A woman leaves a polling booth after casting her vote in the by-election in Srinagar in April. Photo via Twitter

The Pakistani army and separatists in the Kashmir Valley have been cheering the beheading of two Indian soldiers by Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT) in the Krishna Ghati area of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday.

Such cross-border attacks are bound to increase due to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being in power both at the federal and J&K state levels in India.

Through violent attacks and fomenting unrest and distrust in Kashmir Valley, Islamabad wants to expose these two governments as “ineffective” and trigger a blame game between them leading to the fall of the PDP-BJP coalition government in J&K.

India has vowed to avenge Pakistan’s barbaric act. But before that, it should announce a peace initiative in J&K by calling all stakeholders, including the separatists, for talks.

Such a positive and inclusive approach would force the Hurriyat Conference and other separatist groups to temporarily rein in stone-pelting youths. Kashmiri streets filled with happy people instead of protesters fleeing tear gas would be an excellent way for India to land a blow.

The federal government previously rejected J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s call for peace talks, saying she should first tackle street violence in Kashmir.

It will be to India’s advantage, however, if separatist groups are brought to the peace table. It would prove New Delhi has an open mind on Kashmir and is ready to listen to even its bitterest enemies.

The federal and J&K governments cannot alienate local youths – who are, after all, more likely to be worried about their personal circumstances and whether or not they can get a decent job than political issues

Such a soft approach is necessary because of the tense situation in the Kashmir Valley. The unrest there has undergone a sea change with the arrival of social media and young protesters holding stones in one hand and cell phones in the other. The violent scenes captured live on their mobiles go viral on social media, triggering more protests and changing the narrative of what is actually happening in the Valley.

Pakistani agencies and terror groups too are using social media effectively to add fuel to the Kashmir fire by posting false content to credulous users. This recently led the Indian authorities to impose a ban on social media in the Valley.

The 7% voter turn-out in the recent Lok Sabha by-election in Srinagar and the cancellation of a by-election in Anantnag have come as a big embarrassment to the federal and J&K governments.

The Election Commission defended its decision on the by-election by saying the overall situation was too risky for polls to be conducted.

Time to engage

Separatists may threaten voters but it is surely the responsibility of a democratically-elected government, backed by security forces, to ensure peaceful and fair elections. What is the relevance of a state if elections are disrupted and canceled? Kashmiri separatists should be asked to explain this if they are called for peace talks.

The federal and J&K governments cannot alienate local youths – who are, after all, more likely to be worried about their personal circumstances and whether or not they can get a decent job than political issues. No one wants perpetual violence and bloodshed.

The J&K government should bring these youths back into the fold by involving them in activities and offering them jobs. The opening of Asia’s longest road tunnel linking Kashmir valley with Jammu early in April was possible because of the hard work by local youths who cut through rocks for their state’s development.

The J&K government should also build trust between security forces and local people. Sanity will return to Kashmir’s streets if local youths shed their pathological hatred for the state’s men in uniform.

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