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Perplexing coalition

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Perplexing coalition
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In the last week of February 2015, the PDP and BJP finalized the Agenda of Alliance (AOA) draft, a roadmap for the first coalition between the two ideologically divergent parties. The draft referred to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as “improved vastly” and underlined the need to make the people of the State “able to get the peace and normalcy dividend” by building “greater public confidence in its sustainability”.

“The coalition government will thoroughly review the security situation in the state with a view to examine the need and desirability of all the special laws being applied to the state in view of the situation which is improving,” the document that paved way for Mufti Muhammad Sayeed to take oath as Chief Minister on March 1, 2015, read.

Three years down the line, the ground situation is far from being improved. It has rather taken such a turn that comparing it with the heydays of militancy in early 1990s is not altogether misplaced. The militants are striking at will and inflicting heavy casualties on the government forces. In the second week of February 2018, militants carried out two sensational attacks in the capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar, an indication that revival of urban militancy was on their agenda. The two gun-battles left six army soldiers, one CRPF man, a civilian and five suicide attackers dead. The security apparatus was shaken and normal life of the residents of the two main cities was fully affected. The continued incidents of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and international border in Jammu region has kept the death clock ticking and population of the border region under constant threat.

The state government led by Mehbooba Mufti is in a precarious position. A few weeks of lull encourages her to move around and find a semblance of governance at district headquarters but it is always succeeded by another incident of violence that pulls the scenario back to square one. The meticulously executed sensational escape of handcuffed Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militant Naveed Jatt from a premier hospital in Srinagar is one such incident. Jatt had outer support to kill two policemen and in lightning speed reach safe haven, apparently in south Kashmir, to rejoin militants.

Mufti might have dealt with the embarrassment caused by Jatt’s escape by suspending jail superintendent, removing Director General of Prisons and shifting several militants to jails out of Kashmir. However, she turned out to be unable to handle the incidents like killing of three youngsters at the hands of army soldiers in Ganawpora village of Shopian on January 27.

Mehbooba on that day spoke to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman before asking the police to file First Information Report (26/ 2018) and the Deputy Commissioner to submit inquiry report within 20 days. She promised the inquiry would be taken to ‘logical end’. The army said they fired in self-defence when the mob of stone-pelters attempted to lynch a JCO. The locals maintained the killing were targeted and unprovoked. Shopian and adjoining areas, once a pocket borough of ruling PDP, remained shut for 10 days in protest.

The official probes and inquiries have lost meaning in Kashmir, especially when they are called against the army and the central forces enjoying impunity under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). There is not a single case when the state government’s inquiry bore results by fixing responsibility. However, Shopian’s avoidable shooting incident took a different turn when the accused army officer Major Aditya Kumar’s serving Lieutenant Colonel father moved a petition in Supreme Court to halt investigations against him. The apex court stayed “coercive action” against the accused Major of 10 Garhwal Rifles, and government of Jammu and Kashmir and Government of India were given the notice to reply to the petition within two weeks.

There is a long list of cases where FIRs were filed against army and central armed forces for committing crimes like rape, murder and extrajudicial killings but the proceedings were not carried out in civilian courts. The prosecution essentially requires sanction from the defence and home ministries. Even the Court Martials conducted by the army have indicted some soldiers but they have escaped punishment through appeals and review of their cases. The coalition of civil society, a prominent rights group in Kashmir described the stay on investigations as ‘irregular and against the established norms of criminal procedure’.

Mehbooba’s party had initially sought to silence voices like of BJP legislator Ravinder Raina who justified Shopian killings. After the apex court direction, the party is dumbfounded. The 20-day deadline is nearing, and the party has no face to show to the people. Three years into coalition, and the state has even lost the power to file an FIR, which is only a basic procedure to carry out investigations. It has rendered the commitment inked in the Agenda of Alliance document meaningless. “While both parties (PDP and BJP) have historically held a different view on the AFSPA and the need for it in the State at present, as part of the agenda for governance of this alliance, the coalition government will examine the need for de-notifying ‘disturbed areas’. This, as a consequence, would enable the Union Government to take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA in these areas,” the AoA document reads.

This state of affairs has left Mehbooba in a quandary. She cannot escape power to face the hostile public afresh. She was constrained to postpone the panchayat and urban local bodies elections due to precarious ground situation. This has left her to proverbially clutch at straws when she repeatedly calls for dialogue between India and Pakistan. “Dialogue with Pakistan is necessary if we are to end bloodshed. I know I will be labelled anti-national by news anchors tonight but that doesn’t matter. The people of J&K are suffering. We have to talk because war is not an option,” Mehbooba tweeted on the conclusion of a prolonged budget session of the assembly.

The dialogue per se is not anywhere in sight. On the face of it, the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan Ajit Doval and Lt Gen (retd) Nasir Khan Janjua held a meeting in Bangkok on December 26. It appears the secret meeting has not helped. For the past two months, the borders have been turned into hell with heavy casualties on both sides coupled with displacement of beleaguered residents. The uptick in militancy in Valley despite Operation All Out, emergence of local fidayeen and reorganizing outfits like Jaish-e-Muhammad indicate to the grim situation on the ground. Celebration of ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ across Pakistan on February 5, too is indicative.

Back home, the umpteenth visit of the Centre’s special representative Dineshwar Sharma earlier this week did not move beyond calling upon Governor and CM and some select delegations. The separatists continue to remain out of the ambit of this dialogue process. They are either jailed or restricted to the confines of their homes. The topmost political leadership in New Delhi is maintaining a discreet silence.

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