23 FEBRUARY 2016
Stark reminder in Jammu & Kashmir
The gunfight between militants and the security forces in Pampore, near Srinagar, that went on for three days since Saturday is a stark reminder that in Jammu and Kashmir embers can flare up any moment, and that with summer approaching there needs to be greater political determination in dealing with law and order. The stand-off started when a group of heavily armed militants opened fire on a convoy, targeting especially a Central Reserve Police Force bus. The CRPF lost head constable driver R.K. Rana, who was driving the bus, and head constable Bhola Singh, while several other jawans were injured. The militants then ran into the compound of the Entrepreneurship Development Institute, along the Srinagar-Jammu national highway. The gun battle has already resulted in grave and unacceptably high casualties — three Army men, two CRPF personnel and a civilian. What is especially worrying, and must force military planners and the political top brass in New Delhi to sit up and take note, is the death of three elite para commandos of the Army. India cannot afford to keep losing its young men with such dreary frequency.
The attack in Pampore follows a new pattern emerging in Jammu and Kashmir in recent months. Violence had been steadily dwindling until 2014, when for various reasons it picked up pace again in the Valley. In part, it was because the previous United Progressive Alliance government had failed to politically exploit the opening presented by the ebbing of militancy in the State. An all-out effort at that point would have helped the Manmohan Singh government find a possible breakthrough in bringing peace back to Kashmir. That would have entailed an honourable settlement of grievances of all sides, and resulted in ending the deployment of almost half a million Indian soldiers in the State. Unfortunately, the level of violence in Kashmir has been steadily climbing since the Narendra Modi government came to power, but a political opportunity presented itself in early 2015 when, in a master stroke, the Bharatiya Janata Party sewed up a coalition government with the Peoples Democratic Party. That was seen to be the first step in the peace process, bringing political determination on the part of New Delhi behind the PDP’s healing touch. However, the initial efforts have floundered, especially since the death of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Violence in the State has also steadily increased in recent months, with many incidents claiming an unusually high toll of security forces and civilians. What is most noticeable about the present phase of violence is that many attacks are carried out by home-grown militants, a new wave of youngsters from within the Indian borders who have taken to violence, in recent times. A steady stream of militants infiltrating from Pakistan keeps the pot boiling. All this is happening during Governor’s Rule, while political parties allow the situation to drift in order that they may hammer out a beneficial alliance deal. The Centre and all the stakeholders must address the challenge of the growing alienation among Kashmiris.
Referendum gamble for Britain
British Prime Minister David Cameron wants London to stay in and out of the European Union (EU) all at the same time, and his counterparts would let it be. Regardless of the result in the June 23 in-out referendum on the question of the U.K.’s EU membership, the difficult and delicate deal stitched together among the leaders of the 28-member bloc carries immense diplomatic significance and value for its near future. The slogan of ever-closer integration in Europe may have carried some romantic appeal in a world recovering from the ravages of the two great wars. It may not be so compelling any longer. The enlargement of the original bloc of six countries into what is today a gigantic transnational entity of 28 is forcing the leaders of as many sovereign states to confront, from their individual perspectives, the cumulative and complex realities of competing nationalisms. As for Britain, the question whether it should stay or leave the EU has overshadowed the better part of the forty-plus years of its membership since 1973. Now, in the midst of the influx of immigrants in their millions from North Africa and West Asia, the U.K. feels the urgency to define its equation with the rest of the bloc in more precise terms. “Live and let live,” Mr. Cameron told his counterparts in Brussels, as he secured safeguards for the minority of non-eurozone states, significant in view of London’s large financial services industry.
For their part, EU leaders, while increasingly wary of the U.K.’s persistent and shrill eurosceptic stance, would not easily reconcile to the idea of the exit of one of the continent’s biggest economies, one with immense international clout and a permanent UN Security Council seat. There was implicit, if unspoken, appreciation in Berlin, Paris and Brussels in recent months that the prospect of a Brexit would not bode well politically for the bloc, as much as a Grexit would severely dent the project of the single currency, now nearing completion of two decades. That Britain is in a minority of countries that neither share the euro nor participate in the Schengen border-free zone does not diminish its weight and importance in the larger EU framework. Conversely, the exemption of Britain from ever-closer integration in the Union — a founding principle — promised in the latest agreement, represents an important, if symbolic, selling point for Mr. Cameron. Several Conservative euro-sceptics, both within and outside the Cabinet, are to campaign for an outright exit in the coming referendum. In a compromise, Mr. Cameron had to concede the retention, with some modifications, of benefit payments to immigrant workers and their children from within the EU. On both, the original unrealistic position favoured an outright ban. The Leave Campaign will undoubtedly view these changes as carrying little substance against their decided position. Despite the uncertainty over the outcome of the June vote, it is hard to imagine the British public being excited into exit mode, notwithstanding a frenzied media campaign.