December 2002 News

Mufti’s Difficult Moment

9 December 2002
The Indian Express

One of the most positive signals that normalcy was returning to J&K came from an unlikely quarter - the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Sensing the public mood, sensing how out of sync it was from the people of the state, thanks to its agenda of the most brutal blood-letting, the LeT actually declared a unilateral ceasefire in J&K for Eid. This, even if it was not widely acknowledged, represented a victory for the approach of the Centre and the state government in organising a successful election and promising the people of the region substantive change. What’s more, the people have responded with enthusiasm to Mufti’s healing touch, even though some in New Delhi’s political circles have chosen to be cynical about the initiative. The recent firing on unarmed villagers of Bangdara, protesting the blasting of a house by a contingent of the 22 Rashtriya Rifles, was therefore entirely avoidable, all the more so since it happened to be on a day of festivities: Eid. The army personnel may have found the situation spiralling out of control - according to army sources the villagers tried to snatch their weapons - but given the fact that they were unarmed, the situation should have been handled with greater caution, less aggression. The point is that there is a great deal of vested interest in fanning the tension between the armed forces and the people and the authorities must not allow the situation in the state to deteriorate to the old levels of suspicion and fear. J&K needs to move forward, not sink back into the familiar quagmire of the past. The healing process that Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed espouses does, therefore, need to be protected, and this can only happen if the villagers of Bangdara are convinced that the authorities will spare no effort to see that justice is done in this case. Some time ago, a similar incident had occurred in the village of Hydam, when the army had fired on a demonstration demanding the body of a local youth, allegedly killed in custody. Five people were killed. On that occasion, a senior army officer said something that is rarely heard in these callous times: ‘We too are human beings. We too can commit errors.’ He went on to give his solemn assurance to the bereaved families and the people of Kashmir that if his men were to blame, they will be dealt with according to the law. Justice will be done, was the message that was sought to be conveyed. The Bangdara incident requires a similar response from the army. Simultaneously, the Centre must do all it can to strengthen the hands of the state government so that it can deliver governance and security to the people of the state.

 

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