May 19, 2018 @ 2:00 am

19 MAY 2018

A chance in Srinagar

The Prime Minister must take political ownership of the Centre’s Ramzan ceasefire

The Centre’s announcement of a cessation of operations in Jammu and Kashmir during the month of Ramzan is a welcome step. The direction to the security forces not to launch operations in the State during this period, while allowing them to reserve “the right to retaliate if attacked or if it is essential to protect the lives of innocent people”, is aimed at bringing respite to the Valley after two years of escalated violence, since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani in July 2016. The decision came days after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti informed the Centre that an all-party meeting had called for a ceasefire. The quick response will help her recover some equilibrium politically, and get an administrative grip on the street. In this current phase of violence in the Valley, there has been a marked increase in home-grown militancy. All too often, the funeral of a local militant has become the rallying point for anti-state protests, which lead to new recruitment. The ceasefire will limit such occasions. The stone-pelting protests too have taken their toll and deepened alienation. The cessation of cordon-and-search operations is a high-risk initiative — but it is the very riskiness of the gesture that could invite confidence among local groups to consider ways and means to mark an end to the violent couple of years.

A series of calibrated complementary steps are required if any lasting contribution to improving the situation on the ground is to be made. Importantly, the announcement came just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Srinagar on Saturday, and his remarks will be closely tracked. The ceasefire has brought back memories of the 2000 Ramzan effort of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. That initiative set in motion a series of developments towards dialogue, despite the still-fresh wounds of the 1999 Kargil conflict. There are parallels between those days and today. In terms of violence, Kashmir is quickly spiralling out of control to the level seen 15 years ago. Even as the security forces have gunned down 64 suspected terrorists in 2018, a large number of young Kashmiris have taken up arms. According to the latest data from the State police, 69 local youth have joined militancy, 35 of them in the wake of the April 1 operations in which 13 locals were killed. But just a temporary halt to security operations in Kashmir is not enough. At best, it can be the first step in a long and difficult road to recovery, and eventually peace. Currently, the 2003 ceasefire on the Pakistan border is in tatters. It must be urgently restored. But most important, a political outreach, possibly unconditional, is required to help Kashmir get back to normal. As Mr. Vajpayee did back then, Mr. Modi must take political ownership of the outreach. Else, the Ramzan ceasefire could remain an isolated outreach.

Nine years after

The anniversary of the civil war’s end reveals the persisting ethnic division in Sri Lanka

Nine years is perhaps too short a time for deep wounds to heal, but it is enough time to begin to introspect. However, going by the polarised views around the anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, there are few signs of that. For the Tamilswho gathered in Mullaitivu district in the Northern Province on Friday, it was a day to remember loved ones killed in those savage final days of the war that ended on May 18, 2009 — according to UN estimates, nearly 40,000 died. The southernSinhalese political leadership, on the other hand, makes it a point to celebrate “war heroes”, hailing their efforts to bring peace. Even this year, national leaders, including President Maithripala Sirisena, saluted the soldiers for their sacrifice, while offering nothing but silence to the civilians who were caught in the conflict. The two disparate narratives of trauma and triumph can never meet, and in such a context, the chances for fruitfully negotiating this hard-won peace will remain slim. Time will only make it harder for the two communities to resolve the ethnic division that has outlived the war.

The government led by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came to power in 2015 promising, among other things, a political solution to Sri Lanka’s national question. It initiated the drafting of a constitution that would potentially devolve more powers to all provinces, including the Tamil-majority north and east. Preoccupied with the persistent tension within the ruling coalition, the leadership has done little to take the exercise forward at a convincing pace, let alone complete it. Even the welcome initiatives of the government in the affected areas, such as the release of military occupied land or efforts to probe cases of enforced disappearance, will have only limited appeal or impact in the absence of a durable political solution. The international community has spared the government of pressure on the accountability front, hoping that it would proactively address other concerns that linger for the Tamil citizens. If initiatives on the political front have been so stalled, efforts to revive the economy do not offer much promise either. Almost every family in the north and east is neck-deep in debt and young people are desperate for employment. To say that time is running out is to state the obvious. Addressing the present challenges is one way of helping a wounded people cope with their troubled past. The memories that haunt them may never die. But some healing may be possible if they have a better future to look forward to. This government, which came to power with the overwhelming support of Tamils, must not let them down. It must not add to the list of missed opportunities.

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