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    Convert LOC into International border

    Time for real initiatives

    A package of autonomy, conversion of the LOC into International Border and amnesty to those laying down arms, seems to be the only way to tackle the resurgent terrorism in the Kashmir Valley, says AMITABH MATTOO a Kashmiri.

    The grieving wife of Major Purshottam, killed in the attack

    Gloom, cynicism and violence are returning to the Kashmir Valley. After nearly three years of relative calm, militancy is back in the valley in a new deadly avatar. The most frightening expression of this was the attack by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba on 'fortress` Badami Bagh. Not once in the last decade of violence in Kashmir had the army cantonment in Srinagar witnessed such a dare-devil attack. Indeed, the area was considered to be so secular that colonies near it had become an enclave for Kashmiri pandits. But Badami Bagh fits into a pattern of heightened violence especially in Srinagar.

    In addition, the state police chief has confirmed that several thousand militants have infiltrated into the valley, mostly during the Kargil war when the attention of the security forces had been directed towards fighting the Pakistani army. These fresh breed of militants seem to be different from the ones that were active in the early 1990s; they are equipped with more sophisticated weaponry, are mostly Pakistanis or Afghans, have had extensive combat training and are zealously committed to fighting a jihad against India.

    The mood in the valley is not encouraging either. Deep discontent and heightened alienation have made a come back. The chief reason is the abysmal failure of the Farooq Abdullah government to provide even a semblance of good governance. Three years ago, when Abdullah was elected as chief minister, the mood was one of cautious optimism and there was much hope that the National Conference government would be able to create the conditions that would allow for a gradual restoration of normalcy in the state. That hope has been completely belied.

    The administration has demonstrated neither the sensitivity nor the integrity nor even the inclination to get Kashmir back on track. Although, a significant cause of the failure has been the lack of financial resources (the state is virtually bankrupt and does not even have the resources to pay the salaries of all those employed by the government), the state has not even delivered on issues that required no financial commitment.

    Not surprisingly, the voter turnout during the parliamentary election was abysmally low. The Srinagar Parliamentary constituency, from where Farooq Abdullah`s son had contested, registered a turnout of 12 per cent and even then there were allegations of electoral malpractices. The faith of the average Kashmiri in the democratic process, already low, has been further eroded.

    And yet amidst the gloom and the cynicism, there is still reason to believe that all is not lost.

    Quite clearly, the militancy needs to be countered quickly and systematically. The Rashtriya Rifles are being strengthened, but eventually the local police will need to be provided with the equipment and training needed to tackle the menace. The deployment of forces in the counter-insurgency grid too needs to be further fortified and Village Defence Committees must be given better training and greater responsibility.

    But an enlightened political initiative might even lead to a real breakthrough. Again, it is the mood of the people in the state, and especially in the Kashmir valley, that adds weight to the need for an enlightened unilateral initiative. Three indices are of particular relevance.

    First, there was virtually no enthusiasm or sympathy for the foreign militants. Indeed, there was no solidarity with the intruders in Kargil. Indeed, intial reports that Afghans, or more precisely Taliban, belonging to the dreaded Lashkar-e-Tayyba, may form part of the infiltrators, generated deep discomfiture in significant sections of the valley. Kashmiris have always had an uneasy relationship with the Afghans, rooted in the history of the tyrannical Afghan rule over the valley.

    Second, there is an overwhelming sentiment against violence, irrespective of its origin. Militancy may be on the rise again, but it has lost a great deal of popular legitimacy. ''Peace with dignity`` is the slogan that perhaps most suitably captures the prevailing mood of the residents of Kashmir.

    Finally, there seem to be genuine, all-pervasive, desire to recover the social capital lost in the last decade, and to restore Kashmir`s traditional society based on ideas of peaceful co-existence and the common syncretic identity of New Delhi could capitalise on this window of opportunity by unilaterally announcing a package of autonomy for the state. This does not need to be done through detailed negotiations, or through an amendment of the Constitution, but can be simply implemented through a Presidential ordinance. Although the BJP leader, Mr Govindacharya, recently voiced his apprehensions about Article 570, he too will probably realise that it is possible to strike a harmonious balance between the need to integrate Jammu and Kashmir within the national mainstream, and the state`s demand for autonomous self-governance. If this balance is struck Jammu and Kashmir could become a model of ''co-operative federalism``, a special model that could be gradually applied to other states of the Union.

    Second, New Delhi should unilaterally declare the Line of Control into the international border. While such a move by India may mean going against the unanimous parliamentary resolution that calls for reclaiming the territory under Pakistan`s occapation, a permanent division of Jammu and Kashmir along the present Line of Control, with minor adjustments if need be (for a variety of reasons) is the only realistic, practical and just settlement of the problem that has defied a solution for more than half a country.

    Finally, New Delhi could announce a general amnesty for Kashmiri militants who give up arms and are willing to join the political process. In this context, the recent statements by leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference are encouraging.

    All these unilateral initiatives will, of course, not resolve the problem of terrorism, or end the problem of foreign militants. But then the battle against terrorists will reduce itself to being a law and order problem that will be fought primarily by ordinary Kashmiris rather than security forces from outside. Only then will light begin to appear at the end of the tunnel.

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