WHEN unidentified gunmen infiltrated India’s army base during the recent Uri attack in Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani officials immediately seized the opportunity to embark on yet another bout of political mudslinging.
Their verbal sparring saw more finger-pointing by India as leaders blamed the violence on Pakistan’s alleged support of terrorism, while Pakistan fired back, accusing India of trying to deflect from its own human rights situation.
But as these bickering neighbours continue their diplomatic spat, a closer look at the unrest (sparked by the controversial death of a separatist leader Burhan Wani) in the disputed Himalayan region reveals a terrifying picture: That if left to fester, the continued absence of political will to solve Kashmir’s troubles could very well push India and Pakistan to the brink of a major crisis, or even a limited war, much like the Kargil conflict of 1999.
The high profile visit by Indian army chief General Dalbir Singh to the Kashmir Valley on Sept 9 – his fourth in seven weeks – not only highlights the gravity of the situation, but more importantly, it shows the emphasis India continues to place on engaging the army to resolve a crisis that is fundamentally political in nature and therefore, requires a political solution.
As Pakistan has no direct political role to play in managing the prevailing unrest in Kashmir, what India could certainly do to reduce tension is to change the way it has been handling the region.
The current phase of unrest – much like the previous ones – has its roots in the political marginalization of the Kashmiris, which, in turn, stems from the Indian government’s view of Kashmir as a “security problem” rather than as a political problem.
Top Indian army commander in Kashmir Lt. Gen. D. S. Hooda recognized this, and went on record to say that political management of the crisis is necessary to treat the problem. The need of the hour, he seemed to imply, is to take all the stakeholders in Kashmir on board and engage them in dialogue.
In this, one silver lining did appear earlier this month when a 27-member all-party political delegation led by India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley visited the Kashmir Valley and called for talks with all stakeholders, including the “separatist” All Parties Hurriyet Conference.
While on the face of it the delegation from Delhi comprising mainstream political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, had failed to achieve anything tangible, the initiative indicates how consequential such steps can actually be – provided all stakeholders agree on the need to soothe political tempers and order the army back to their barracks.
Whether such a dialogue will eventually take place in the wake of the Uri attack cannot be answered but it cannot be gainsaid that this may well be the best – or only – way put an end to the violence in Kashmir that has already claimed more than a hundred lives.
The Indian government clearly blames Pakistan for the bloodshed in Uri but surely its continuing anti-Pakistan rhetoric doesn’t improve matters in the Kashmir valley. And with international rights advocates on its back, a military crackdown would only serve to damage India’s reputation further.
In the absence of a sure-fire solution, this leaves political dialogue, with or without Pakistan’s help, unavoidable. At the very least, Kashmiri lives will be saved.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent