Mehbooba’s call for outreach to local militants signals a new policy to tackle J&K militancy

Instead of killing local militants in encounters, police may reach out to them and try to persuade them to join political mainstream

Mehbooba’s call for outreach to local militants signals a new policy to tackle J&K militancy

While addressing the Police Commemoration Day, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told police to work towards bringing the local militants back into the political mainstream and ensure they pick up “bat and ball”. Mehbooba reasoned that instead of killing local militants in encounters, police should reach out to them and bring them back home.

"Our children have gone into militancy. My appeal to the police is to try to see that they return home," Mehbooba said in her speech. "Those who are missing for years, if possible, instead of encounters in which they are killed, if you bring them back home and if they can become a part of the mainstream. If we can hand them a bat or a ball instead of guns"

Coming from the Chief Minister himself, this counsel assumes an uncommon significance. It has now emerged that the state government is contemplating a new policy on tackling militancy in the state. And its most important feature will be an institutional effort to engage local militants and their families to persuade them to drop arms? At least, this is what Mehbooba has let on in her speech.

The possible rethink on tackling the local component of Kashmir insurgency is driven by the still unfolding fallout of the killing of  Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Over the past more than 100 days, the government has had to kill 94 people, blind several hundred and injure more than 14000 to put down the runaway uprising that followed Burhan's killing in an encounter.

The Government has since appeared to repent the decision to kill Burhan. The leaders have made an effort to distance themselves from the killing. No less than the CM herself told the media that the security forces would not have killed Burhan if they knew he was inside the house.

"As far as I know, what I heard from the police and the army, who said they only knew that there were three militants inside the house but did not know who they were," she said. "I feel if they knew, perhaps we would not have such a situation when the overall situation in the state was improving, so it could have been a chance".

Similarly, the senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Beigh has accused some officers of J&K Police of killing Burhan at the behest of National Conference.

The thinking that seems to have taken root as a result is that rather than rushing to kill the local militants, the government should try to persuade them to give up the path of militancy. This is an approach that has found takers in New Delhi too. While the dispensation at the centre has been loath to engage Hurriyat, there has been a certain openness about a direct outreach to youth. And as Mehbooba has indicated, the local militants also seem to be the target of this new approach.

However, this is an approach that leaves a lot to desire in Valley. “The problem with this approach is that it once again seeks to address a tiny aspect of the symptom of an overarching problem,” said Zahid Ahmad, a local columnist. “It is more about reaching out to a smattering of individuals, and persuading them to give up the extreme path they have chosen, which may or may not work”.

As the centre’s policy so far to the current unrest shows, it has exclusively relied on the use of force to put it down. After a feeble attempt at a political engagement in the first weeks of the unrest, New Delhi has given up all pretence of any outreach. Fidayeen attack at Uri which killed 19 soldiers and the subsequent surgical strikes have taken the attention further away from the deteriorating situation in Kashmir. But this, in no way, has ushered in normalcy even though it might have moderated the intensity of the protests.

“The force alone, as the past three months have once again proved, will make no difference to the political underpinnings of the current situation,” said Ahmad. “Nor will the anticipated outreach to the local militants. More so, when government has little to offer than an offer to return to political mainstream and a gift of bat and ball”.