Shujaat Bukhari's killing is a grave provocation but India must not allow terror tactics to dictate terms of peace

Thursday's fatal attack on Shujaat Bukhari, that also killed his two personal security officers, is a cynical and a strategic move. CCTV footage reveals Bukhari and his PSOs were getting into a car on Thursday evening when three bike-borne men accosted them, sprayed bullets from a close range and reportedly fled, shouting 'Allahu Akbar (God is great)'. The targeted assassination reveals a degree of preemptive planning.

Editor of Rising Kashmir, Bukhari was a veteran and a noted journalist and an active member of the Track 2 diplomatic circuit. He was also an independent and a respected voice. He stood for peace and a political solution to the Kashmir issue. In a column written on 25 May in the newspaper that he edited, Bukhari had welcomed Centre's move to announce ceasefire for the month of Ramzan.

File image of Rising Kashmir editor-in-chief Shujaat Bhukhari. Image courtesy: Shujaat Bhukhari's Facebook profile

File image of Rising Kashmir editor-in-chief Shujaat Bhukhari. Image courtesy: Shujaat Bhukhari's Facebook profile

Bukhari's murder is doubtless an attack on freedom of speech and democratic values but it would be wrong to see it from this prism alone. Though journalists have been killed in Kashmir as in any other conflict zone, the number of killings have been relatively less. Also, this was the first assassination of a journalist in over a decade. As ORF senior fellow Manoj Joshi points out in The Wire, "Foreign reporters, particularly those belonging to the print media, have never been blocked from the Valley, and local and mainland journalists have been able to move around with relative freedom and talk to who they could (sic)." This points to a political motive. The timing of the assassination — carried out just a day before Eid at a time when the Centre was mulling an extension of the ceasefire — is no less significant. It should be seen in conjunction with a late spurt in terrorist violence that resulted, among other incidents, in the abduction of Rashtriya Rifles jawan Aurangzeb, whose bullet-ridden lifeless body was found later in Pulwama. In the same week, two cops were also murdered and 10 CRPF jawans were injured in separate terror attacks in Pulwama and Anantnag. Bukhari's murder and the increased violence, therefore, appears to be a desperate attempt to scuttle the peace process that was launched by the Centre to cool down the temperature and pave the way for a sense of calm in the Valley during the holy month of Ramzan. The ceasefire, which saw a temporary suspension of hot pursuit and search-and-combat operations in residential areas of Kashmir (but not retaliatory fire or acting on specific intelligence) was apparently getting reasonable response. The ceasefire was a strategic move. It wasn't meant to signal the end of terrorism in the Valley, wasn't an indication that the condition has vastly improved, much less was it intended to usher in total peace and zero violence. Rather the ceasefire was an attempt create an atmosphere of trust and goodwill to break the cycle of violence. In this very limited context, it appears that the ceasefire was working. Politicians and security forces in Kashmir were picking up vibes that tired Kashmiris were welcoming the modicum of respite. A report in Greater Kashmir points out that top officials from the state impressed upon Union home minister Rajnath Singh the importance of extending the ceasefire despite Bukhari's murder. In the meeting, attended by Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary BB Vyas and top cop SP Vaid, it was said that "people were happy with the prevailing peaceful atmosphere and that the law and order situation has considerably improved and extending the ceasefire can help in further improving the situation." Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had recently expressed apprehension that terrorists are trying to sabotage the peace process.

The ceasefire served another strategic purpose. The army was successfully flushing out terrorists through its hot pursuit but equally, the killings were motivating more and more college-going youth to abandon their books for guns. As Hindustan Times points out in a report, "Young Kashmiris have been leaving the comfort of their classrooms to disappear into the mountains and resurface with guns. April alone saw 28 locals joining militancy. The number is the highest in any given month, since the killing of militant poster boy Burhan Wani in 2016."

By ordering a temporary moratorium on such operations, the Centre was trying to break this chain.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd) writes in The Tribune, "There can be no doubt about the J&K CID report that successful counter-terror operations are paradoxically also fuelling greater militant response and helping in the recruitment of local youth whose sentiments are aroused at funerals of slain terrorists. Yet, the political leadership at the Centre had cross-currents to view. The J&K Chief Minister had a strong argument that her government could not adopt counter-narratives with passions continuing to flow due to offensive operations by the security forces."

This is where the ceasefire also served a political cause, by creating an atmosphere for dialogue which the Centre had proposed to "all stakeholders", including, it seems, talking to the Hurriyat. It is a moot question whether talks with Hurriyat will serve any real purpose but the larger inevitability of dialogue and political process taking over from security measures wasn't lost on anyone.

The Ramzan ceasefire did see a 100 percent rise in terror-related incidents in Kashmir but up until the late spike in big-ticket crimes, those were less serious in nature and not beyond the capacity of the Indian state to withstand for a greater cause of peace.

Bukhari's murder achieves even more significance in this context. The terrorists deliberately targeted a high-profile journalist so that the bar is raised, enough public outrage is caused and the Centre is compelled to dismiss any thoughts of ceasefire extension during the period through to the Amarnath Yatra. It is essentially an act of grave provocation which seeks to disrupt the political process and throw Kashmir back into the vortex of violence.

It is the throwing of a gauntlet and testing of the Centre's nerve to see if the Narendra Modi government has enough resolve to take the brutal murder of a well-meaning public figure on its chin and carry on with the political process, or call off peace overtures and set the dogs of war loose on the terrorists.

The disruptors had yet another motive in their choice of the victim. In killing Bukhari, they have succeeded in silencing a strong voice in back-channel diplomacy circuit. The evidences and motives point to the involvement of Pakistani deep state that has never failed to impede any Indian overture for peace, either notional or substantive. The escalation lies in the fact that while bilateral relation was defined through this playbook, now Kashmir too has been brought within its ambit.

It is for this, and this reason alone, that the Centre should grit its teeth and stay put on the peace process instead of playing into the hands of the disruptors. The ceasefire may not be the best solution but it is the only solution that we have in a very small window of opportunity. We cannot allow terror to dictate terms to us.


Updated Date: Jun 15, 2018 22:43 PM

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