J&K’s border woes

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UNION Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s much-anticipated visit to Jammu & Kashmir last week had many irons in the fire. Apart from projecting a policy mix of pacification and pragmatism for the Valley, the Union Home Minister also unveiled a policy package for border residents who are once again living a nightmarish situation because of firing from Pakistan. The contours of the policy for border residents reveal considerable effort in understanding their discomfort following sustained Pakistani violations of the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Fresh battalions, especially earmarked for the border belt, will have reservations for the locals to partially ameliorate the problem of joblessness; there will be a hike in compensation for those killed and maimed; and, a promise to construct nearly 15,000 individual and community bunkers. It is clear New Delhi considers Pakistan’s latest ceasefire offer on the border as a tactical milestone and is not prepared to risk the lives of its citizens to Rawalpindi’s capricious changes in policy towards India. But the defensive approach implied in the policy is an acknowledgement of the limitations in India’s approach of proportionate response to Pakistani firing. As monsoon approaches and then winter sets in, the construction of bunkers will take a long time. Rajnath’s offer to position bulletproof vehicles for residents as an interim measure is neither here nor there. The people’s expectation of a bunker in every house is also a bridge too far. The people of border areas have been shortchanged in every aspect of civic life; whether it is education, health, trade opportunities or livelihood issues. While people living along the International Border in Punjab have their set of woes, losing life and limb from sudden eruption of hostilities is not one of them. This year itself, the toll of the killed or injured along the J&K border hovers around the 200 mark. The terrain precludes a foolproof solution even if all the promised bunkers were to be constructed. India needs to leverage the favourable headwinds in the region to once again usher the post-2003 environment for developmental activities to take firm root.

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