NEW DELHI: The Indian Army has joined the opposition parties, and sections of civil society, in urging the need for a comprehensive dialogue involving all stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir.

The statement by the Northern Army Commander Lt General D.S.Hooda who enjoys considerable respect in the military has met with silence from the government, although it has sparked off a debate not on the merit of the remarks that few deny, but on whether he was speaking with political sanction. And whether the remarks favouring an inclusive dialogue reflect the views of the ruling dispensation.

Air Marshal Kapil Kak (Retired) from Kashmir, and who has been active in recent years on the vexed issue, was of the view that the Army Commanders have often been giving such statements in favour of a political process in the Valley. There is so much and not more that we can do, has been a position often taken by the military that has always been keen that the political establishment start and retain a political process to keep the Valley calm.

As Air Marshal Kak, just back from a visit to Srinagar said, “successive army commanders of northern command and the related corps commanders have been recommending over the last quarter of a century that there is need for a political way forward, and having stabilised the conflict, the transformation and the resolution are completely in the political realm. He is not the first one.”

The Army is reluctant to do what is a police job in Kashmir, and face irate protesters thereby adding to the casualties and facing the flak at this point. In fact, in what many in Kashmir noted and comment on, the regret expressed by the Army after a young lecturer was killed in Khrew was almost unprecedented, as was the immediate enquiry initiated into the incident.

General Hooda’s remarks echo, in a sense, the points made by several Opposition leaders during debates in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha recently, and endorse the position now taken by the National Conference that led a delegation to the President of India for the urgent need to restore calm in Kashmir.

“We all have to sit down, put our heads together and see if we can find an end to this. I know it is not easy. The situation is difficult. Everybody who is in any way involved in J&K needs to introspect”, the General said. He also maintained that the ongoing crisis in the Valley could not be solved by any “one person or one organisation.”

In rather perceptive remarks, he further added, “this is not a political statement. It is a statement of facts because everybody is involved, whether it is security forces, separatists, governments, student leaders, so my appeal is to everyone. I think we need to find some way forward in this.”

This has been the appeal by most opposition political parties, with no concrete suggestions from the ruling dispensation about the steps that will be taken to diffuse the tensions. Except for appeals to the young people of Kashmir who are not in a mood to listen as yet, there have been no efforts so far by the centre or by the PDP-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir to try and open doors for a dialogue.

General Hooda’s remarks are also significant as these focus on the imperative need for dialogue, and do not move into the realm of dubbing the majority of protesters as terrorists, at this stage at least. And for not excluding any section, including the separatists, from the proposed dialogue. His is thus, a realistic position arising from a clear understanding that the situation needs extraordinary means to control, and these means have to come through the peace route and not the military.

Political reluctance to be in the frontlines during troubled times in Jammu and Kashmir has always been visible under successive governments. Earlier Army commanders posted in, or overseeing Jammu and Kashmir had told this writer that it was essential for the political governments to take over the political process and not leave the Army in the front as it were, facing the civilian population, for extended periods. Human rights violations, they explained, were inbuilt into such situations as the nature of the Army was very different from the police, and it was not trained to handle civilian situations as a ‘soft’ force.

During the decade of militancy in the 1990’s Army sources had noted, privately of course, that while the soldiers did their job of moving in and “sanitising” the areas of insurgency, the political dispensation remained reluctant to move in and rebuild the area through relief, rehabilitation, development and dialogue. The result was that often the Army was not able to move its soldiers out, and remained as red rags in areas where it had staged encounters and taken military action. This, according to the military sources at the time, aggravated military-civilian relations beyond acceptable limits for either side, and the politician who should have moved in as the government for precisely repairing the damage, and improving relations remained nowhere to be seen.

(General Officer, Commanding-in-Chief of Northern Command, Lt Gen DS Hooda pays tributes to Colonel Santosh Y Mahadik, Commanding officer of 41 Rashtriya Rifles, who was killed during a gun fight with militants in Srinagar on Wednesday. (Source: PTI Photo)