War, oddly enough, sometimes begets peace. At a time when apprehensions of war—indeed, exhortations to war—fill the air, it’s time to reflect on an earlier turn of the wheel. The last real opening for a solution in Kashmir had come in the first decade of the century, close on the heels of the Kargil war, with one pivot being the hitherto war-mongering general, Pervez Musharraf. During a period that straddled the Vajpayee and the Manmohan Singh years, India and Pakistan had crafted a détente—an admittedly difficult and fragile peace but one where, despite moments of grave provocation, radical and innovative solutions to the Kashmir tangle came close to wresting a consensus. Even a hardliner like L.K. Advani could hold talks with the Hurriyat in 2003. At this point in 2019, that time seems far away. With the Lok Sabha elections two months away, the Pulwama terror attack—the biggest in the Valley since independence—is threatening to overshadow all other issues in a cloud of belligerence that’s producing a lot of heat, but no light.
The decade since 2008 has been like a sheer cliff for Kashmir: the Amarnath land row, the 2010 summer protests, the Afzal Guru hanging in 2013, Burhan Wani in 2016…each inflection point created a lower ebb, to the point that the nightmare of the early ’90s seems to be upon us again. But through each of those crisis points, there was a track that New Delhi allowed to wither away. The only time anything resonated in Kashmir was when the Centre tried to talk, genuinely talk—and listen. It was a revelation that, even through the veils of mistrust, Kashmiris had responded. Even more of a stark surprise that the Centre never really followed up on what seemed like the only good chance.