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Is anything changing in Kashmir? The merchant selling bronze items in the narrow streets of Lal Chowk was surprised by my question. He had no idea who I was. Seeing his unease, I introduced myself and asked him to speak freely. His reply was straight, “If you’ve been coming here since the 1980s, you can see the difference for yourself. My shop has plenty of inventory now. In front of you, two tourists have gone shopping. The road ahead is jammed. Even this time of year, there are a lot of tourists. Who visits the mountains in such large numbers during the rainy season?"

He had a good point. These streets are ones I’ve travelled to many times before. Traffic jams in the 1980s and 90s were a result of bad roads and blockades by police or paramilitary groups. Although the roads have since improved, they still have the same problems as other tourist areas of the nation: a daily increase in the number of vehicles, pressure from the expanding population, and a big flood of tourists. The majority of the security force’s barricades have been taken down. Srinagar seems to be taking in some fresh air.

Later, I met some government representatives and smart young businessmen. In the valley, there was an unsolvable electricity problem. Although the situation is still not perfect, the state’s overall electricity generation has climbed to 5,951 MW. Power generation had previously never been over 3,500 MW since Independence. Due to Lt Gov. Manoj Sinha’s understanding that creating jobs and fostering development are the only ways to integrate the Valley with the mainstream, 51,000 pending schemes were carried out during this time by operating on a war footing. Sinha will soon complete two years in office in Jammu and Kashmir.

In Kashmir, restoring confidence is a necessary prerequisite for achieving the objective. To achieve this, a strategy was developed for the prompt settlement of public concerns in conjunction with engagement with the general public. As a result, separatist processions and stone-pelting are now a thing of the past. The PMO and the home minister personally keep a close eye on this procedure to make sure there are no roadblocks.

Has the situation in Jammu and Kashmir now reverted to normal?

Although it is still too early to say, walking throughout the valley in the last week of July gave the impression that something had undoubtedly changed. Although it is uncertain when Kashmir will reach its destination, the government has chosen the right course. If this is the case, why are there still reported “target killings" of Kashmiri Pandits and peaceful Kashmiris? Terrorists coming from Pakistan are the main cause of this. Whatever one may say, it is true that terrorists continue to infiltrate the Valley from across the borders. Besides spoiling the environment, these terrorists also attack the security forces due to their rigorous training and fanatical inventiveness. They typically conduct ambushes and prefer to engage the security forces head-on rather than escape.

The security forces’ biggest headache is coming from these terrorists. The army’s role is to halt them at the borders. Despite the challenging terrain and scarce resources, our jawans consistently take risks. On both sides of the border, a local group of porters is employed. Some of them are suspected of trying to confuse things in addition to sending key information to the opposing side. Additionally, with the aid of separatists who are active there, Pakistan’s propaganda machine and the terrorists there frequently succeed in misleading and brainwashing a lot of innocent youths.

This vicious spiral was just uncovered once more. One of the accused of target killings was killed in an encounter by the police. According to the guidelines, when his body was being handed over to his family members, they levelled the allegation that ‘you have killed our innocent child in an encounter’. They were astounded when the police officers stationed there revealed the teen’s phone call record. For the last few months, their kid had been lying by claiming to be enrolled in online studies while continuing to speak to his handler by phone every day for an hour-and-a-half.

The J&K Police has to put in a lot of effort and energy in battling this trend. Compared with the J&K Police of the 1980s, there has been a welcome shift in these jawans’ mentality. If not, it would have taken years for everything to get back to normal after Article 370 was repealed. The risk and hardship allowance for the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and paramilitary personnel has been increased from 9,700 to 17,300 per month for soldiers up to the rank of Inspector, and from 16,900 to 25,000 for officers.

Jammu and Kashmir is undoubtedly a challenging and intricate issue. Although the final solution will take some time, the problem’s complexities are losing their hold. One cannot simply click-fix a problem that has existed for decades.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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