silver lining in the entire move is the permission given by the government to their security forces to react in self defence. The Ministry of Home Affairs has said that the security forces reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people.
But there is a catch here, this rule of engagement will, undoubtedly, be used by the paid supporters of Pakistan to pester and embarrass the security forces as and when they carry out an operation.
It is being said that the initiative will give Mehbooba Mufti the space to win back her isolated electorate. While such possibility exists the reverse can also happen. If the move fails the electorate will get further alienated
In trouble torn Kashmir an initiative that has a shelf life of only one month cannot be expected to produce far reaching results. Those who follow the path of terror, disruption and divisiveness will not get swayed by the same. They will, in fact, look upon it as an opportunity to strengthen themselves.
What Kashmir needed was some innovative, out-of-the-box ideas to leverage the holy month in pursuit of a lasting solution. A mass contact movement for weaning away the youth from the path of violence with involvement of leaders, civil society, parents, elders and religious teachers could have yielded better results. Security forces could have been tacitly told to go easy on operations and assist in the project with their own brand of Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM).
Suspension of operations is a well intentioned albeit bold move taken by the government despite many not being in favour of the same. Surely, the decision would have been taken with full knowledge of the risks involved. There is, however, ample evidence based on past experience to establish that the security risk far outweigh the benefits that may accrue from such an initiative. One wrong move at this sensitive phase can take the clock back by many years. It would be best for the ruling dispensation to closely watch the Catch-22 situation that it has created.
(Jaibans Singh is a reputed security analyst and commentator)