The last time the Centre announced a unilateral ceasefire was in 2000 when Vajpayee was PM

by Maneesh Chhibber

The announcement of the ceasefire could be an acknowledgement that NSA Doval’s strategy to allow security agencies to be proactive in Kashmir may have failed.

The unilateral Ramzan ceasefire announced by the Centre Wednesday will work only if all stakeholders show seriousness in making it a success. This includes the Jammu and Kashmir government, militants and their sympathisers, security forces, the political class, the people of J&K (especially Kashmir), and — though the chances of this happening are bleak — Pakistan.

Put simply, all stakeholders will have to firmly remember that only “Kashmiriyat, jamhooriyat and insaniyat”, words made famous by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, will bring peace back to Kashmir. A beginning has been made today. Time will tell if the Narendra Modi government’s gambit succeeds.

The last time the government of India announced a unilateral ceasefire in J&K during the holy month of Ramzan was under another BJP-led NDA government – the one headed by Vajpayee — on 19 November 2000.

“I hope that our gesture will be fully appreciated and all violence in the state and infiltration across the Line of Control and the international border will cease, and peace will prevail,” Vajpayee had said then.

Vajpayee’s announcement had followed a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs, and detailed consultations with then-J&K CM Farooq Abdullah.

Vajpayee had also offered talks to the separatists, drawing strength perhaps from the offer of unilateral ceasefire by the Pakistan-based leadership of militant organisation Hizbul Mujahideen.

However, the Hizbul – which had had a change of heart by then – as well as other militant groups like the Lakshar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, dubbed the ceasefire a ploy by the government of India to finish them.

There were many in the security establishment, including hawks in Vajpayee’s own BJP, who were critical, although not publicly, of the decision. It didn’t help that both civilian and military casualties refused to come down during the time the ceasefire was in place.

But Vajpayee remained firm on his decision, extending the ceasefire at least three times.

His gamble paid off, and there was international pressure on Pakistan to check anti-India activities from its soil.

However, the 2000 Vajpayee-era ceasefire holds several lessons for the government on how not to let go of this opportunity to bring Kashmir closer to India.

For one, the security agencies must not let their guard down; in fact, vigil around security establishments in the Kashmir Valley must be increased, so as not to see a repeat of a spike in numbers of deaths.

Wednesday’s announcement could also be viewed as acknowledgement of the fact that the strategy to allow the security agencies to be proactive in Kashmir, even if the number of deaths climbs, may have failed. This was the strategy that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval masterminded.

What, otherwise, can explain the fact that more civilians, militants and security force personnel have been killed in J&K so far this year than in corresponding periods for the previous decade?

The recent killing of a tourist in stone-throwing has also sent a clear message — that things can’t be allowed to drift further in the state.

However, the ceasefire announcement will have no impact unless India is able to get friendly nations to build pressure on Pakistan for a similar gesture, leading to talks.

The Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government in J&K will also have to finally come out of the highly-fortified Civil Secretariat and engage with young people often seen hurling stones rather than attending classes in schools and colleges.

The ceasefire is bound to fail if the people of J&K don’t start feeling that it is their own government, and that the government is ready to listen to them, visit them, and isn’t just making tall claims through press releases about so-called development that isn’t visible on the ground.

The J&K unit of the BJP, including those like Jitendra Singh, who is part of the union government but had opposed Mehbooba’s demand for a ceasefire, will also have to reconcile to the fact that the ceasefire is a much-needed reality and all efforts will have to be made to make it a success.

The onus is also on the Kashmiri people to accept the olive branch and show that they too want to live with peace. Prime Minister Modi is not Vajpayee, and may not show much patience if the offer is rebuffed by the Kashmiris.