SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir’s embattled Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Wednesday chaired an All-party meeting at Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC), situated on the banks of the famed Dal Lake in Srinagar, after swelling criticism and anger over killings of six civilians at the hands of government forces during two different gunfights in Srinagar and Shopian on May 5 and 6 respectively.

According to Naeem Akhtar, spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-led coalition government, “The general feeling is that there should be a political outreach on Kashmir.”

Senior PDP leader and Works Minister Akhtar also told reporters in Srinagar that representatives of various political parties pointed out “deficiencies in the Agenda of Alliance document”.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Kashmir’s regional PDP had forged a political partnership in 2015 and agreed to govern Jammu and Kashmir as coalition partners for next six years after signing a document that both described as Agenda of Alliance (AoA).

The AoA, which a senior most PDP leader has described a ‘sacred document’ many a time, talked about bringing back various hydel power projects to Jammu and Kashmir, reconciliation with Pakistan, talks with the Hurriyat besides many other governance related issues and tall promises.

Three years hence, no progress has been made by the two coalition partners.

Even Tasaduq Mufti, Chief Minister’s brother and Tourism Minister, called his party PDP and BJP as “partners in crime” during a recent interview with The Indian Express.

Critics of the PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir have been calling their partnership as “unholy alliance” from the very beginning.

Now the question is whether Delhi will make a meaningful political intervention to stop a cycle of killings of civilians which have been normalised in recent times, especially since 2016?

Let us face a simple fact: New Delhi’s militaristic and muscular Kashmir policy since 1989 has been consistently telegraphing three unambiguous messages.

One, Kashmir is an enemy territory, Kashmiri the Other, and Kashmir will be resolved militarily; two, New Delhi will not bend; and three, anyone showing resistance or defiance will pay a cost.

There have been brief moments when the so-called ‘carrot policy’ too has been used as a buffer, though.

For example the confidence-building measures (CBMs) like the opening of trans-Kashmir bus service after a yawning gap of 58 years in April 2005 (Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlakot road links etc), cross-LoC trade and travel links, and several rounds of dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leadership etc.

An undeniable fact: Delhi’s militaristic policy has remained at the forefront in all seasons.

India’s present National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval’s doctrine, widely publicised as ‘Doval’s Doctrine’, has failed on the ground.

It has actually made things worse than before.

Fact check: Government forces have killed nearly 300 armed rebels, including top commanders of Hizb, Lashkar and Jaish, since the beginning of 2017, but more educated boys from good socio-economic backgrounds from various corners of the restive Kashmir Valley have joined militant ranks since.

Three latest examples are that of Manan Wani, a PhD scholar; Junaid Sehrai, a postgraduate in business administration; and Mohammad Rafi Bhat, assistant professor in sociology at the University of Kashmir.

Bhat, a PhD scholar, was killed in a recent gunfight with government forces in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.

The fundamental flaw in Delhi’s militaristic policy lies in its naïve understanding of Kashmir as a law and order problem, and also its denial of an indigenous dominant political sentiment on the ground.

The aim to see Kashmir from a security paradigm and unwillingness to move away from security paradigm to political paradigm has not and will not improve the ground situation.

Kashmir requires a meaningful political intervention. Delhi has to see the writing on the wall and accept the reality as it exists. It has to concede ground to the Hurriyat leadership and allow it to go to the people with its point of view.

Stifling of dissent, choking of spaces and frozen mindsets will prove counterproductive.

On 5 April, an armoured vehicle of Jammu and Kashmir Police mowed down a civilian in Srinagar.

Bizarrely, Jammu and Kashmir Police department in its initial press release mentioned that a civilian was killed in a “tragic road accident” with an apparent aim to shield its driver who mowed down a civilian in Srinagar.

A slightly improved statement was issued later on.

The very next day, a Sunday, government forces shot dead five civilian in south Kashmir’s Shopian district after the encounter with the armed rebels there.

In less than 24 hours, six civilians were mercilessly killed by government forces.

There was no regret. No remorse expressed.

In fact, the state’s police chief Shesh Paul Vaid went ahead to send out a tweet: "The encounter is over at Badigam in Shopian and bodies of five terrorists have been recovered...Well done boys - Army/CRPF/J&K Police."

SP Vaid, Jammu and Kashmir Police’s director general, celebrated killings of armed rebels on his Twitter page, but he did not deem it fit to make a mention of six civilian killings at the hands of his forces.

He did not want to tell the world how his forces made Kashmiri mothers to weep, wail and mourn the death of their young sons.

The rashness with which the police chief goes on with his self-congratulatory chatter and mutual admiration on Twitter without caring about the sensitivity involved shows that the forces under his command are enjoying a free hand and a political blessing, too.

Government forces also shut down mobile and data internet across the Valley to control the narrative on social media space.

This is how the PDP-led coalition government has romanticised militarisation, glamourised armed forces by describing their fallen men as “martyrs” and “heroes”, and almost normalised and rationalised killings of civilians in Kashmir.

In a sharp contrast to what J&K police does on Kashmir’s turf, its ‘brave’ men act as puppets in Jammu where they not only provide security to the organisers of ‘shastra puja’ (the worship of the weapons) and rallies held in support of the rape accused, the department only showcases how compassionate policing is a possibility if the territory is not named Kashmir.

Why is this allowed to happen?

By justifying the unjustified killings of civilians at the hands of armed forces, New Delhi government with PDP’s tacit approval is perhaps reiterating that Kashmir indeed is an enemy territory where a fallen Kashmiri is The Other and a Muslim whose life has neither dignity nor value.

Will the PDP walk the talk this time and pay heed to an unsolicited suggestion made by senior Congress leader P Chidambaram who said that it was time for Mehbooba Mufti “to quit the unholy alliance with the BJP”?

It seems highly unlikely because the PDP as a political force has rendered itself almost irrelevant in south Kashmir, once considered its bastion. What the PDP leadership needs to understand is the fact that Kashmir is a graveyard of reputations!

Will it walk the talk, or, keep on hankering after power at the cost of fighting a war against its own people?

(Cover photo Basit Zargar)