Peace by piece

Removing bunkers is evocative. But Kashmir's calm calls for more than symbolic gestures

There was much symbolic value in the dismantling of the CRPF bunker from Srinagar's Amirakadal bridge, which had stood there since 1990, through the years of militancy. When the all-party delegation visited Kashmir in the troubled summer of 2010, it recommended that heavy and visible security be withdrawn from areas where it was no longer required. The government has already removed 44 such bunkers. The stated aim of the Omar Abdullah government is to shift the state's responsibility, as far as possible, to its own police.

That said, the Centre needs to take its actions closer to its intentions. How does it plan to progressively reduce troops in the state, and what concrete change on the ground will allow it to do so? Militancy has been decreasing since 2004, despite the protests between 2008 and 2010. Would shrinking its troop deployment be linked to the violent incidents, or to the years of peace? The last two years have been incident-free, and there is no denying the fact that the Valley is noticeably calmer, and that the citizens are more invested in their own local contexts. Panchayat elections saw a record turnout, in defiance of the separatists. Tourism has increased. The Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) could be carefully revoked, as least in selected areas, as a beginning.

The Omar Abdullah government has grand hopes of truth and reconciliation. It could make a start by acknowledging the testimony of its citizens. Recently, a people's tribunal, using state documents and RTI petitions, pieced together a list of security officials responsible for rights violations. It named names, and it appealed to the courts rather than international forums of justice. The government can have these cases probed and prove or disprove the charges but it must engage with them, instead of ignoring them. These are the tangible actions that would build trust, heal the psychological breach between Kashmiri citizens and the state, at a time when circumstances seem more conducive than they have been in a long time. These actions would carry greater weight than removing a few bunkers.

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