From the Indian perspective, the dastardly murder of Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz is comparable to two defining moments in Kashmir's politics: The killing of Ravindra Mhatre in 1984 and abduction of Rubaiya Saeed in 1989.
Back then, India reacted differently to the two events that were seen as an attack on India's sovereignty and pride. After Mhatre, an Indian diplomat in Birmingham, was kidnapped and murdered by the United Kingdom wing of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, the government reacted by executing Maqbool Bhat, whose release was one of the demands made by the abductors.
Indira Gandhi, who was the then prime minister, not only refused to negotiate with the abductors for the release of Bhat — a co-founder of JKLF — but extracted swift retribution by getting him executed within five days of Mhatre's murder.
The other model was on display when the then VP Singh government, supported by the BJP and the Left, genuflected to Saeed's abductors from the JKLF. Saeed's father Mufti Mohammed Saeed, the then home minister who went on to become the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, prevailed on the government to release five militants in exchange for his daughter. One of them was Butt's brother.
Unfortunately, as Kashmir's history tells us, both revenge and peaceful negotiation — or abject surrender — are difficult choices. Bhat's execution, it is widely believed, turned him into Kashmir's first martyr, fuelled separatism and the Valley gradually spiralled out of Indian control. Saeed's release, similarly, emboldened terrorists by making them believe that the Indian state could be brought to its knees. That one incident of Indian surrender, inspired many youngsters to join terror groups, believing New Delhi was too weak to act against them.
So, how will India react to the latest challenge thrown by terrorists in Kashmir? Will it act swiftly and avenge the young army officer's murder, leading to a fresh cycle of revenge and retribution? Or will it wait, gulp down the humiliation and try a political solution in the hope of not adding more fuel to the raging violence, anger and separatism in the Valley? The choice, as we have seen, is difficult. Every action would to consequences that can't be foretold.
India's problem is compounded by the fact that the Valley is hurtling towards the dark 90s, when mass protests, violence and targetted killing of policemen and security forces and Kashmiris supporting the Indian state became part of daily life. Since the encounter killing of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of separatists, the Valley has been on the boil, witnessing protests by local youth, support for militants in villages of South Kashmir and targetted attacks on cops, soldiers and bank staff.
That the Kashmiris pelted stones during Fayaz's funeral, tried to dissuade the army from giving him a proper state burial, instead of mourning for an unarmed young man who was killed just before his sister's wedding tells us how the wind is blowing in the Valley.
Considering the complexity and magnitude of the problem, India's choices are these: One, take the action right into the enemy camp — Pakistan and its terror factories. Two, give our armed forces and intelligence agencies the mandate to flush out terrorists. And three, simultaneously reach out to the Kashmiris to ensure the Valley doesn't descend into mass protests and its youth do not get caught into the cycle of revenge and violence.
It is obvious that the much-trumpeted surgical strikes have done nothing to dishearten Pakistan or dissuade it from its Kashmir project. It continues to send infiltrators into India, behead Indian soldiers by striking within our territories and provide more material and moral support to separatists and terrorists. Nothing that India has done so far under Narendra Modi and Ajit Doval has changed the thinking within Pakistan.
So, instead of talking big at home and taking populist decisions just to influence elections and TV debates, the Modi government must ensure that the proxy war now takes place deep inside Pakistan, making it bleed so much that it thinks a million times before meddling into India's domestic affairs. India needs to find new ways of making Pakistan pay, instead of recycling the usual rhetoric of surgical strikes, cross-border shelling and empty boasts of destabilising Balochistan.
In the Valley, the army needs to get a free hand to snuff out terrorists, their supporters and ideologues. The Centre must allow the security forces operational freedom to prevail over Mehbooba Mufti's government.
But, the counter-offensive would backfire if India doesn't reach out to the Kashmiris, their children and offer them attractive options for embracing the mainstream. In the long run, India can avenge Fayaz's murder only by ensuring that more Kashmiri youth follow in the martyred Lieutenant's footsteps instead of being misled by terrorists and separatists. If India manages to replace Burhan Wani's posters in the Valley with that of Fayaz, it would not just be the ideal revenge but also the perfect tribute to the brave soldier.
Published Date: May 11, 2017 04:00 pm | Updated Date: May 11, 2017 04:00 pm