With one thoughtless misstep after another apropos Kashmir, the United Progressive Alliance government is fast hurtling down a treacherous slippery slope taking the country along with it into a dark and dangerous abyss from which extrication would be a near impossible proposition. Home Minister P Chidambaram's recent remark sanctioning the return of militants from across the border is the latest in this continuing series of flawed policy decisions.
Invoking the dictum that unrestricted movement within India is the given right of every citizen, Chidambaram asserted that "PoK is actually an Indian territory", and that the government "should facilitate the return" of those who had gone across the Line of Control for "some reasons".
Applied to Kashmir in the present circumstances, this is a statement that is utterly naive in its concept, contradictory in its logic and oblivious of the dangerous repercussions implicit in such a move. Agreed, in principle PoK is Indian territory. There can be no argument about that from our perspective.
But to treat it as such overlooking the glaring fact that this territory is currently under Pakistan's jurisdiction and has been so for the last 62 years albeit illegally is to ignore the elephant in the room. Free access between the two parts can be constitutionally feasible only when Pakistan relinquishes PoK to Indian administration.
The next question concerns the individuals involved. Let us be clear about one thing. These are not law abiding citizens of our country who by accident landed up on the wrong side of the border. They did not leave the country for 'some reasons' as Chidambaram puts it. These young men were fanatic advocates of violence who voluntarily left the country with the express determination to sunder the Indian Union at the instigation of Pakistan. Are they worthy of amnesty? How sure can we be that their change of heart is genuine? Could their proclamation of remorse be nothing more than a subtle ploy to circumvent the tight border control enforced by the Indian Army and gain reentry into Kashmir for the avowed purpose of creating mayhem?
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Union health minister and a senior Congress leader from Kashmir voiced these precise concerns when he agonised: "Who will take guarantee of these youth willing to return? How can you prove that these are the same youth who had gone to that side for arms training and are now willing to come back on their own choice? Some foreign terrorists can take advantage of this move."
Additionally, where is the pressing need for such a gesture at this time, especially when the ground reality in Kashmir still remains extremely fragile with terrorism waiting to raise its ugly head at the slightest sign of laxity? We could be inadvertently adding fuel to a waning flame.
True, 2009 was a relatively peaceful year with the number of militant incidents dropping below 500 for the first time and terrorism related fatalities sinking to an all time low of 377. These figures are a far cry from the 4,507 deaths seen in 2001 but are definitely not numbers that can be equated with complete normalcy.
In addition, this dip in violence could be a deceptive quirk, a byproduct of strategic withdrawal embraced by terror groups facing strong opposition from the Indian Army rather than a mark of true ebbing of separatist fervour.
Terrorism is a hydra-headed monster that cannot be crippled with piecemeal action or half hearted measures and like the creature from Greek mythology regenerates itself after each amputation growing two heads where there was one exploiting every reprieve that is provided.
So there can be no place for complacency, no scope for any alteration of force calibrated to match the supposed attrition of this scourge. It must be vanquished in toto using overwhelming force that must be relentlessly maintained till this evil campaign is completely obliterated; not even an iota of its existence must be left behind.
Therefore the appropriate response to the recent decline in terrorist activity should have been to ratchet up the pressure and decimate the terrorist movement once and for all. But instead the UPA government in its evanescent wisdom chose to adopt a diametrically opposite path: decreasing the troop complement by 30,000 soldiers in December last year- adding to its litany of blunders.
The result of this folly was promptly evident by the resurgence of terrorism. There has been a rash of terrorist attacks in January this year including a high profile terror assault in the heart of Srinagar that lasted for 22 hours and left 2 people dead with scores injured.
Any critique of the this amnesty call cannot be complete without bringing into sharp focus the government's callous insensitivity to the dismal plight of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits and the precious little that has been done to relocate them in the Valley. Since the inception of this insurgency in 1991, nearly 250,000 Kashmiri Hindus have been forced to flee the Valley.
A significant number of Pandits continue to live in squalid refugee camps, uncared for and neglected by the government in particular and by the country in general. Not wanting to air dirty linen in public, this community has suffered stoically for over 20 years refraining from taking its cause into the international domain. However on January 20 the International Kashmiri Federation for the first time sought the help of the United States. Below are some excerpts from a memorandum submitted to the US Secretary of State:
"The government of India has not made an effort to rehabilitate the Pandit refugees in their own country. It has been only talking about their return without any consideration for their safety. The only thing the government must do is to carve out a safe haven for this minority community in Kashmir. This safe haven, also called 'Panun Kashmir' meaning 'My Kashmir' will allow the Kashmiri Hindus promote their culture in safety."
"The government of India needs to address the question of the social, political and economic aspirations of the community, which must be considered as an indispensable component of any future settlement on Kashmir."
That the Indian government is willing to welcome with open arms lawless militants who took up arms against the country while it turns a blind eye to the sufferings and the rightful demands of the law abiding Kashmiri Pandits is a stance that flies in the face of every moral tenet. This should disturb the conscience of a nation. But apparently it has not so far. That is even more disturbing.