After 50 days of curfew in the Kashmir Valley, the Central and State governments finally appear to be coming together on how to engage with the conflict and all the stakeholders involved. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visits to Srinagar appear to have, at least temporarily, calmed the air. A panel set up by the government is now looking at alternatives to the pellet guns used by the security forces: they have proved to be unacceptably lethal, and should have been abandoned already. An all-party delegation is expected to visit Srinagar in an attempt to reach out to people and kick-start a political dialogue. The process of normalcy can only begin once the restrictive curfew is lifted — but the government cannot sit back and wait for calm; it needs to foster it. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the gravity of the situation and sought to reach out by saying that each person who dies in the Valley is “one of our people”, there needs to be an actionable checklist to demonstrate the sincerity of the outreach. It is perhaps for all these reasons that after her meeting with Mr. Modi, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti called for the next step, a three-pronged action plan that would include talks with Pakistan and with the separatist leaders, many of whom are currently in prison.
While all of these steps are welcome and necessary, the government must recognise that they only address the violence, and not the deeper problem of alienation in Kashmir. They are but leaves out of the playbook used in 2008 and 2010, to bring the Valley back from the edge after street protests: visits to Srinagar by senior national leaders and all-party delegations, words of restraint for security forces, and words of empathy to Kashmiris. In the current round of violence, Mr. Modi must do better than ‘reinvent the wheel’. To chart a new course, he and Ms. Mufti must work on a sustained plan for dialogue in the State, even as he builds a consensus on how to deal with Pakistan. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s grand diplomatic plans to internationalise the Kashmir issue may be unlikely to meet with much success on the international stage, and will probably be countered at the UN with India’s new pitch for Pakistan to vacate “all of Kashmir”. But such grandstanding hardly addresses the real issues at hand. The bilateral stand-off should not blunt the internal dialogue. What is important right now is not what India does outside its borders, but inside them, in a carefully considered, positive and sustained manner. For, the absence of violence is not peace; it is merely an enabling condition for the pursuit of lasting peace.