On Sunday, the newly-appointed Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik said that there has been a significant improvement in the ground situation in the state lately. He referred to the peaceful manner in which the urban local body polls are being held in the state as an example of the improving situation. Malik also said that a fresh Assembly election should be held to elect a new government in the state. However, Malik's optimism was soon belied by a string of unsavoury incidents. First, two heavily armed intruders were shot dead by security forces along the Line of Control in the Rajouri district on Sunday. In the intense gunfight, three security personnel also got killed while one was critically injured. In the second incident, seven civilians and three Jaish-e-Mohammed militants were killed in the Kulgam district during a search-and-cordon operation which snowballed into an encounter. The civilians were killed when a mortar shell belonging to the JeM militants went off suddenly in the ensuing fire and its shrapnel hit the civilians who had assembled near the encounter site to engage the security forces and prevent them from using force against the militants. The same night, terrorists using sniper rifles equipped with night-vision devices shot dead an SSB jawan inside a CRPF camp in the Pulwama district. This is for the first time that terrorists have used sniper rifles to attack the security forces in the trouble-hit state.
The bloody Sunday that saw the killing of two Pakistani intruders, seven civilians, three JeM militants and three security forces -- all in a single day -- clearly underscores the fact that the situation in J&K is far from normal. Governor Malik who comes from a purely political background and is a totally new hand in the J&K affairs is certainly way off the mark when he says that the ground situation in the state has improved a great deal in recent months. In the last three decades when armed militancy-hit the normal life in the state, there have been several occasions when it seemed that the worst is over and the state would soon be back on track but all those optimism proved short-lived. A major reason why the menace of armed militancy has continued over the decades is Pakistan's meddling in the internal affairs of India. It has been an officially-stated stance of the successive Pakistan government to offer moral and material support to secessionist elements in J&K. In order to keep the Kashmir issue alive, Pakistan set up terrorist training camps on its soil and sent trained militants to J&K and other places in India to carry out subversive activities. In the initial stages of militancy when India had not deployed adequate security in J&K and when the overall surveillance of the funding that the militants got from various sources (including Pakistan) was low, militancy flourished in the state with people thinking that freedom of Kashmir from India was both legitimate and achievable. But with time, India's resolve to fight militants, both foreign and home-grown, became stronger leading to a situation when there are nearly six lakh security personnel deployed in the state and a strict surveillance is being maintained on the funding of the terror activities. The state which has three distinct geographical regions -- Ladakh, Kashmir valley, and Jammu -- has seen people of different regions having differing views on militancy. While people in the Jammu region are vigorously against all secessionist elements, the people in Ladakh region are largely indifferent and prefer peace over political turmoil. It is the Kashmir valley that is at the centre of all the militant activities. The topography, dense forests and proximity to the international border with Pakistan make things difficult for the law enforcement agencies in the state. Now, they are being ably backed by the security forces and while the situation is under control, it is certainly not normal.
While India is confident of foiling all nefarious designs of the enemy country, the problem that it is facing in J&K is the growing alienation of the people in the Kashmir valley. To tackle this, the Centre has always favoured the political and democratic process in the state but in view of the threats from militants, people are scared of making use of such opportunities. The ongoing urban local body polls have seen extremely poor voter turnout in the Kashmir valley amid threats from militant organisations and boycott by two major regional parties, National Conference and People's Democratic Front. The appointment of a politician as the Governor of the state at a time when the state is under the President's rule is the Centre's latest initiative to win back the confidence of the people there. The new Governor is expected to show empathy and understanding to the people whose lives have been torn apart in the decades-long turmoil. He needs to give peace one more opportunity.