Keep the political track alive in J&K Back   Home  
THE surge in militant strikes in Jammu and Kashmir after Agra has required a tough response from the government. That response, to judge from recent events inside and outside the state, appears to be increasingly effective at the military level. The killing of Abdul Hamid Tantrey, a key Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was followed by clearing militants out of the Alisahib shrine and still others have been tracked down and captured in Delhi and Hyderabad. The idea was to use the hiatus since last November to improve security forcesí training, equipment, intelligence and communication capabilities and it is possible that has occurred. Certainly, it was necessary to demonstrate more efficiency on the ground. The increasing level of casualties among the security forces was bad for morale, as the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs rightly notes, and has emboldened cross-border terrorists. Should the capabilities shown in this latest phase be sustained, the damage sustained by the security forces can be brought down dramatically. Tighter border management, which the standing committee also calls for, is a key requirement to reduce infiltration and the number of young Kashmiris being taken across the border to be trained for terrorist action.

Security operations, however, should not queer the pitch for political solutions. It could be coincidental but it is striking how many of the targets of a return to a pro-active policy have been the Hizbul Mujahideen, an organisation whose leaders are most inclined to talk to the government and which officials have described in positive terms relative to other groups. Kashmiris who came out in large numbers for his funeral speak of Tantrey as a moderate. There are Hurriyat leaders who claim that he was killed in a fake encounter with the special operations group, a crack force of the Jammu and Kashmir police. These developments are not going to improve the climate for finding a political solution which, after all, must be the ultimate aim. Charges of fake encounters which are made every time the security forces adopt a pro-active stance also damage their morale apart from further alienating the people. The Centre and the state should adopt a pro-active public information policy to counter false propaganda, keep the people informed about what is really going on and assure them that the security forces will stay within the four corners of the law. In this context, the manner in which the security forces buried rumours about a mass grave at Bandipor inspires confidence.

It is good that a dialogue of sorts has started between the Centre and the state on the issue of autonomy. Having first ruled out autonomy on the pre-1953 basis, the Union home minister appeared to bend a bit by asking J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to propose the special powers the state government should be given. Abdullah has a chance to keep the subject on the agenda, propose what is essential for good governance and involve other political parties and groups in discussion. The political track should be kept alive.
This article is published in IndianExpress editorials.