Modi’s Kashmir conundrum

Modi’s Kashmir conundrum

Rajeev Sharma
The Narendra Modi government has wasted 50 days in changing tack on the Kashmir imbroglio and belatedly realizing that it’s not a law and order problem but a political one. The upcoming all-party delegation led by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Kashmir must be seen as a major course correction by the Modi government.
Thus far, the Modi government had taken a politically incorrect and somewhat unnecessary hard-line stance that it will deal with the unprecedented situation in Kashmir on its own without taking the help of the opposition parties. Better late than never and the eventual course correction is a welcome step.
The opposition parties too have behaved maturely and spoken in one voice with the Modi government on the Kashmir issue keeping in mind the larger national interest. However, this alone is not going to be enough and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to think out of the box to douse the Kashmir inferno. After all, it’s only a couple of days ago when the authorities lifted curfew from most parts of Kashmir after 51 days of total shutdown and three police station areas in the valley still remain under curfew.
Kashmir poses the biggest challenge to the Modi government right now and nothing acquires higher priority and greater urgency than Kashmir. The Modi government is required to provide a healing touch to the Kashmiris in keeping with the much talked about three-pronged approach of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, namely Jamhooriyat (democracy), Insaaniyat (humanitarianism) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri culture and ethos). This healing touch will have to mean a package of more Central financial assistance to the state, an inclusive political approach, greater sensitivity on part of security forces in dealing with law and order situations and, above all, large number of jobs for the local Kashmiris, which put more money in their pockets in a sustained manner.
However, this is easier said than done. The primary reason is the Pakistan factor. India-Pakistan bilateral relations are at the lowest ebb in well over a decade despite PM Modi’s epic stopover in Lahore last Christmas to wish his Pakistani counterpart on his birthday.
PM Nawaz Sharif was down in the dumps politically after the Panama papers leaks, which implicated his family. His heart condition and eventual open-heart surgery in London gave him a temporary relief and he was able to buy time with the powerful army. But Sharif still had one foot on a banana peel after he resumed his normal work schedule.
His big opportunity came on July 8 when Indian security forces gunned down militant leader Burhan Wani in Srinagar. Modi and his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval were in Africa at that time.
The local administration worsened the already tense situation by handing over Wani’s body to his kin. Violence erupted hours after Wani’s killing and even after more than 70 deaths and over 10,000 injured, Kashmir still continues to be a powder keg.
Sharif has lemon-squeezed the Burhan Wani episode to the hilt. Modi has given him even more ammunition by making an unprecedented reference to Balochistan from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort in his Independence Day speech on Aug. 15.
Sharif should send a thank you note to Modi for giving him the much-needed oxygen and political leverage. Now Sharif is coming out with all guns blazing on Kashmir and is making all out efforts to corner India at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly which starts in New York on Sept. 13. Sharif has already unveiled elaborate plans to embarrass India internationally and named 22 lawmakers as his special envoys for naming and shaming India at the UN.
Given the harsh cold war conditions between India and Pakistan and given the fact that Sharif government’s foreign policy will remain Kashmir centric for a long time, it is a Herculean task for the Modi government to turn the tide in Kashmir.
It is irony of the supreme kind. Just about eight months ago the prime ministers of India and Pakistan were hugging each other and smoking the peace pipe. Now they are devising strategies for one-upmanship against each other’s government. This is the ugly side of Indian subcontinent’s politics for you.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view