Much as Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti would project it as a Central move driven by her appeal to the Centre to declare a “unilateral ceasefire” against militants during the holy Ramzan month, the fact is that it is a calculated move with clear intentions to win the trust of people at large.
It would be naive to think that the Narendra Modi government would forfeit the right to strike at militants despite the aggressive posture the Pakistan-inspired and ISI-supported militant groups continue to adopt. Yes, there would be no special combing operations undertaken but it has been made clear that security forces reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people.
The Union Home Ministry has made it known that “…if it is essential for protecting the life of the common people, the security forces will be compelled to take appropriate action.” That is a declaration of intent that there would be no let-up in coming down hard on terror.
The underlying message is that while the governments at the Centre and in the State are committed to the people to facilitate smooth conduct of Ramzan festivities, there would be no let-up in combat operations with the terrorists if they fail to heed the call of peace.
The onus for disruption in normal activity would be on the terror outfits so that their nefarious designs can be seen through. Groups like the Lashkar e-Taiba which have sworn to continue their reign of terror will be unmasked as being inimical to religious sentiments and to the desire of the people for peace.
Coming close on the heels of the widespread public outrage over the stone pelting by locals on a school bus in Shopian in which one child was killed and several injured, the Centre is hopeful that this message would go down well with people at large.
That the local hardline groups have been thrown into a dilemma and fear losing public support if they continue to sing the militant tune is a good sign indeed. It may well help in distinguishing the militants as a breed that has a high stake in disturbing peace while the Indian Army provides them the requisite protection.
The ceasefire will continue until June 16 and any attempt on the part of terrorists to regroup, rearm and re-calibrate would be watched with an eagle eye as now. It would be wrong to see a softening of the Indian military challenge in the announcement of ceasefire.
The homegrown separatists like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Sye Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, who look to Pakistan for support, will have to decide whether to play second fiddle to the Pakistanis or satisfy the aspirations of Kashmiris to have a peaceful Ramzan month.
If the separatists persist in conniving in fuelling terror during the Ramzan month, they will be exposed as agents of Pakistan terror outfits out to disrupt normal activity and to rob the people of an environment in which business activity could thrive.
The opulent lifestyle of some of the hardliners and raids on their premises to track the sources of their funding have made them suspect before many eyes in Kashmir.
With its unilateral declaration of ceasefire, India is seeking to control international perception of the conflict too. By offering the ceasefire, India appears as if it is trying to stop human suffering in the region — showing the world that Islamic militants not promoting the ceasefire are prolonging the bloodshed. Pakistan also looks bad if it does not support the offer.
The new strategy to woo the people in the valley is only a repeat of what was tried earlier by Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government but the Modi government wants to give peace another chance. Significantly, the normally-volatile Farooq Abdullah has warned those who disrupt peace during Ramzan, reflecting the public mood.
But it would be foolhardy to expect miracles. The alienation between the people and the Central machinery, including the army is running deep. Even if there is a glimmer of hope it is worth pursuing.