The government should worry more about winning back the trust of the people and let the terrorism be handled by the security forces.
Kashmir has been on the edge with continuing unrest for the last few years and sizeable numbers of local youth have been volunteering for recruitment to militancy.
Kashmir is on the boil once again. The “wolf of mayhem” continues to consume human lives. Anti-terrorism units of the Army, the J&K police and the other operational security forces and agencies have termed the elimination of more than a dozen terrorists and arrest of one on April 1 as a major success in anti-terrorist operations. It, indeed, is but with a caveat. The collateral damage — the death of civilians and security personnel and damage to individual properties — is painful. The subtle people’s support to militancy seen in the large participation in the funerals of the slain militants and large-scale protests across the Valley, are issues that should worry all citizens and the governments in particular.
Kashmir has been on the edge with continuing unrest for the last few years and sizeable numbers of local youth have been volunteering for recruitment to militancy. This is a worrying phenomenon for the nation and is viewed as a result of deep mass alienation caused by ad hocism and mismanagement of Kashmir affairs from time to time. The unrest in Kashmir has always been attributed to cross-border hostilities and terrorism. But the unabated turmoil and political turbulence in Kashmir is rooted deep in the denial of justice, disrespect to legitimate aspirations and frequent skullduggery resorted to by New Delhi, says the Kashmiri intelligentsia and mainstream legislators.
Kashmir deserves to be managed by a “Grand Vision” that can encompass a comprehensive process to resolve the imbroglio instead of dithering, they say. Within the Kashmir Valley, despite the success of the security forces in eliminating top militant leaders, the recruitment to the militant ranks is on the rise with even highly educated youngsters getting recruited. Militancy in the Valley also seemed to be changing qualitatively with fidayeen (suicide) attacks taking place over and over again.
The changing character of the insurgency/militancy is a serious warning signal that an urgent policy correction at all levels of governance, and a strategic shift, is urgently needed to prevent escalation and further radicalisation.
One of the causes of the new age turbulence is attributed to the betrayal of democratic expectations. The youth had participated in large numbers in the electoral process in the 2014 state Assembly elections and voted out the incumbent government headed by Omar Abdullah. The government is required to be seen winning back the trust and goodwill of all the sections and respecting their aspirations.
The militancy in the Valley, however, also seems to have developed an autonomous raison d’etre in the absence of any political dialogue. Kashmir analysts are surprised that New Delhi’s policy and its political managers are so incompetent, apolitical and naive, as not to be willing to leave any space or room for the Kashmiri leadership to exert a moderating influence that could prevent youngsters from taking up the gun.
Kashmir has been on the boil for more than 29 years. Tens of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers have died and the population of Kashmiri Pandits exiled. Kashmir affairs are seemingly messed up. Terrorism has rendered the state, especially the Valley, without liberty and individuality. It has devastated the economy, education and normal living pattern, the plural ethos, and imperilled institutions. The societal psyche is turning cynical and despondent and that is what Pakistan and militancy have managed to do with the people of Kashmir. In the name of self-determination people have no voice of their own and the emotions are controlled and charged by proxies. People know the disastrous consequences of the harm Pakistan and terrorists have done to the current and future generations of Kashmir. But the anti-India sentiment that has grown over the years is so strong that people refuse to see the logic.
The government should acknowledge that use of military force is not a solution to the complex situation of Kashmir. It has to be a blend of engagement and dialogue with all the stakeholders. It is the psychological, attitudinal, social, political and economic grievances that need to be addressed. Therefore, the government should worry more about winning back the trust of the people and let the terrorism be handled by the security forces.
The Line of Control (LoC) is hot again. The unusual escalation is resulting in a high death toll — the casualties in January 2018 alone equalled the figure for the whole of 2017. And 2017 itself was an exceptional year for ceasefire violations, representing a six-fold increase compared to 2015.
The collateral damage to civilians living in the border areas is colossal. On the Indian side alone more than 40,000 civilians had to be evacuated, makeshift camps set up to house them at safe distances, economic activities disrupted and schools closed in the areas adjoining the LoC and International Border. Besides the loss of human lives, houses were destroyed and damaged, cattle killed and injured and local water and electricity infrastructure disrupted.
Tourism, education, health services, law and order, developmental activities and public grievances system have collapsed or stand completely eroded. Democratic institutions have been marginalised and discredited. Drugs, black marketing of essential goods, smuggling of timber, hawala and fake currency have become the backbone of a parallel conflict economy.
People are making a connection between the heating up of the LoC and terrorist attacks in the state and proxies of the Pakistan Army. The argument goes that by using terrorist proxies, the Pakistan Army distances itself from terrorist attacks and pays no price for its subterfuge. The ‘robust’ response of the Indian Army this time around, it is said, is meant to punish the other side by specifically targeting Pakistani Army posts.
New Delhi needs to approach the issues keeping in sight the fact that India’s strategic interests are intertwined with the goodwill of the Valley’s ordinary people including Kashmiri Pandits, and not the land alone. Before the new age violent unrest and upsurge gets further out of hand, New Delhi needs to deal with the issues with a “grand vision.”
The Union of India needs to act now and engage with the youth of today and Kashmir’s leadership in a serious dialogue. Political dialogue with all the stakeholders is an internationally acknowledged jurisprudence for conflict resolution. For New Delhi, it would be the prudent and astute political approach for a resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio.
The Prime Minister’s flip-flop political and diplomatic efforts so far have not brought peace in Kashmir. Therefore, a change of policy is the only way forward. Kashmir calls for peace and its people crave for a peaceful life for future generations.
Ashok Bhan is a senior Supreme Court lawyer and Chairman of Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org