When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi recently visited Kashmir, there was hardly any hope that they would bring along a fresh political initiative. The official aim of this visit, too, was administrative: to inaugurate a railway tunnel and a power project. A deadly militant attack on an army convoy inside Srinagar that killed eight armymen on the eve of the visit had brought it into focus. Singh condemned the attack, vowed that the country is united in the fight against terrorists, and emphasised the need for peace to ensure development.
The prime minister is right to say that development is not possible unless there is peace. The problem, however, lies in how peace is defined by New Delhi.
New Delhi views the lull in Kashmir, especially after the government crushed the 2010 summer protests, as “peace”, and mistakenly hopes that the calm will automatically help erase the demand for “azadi”. For Kashmir, it has been a calm triggered by hopelessness and there is a growing sense that it is only a pause destined to lead to another phase of strife. There are indications that restlessness has already set in among the youth. Though the number of active militants has not increased to a level that it could be described as a new phase of militancy, the backgrounds of the local young men who were killed after joining militant ranks shows that there is a real chance that the ground may shift again. Even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah voiced the apprehension that the implications of the Taliban’s return to centrestage and the US withdrawal next year from Afghanistan may have a spill-over effect in Kashmir.