A peace process gone missing
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The fact that all the national political parties have welcomed the hanging indicates that somehow we have segued into a society that believes death is the only fitting punishment for heinous crimes. And yet, we are also a society in which heinous crimes are committed daily. Are we then a nation of blood and vengeance, as some suggest? That too is debatable, given that less than 20 per cent of Indians called for war against Pakistan following the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, in public polls conducted some weeks later.
Instead of playing to the less than 20 per cent who call for vengeance, we need to consider the 80 per cent who might prefer a peace based on prevention. Thankfully, incidents of terrorism have declined sharply in the past five years. While improved security mechanisms, and especially intelligence, can take much credit for this decline, the Muslim community's fatwas against terrorism, the government's focus on economy and opportunity and the public uniting against crimes of corruption and sexual violence, have all played a part.
J&K was moving in unusual sync with these developments in 2011-12. As the protests and clampdown indicate, the state has now suffered a setback. This brings me to my second point. The government can sit it out and hope the protests end within a few days. But is there a plan to prevent the longer-term impact from taking place?
As the 2010 tragedies showed, there are many who seek to exacerbate trouble in J&K, both across the border and within. This hanging gives them an opportunity to do so. Having now committed the deed, what can the government do to ensure the opportunity withers straightaway?
First and foremost, a publicly visible and credible peace process is essential. While Pakistan has shown some reluctance to engage with India over the past six to nine months, and this has had its own negative impact on J&K, it is also the case that we have seen a peace process vacuum over the past year. In the wake of Afzal Guru's hanging, this vacuum will cost us dearly, unless it is filled as a priority.