Time to normalise: Easing restrictions and releasing political detainees will send the right signals to Kashmir

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Two months have elapsed since Parliament nullified Article 370 and the Kashmir Valley has largely remained calm amid heavy military deployment and restrictions on movement and communications. Outbreak of violence and consequent loss of lives – of both civilians and security forces – were cited as reasons for the curbs. For people in Jammu & Kashmir it has been a particularly trying time, trapped in their homes and with few avenues to contact the outside world. But the muted response to what was an explosive situation and the success in averting deaths had proved the Centre right.

It must now devise ways to restore normalcy. Those attempts appear to have begun this week with the invitation to tourists to return and the visit of the National Conference delegation to detained former chief ministers Farooq and Omar Abdullah. However, tourists will return only when they are assured of their safety and mobile connectivity is restored. Perhaps the government can first open up voice calls and then 2G data before allowing faster mobile internet like 3G and 4G.

Continuing the restrictions longer also runs the risk of hardening Kashmiri sentiments. The detention of political activists creates a vacuum where militants will step in. Politicians and civil society leaders need to be released forthwith if legitimate political activity is to resume. Many Kashmiris accept that Article 370 was nothing more than a symbolic provision that accorded no real autonomy amid heavy military presence over the past three decades. The promise to restore statehood when the security situation improves is key to mainstream political parties regaining lost ground. There is no room for triumphalism. The international community is watching and Kashmir’s harmonious return to the mainstream from this critical juncture will be the actual political victory, not the nullification of 370 and 35A.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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