J&K on the boil again
There have been two, by and large, peaceful summers in Kashmir. However, during the current season there have been some targeted killings about which the police have no clue. There have also been encounters on the Line of Control. This has generated a debate that all things are pointing towards the return of militancy in Kashmir. However, before one discusses such a possibility, it would be worthwhile to analyse why militancy started in Kashmir in the first place. It is a well-known fact that Kashmir has faced a political problem right from 1947. The circumstances of the accession of the state to the Indian Union and the events thereof have been well documented and don’t require repetition. Many attempts were made to change the basis of the political problem into an economic one by introducing subsidy on food and massive developmental projects. These did not succeed and the political aspirations of the people continued to be manifested in their actions from time to time.
The National Conference was supposed to be the party representing Kashmiri nationalism. Despite the fact that the party’s top leadership did many somersaults, the people still had some sort of belief that this party represented their basic aspirations. However, in the mid-Eighties the party made an alliance with the Indian Congress leadership. The party which had all along represented the aspirations of the people had joined the supposed oppressors. This created a “nationalist” vacuum in Kashmir and the youth of Kashmir decided to fill this space. They decided to express their political aspirations in an elected Assembly through a democratic process and thus fought the 1987 elections under the banner of Muslim United Front. However, the governments in Delhi and Srinagar did not respect the democratic yearnings of the youth and didn’t just rig the elections, but even arrested the candidates and their polling agents. This convinced the youth that there was no democratic outlet, and that, perhaps, force was the only solution.
The drastic curbing of the democratic process gave rise to armed uprising in the Nineties. Some of the contesting candidates and their polling agents became top militants. Salah-ud-Din, the chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, formerly Mohammad Yusuf, was a candidate from Amira Kadal constituency. Yasin Malik, Hameed Sheikh and others were his supporters and polling agents. They received weapons and training in Pakistan. Even though the basic armed movement was nationalistic in outlook and aspired for an independent Kashmir, the Pakistanis hijacked it and turned it into a jihadi movement of a Muslim Kashmir against a Hindu India.
The decade witnessed one of the worst incidents of violence. Thousands were killed, thousands were injured and thousands got displaced from their ancestral homes. The Indian government put down the uprising with a strong and harsh hand. As is usual in such conflicts, there was a lot of collateral damage and the Kashmiris were totally alienated from India. However, in the end, they seemed to realise that violence was not getting them anywhere. But India and Pakistan were prolonging the proxy war for their own interests, regardless of the fate of the common Kashmiris who were directly in the line of fire. The killings of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front supporters like Dr Abdul Ahad Guru and even Moulvi Farooq are generally attributed to the ISI. While the Al Faran kidnapping and some massacres, including the one at Chitisinghpora, are attributed to Indian intelligence agencies. Even Bill Clinton mentioned this in his foreword to Madelene Albright’s book.
In 2008, there was a paradigm shift. The mass uprising against the alleged allotment of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board started as a peaceful movement. The youth had realised that mass peaceful protests were a better way of expressing their aspirations. But the government, instead of welcoming this shift from violent to peaceful protests, put down this movement with an iron fist. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they forced the youth to react with stone pelting. And then they used bullets against stones, killing indiscriminately. The process repeated itself in 2010. Again, over a hundred youth were shot. Since then no democratic peaceful march or protest of any kind has been allowed in the Valley. Every attempt is curbed by “undeclared curfew” (imposing all curfew restrictions without officially declaring it through a magistrate as per the legal requirement), arrests, house-arrests and so on. Even though there has been peace and quiet and the Valley has seen two brisk tourist seasons, there is tension and an uneasy calm.
The situation is further compounded by total misgovernance and mind-boggling corruption. Nothing seems to work in Kashmir. Be it power, healthcare, education, roads, civic amenities, traffic and so on. Everything seems to be stuck in a jam. Over and above, the number of unemployed people has crossed half-a-million mark. The security grid, which was a nightmare in the Nineties, is still intact and the accountability of the security forces is virtual zero because of draconian legislations. The Government of India, instead of addressing the basic issues, has only been buying time and attempting “conflict management” instead of “conflict resolution”. Once again the feeling is growing among the youth that democratic means lead nowhere.
There are two more factors which may have had an impact. The rise of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Afghan factor. The Americans have suffered a virtual defeat in Afghanistan and are on their way out. The internal situation in Pakistan has also shown that violent
non-state actors can make the state follow their dictates.
One would not like to sound as a person forecasting the doomsday, but the way the Centre and the state government are bickering and conditions are developing, we may be heading for another round of militancy, more committed and targeted. This round may be more destructive and indiscriminate. The time is running out fast. There is utmost need for the government to act, not by symbolic gestures but by practical and substantive confidence-building measures before it is too late!
The writer is former director-general of tourism, Jammu & Kashmir