Without doubt, Kashmir is a work in progress for the Indian establishment. What came as a lightning strike in August 2019 by the BJP-led Modi government at the Centre, within three months of its reinstallation for a five-year term, was the abrogation of the Special Status for the province and bifurcation of it into two principal parts, namely Jammu and Kashmir on one side and Ladakh on the other. Many, including the Opposition parties, had looked at the central action with serious skepticism. Yet, some 18 months after the bold move, there is palpable optimism that things are changing for the better there. This view has been reinforced by the visit of a team of envoys from Europe, Asia and Africa this week.
After interactions with elected representatives of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and all-party leaders, the envoys have expressed satisfaction over the restoration of democratic rights in the Valley after a period of uncertainties, curfew, snapping of internet communications etc. They were also convinced that the civic and District Development Council elections held there last year were free and fair. Notably, this is the third time that teams of envoys from foreign countries were ushered into Jammu and Kashmir after August 2019.
At the ground level, a significant change in recent months is the spectacular weakening of the terrorist/militant activism there. This may also have to do with the Balakot offensive against terror cells. Yet, the argument is not that the situation has been neutralized. Time alone can say how far things have improved, given the fact that Pakistani pro-Kashmiri outfits with ISI support are still active on the other side of the border.
A fair assessment could be that the people of the valley have had enough of disruptions to their normal life since the early 1990s when terrorist outfits got active. Politicians who fished in troubled waters are now finding the going tough. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has made it clear that if the situation improved, the Centre would be willing to restore the state status for Jammu and Kashmir, but not the special status.
Economic development of the region, affected by militancy, must be taken forward and the youths must see hope in the air. Tourism was the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy. Militancy killed it. Lasting peace is a prerequisite to promote tourism. With the cooperation of the people, the government should be able to achieve this while also ensuring full democratic rights to the people in due course of time.