Déjà vu In Valley

Mehbooba Mufti

Tourist season is round the corner in Kashmir but the unrest is still visible in the region

By Ashok Bhan

Anti-terrorism units of Army, Police and the other operational security forces/agencies have termed/described the elimination of more than a dozen terrorists and arrest of one as a major success in anti-terrorist operations, but with a caveat that its collateral damage of death of civilians and security personnel and damage to civilian property is painful. Subtle people’s support to militancy by large participation in the funerals of the slain militants and large scale protests across the Valley are the concomitant issues that should worry all and the governments in particular.

Kashmir has erupted before Dharbar shifts to Valley and on the eve of Tourist Session. Kashmir is on the edge by the continuing unrest for the last few years and sizeable local youth volunteering for recruitment to militancy It is greatly worrying phenomenon for the Government and civil society. It is viewed as a result of deep mass alienation caused due to ad hoc and mis-management of Kashmir affairs from time to time. The unrest has always been attributed as an offshoot of cross-border hostilities and terrorism. The unabated turmoil and political turbulence in Kashmir is rooted deep in the denial of Justice, disrespect to legitimate aspirations and frequent skullduggery resorted by New Delhi, say, the Kashmiri intelligentsia and main stream 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, “Kashmir calls for peace”.

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 choosing to pick up the gun. Militancy in the Valley also seemed to be changing qualitatively with fidayeen attacks taking place. The educated young men are regular recruits and son of a recently appointed chief of hardline Hurriyat is the latest voluntary addition into the ranks of militants.

There is a worrying turn of events in JK State. The changing character of the insurgency/militancy is a serious warning signal that “an urgent policy Correction” at all the levels of Governance, and a strategic shift is urgent need to prevent the escalation and further radicalization. One of the causes of the new age turbulence is being attributed to the betrayal of the democratic expectations. The Government is required to be seen winning back the trust and goodwill of all the sections and respect 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 as to whether New Delhi’s policy managers are so incompetent, apolitical and naive, not willing to leave any space/room for the Kashmiri leadership to exert moderating influences that could prevent youngsters from taking up the gun.

Kashmir is on unabated boil for more than 29 years. Tens of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers have died and population of Kashmiri Pundits exiled. Kashmir affairs are seemingly messed up.LOC is hot by militarized hostilities and day to day shelling and civilian population in border areas are worst sufferers.

The unusual escalation is resulting in a high death toll – the casualties in January 2018 alone equaled the figure for the entire 2017. And 2017 itself was an exceptional year for cease-fire violations, as they represented a six-fold increase compared to 2015.The cease-fire understanding reached between India-Pakistan in 2003 was violated with impunity with small arms fire giving way to heavy mortar and finally, even artillery.

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, make-shift camps set up to house them at a safe distance, economic activities disrupted and schools closed in the areas adjoining the IB/LoC. Besides the loss of human lives, houses were destroyed and damaged, cattle killed and injured and local water and electricity infrastructure disrupted.

A peace and war scenario has been thrust. It is a dimension of a hybrid war. The security forces and intelligence agencies have completely overlooked and misjudged the potential of this dimension of hybrid war in Kashmir. This phenomenon is evident from the fact that tourism, education, health services, law and order, developmental activities and public grievances system has collapsed and stand completely eroded. Democratic institutions stand marginalized and discredited. Drugs, black marketing of essential goods, smuggling of timber, hawala and fake currency have become backbone of a parallel conflict economy.

Terrorism has rendered the state especially the Valley without liberty and individuality. It has devastated the economy and imperiled the institutions. The societal psyche is turning cynical and despondent and that is what Pakistan/militancy has managed to do with the people of Kashmir. On the name of self-determination people have no voice of their own and the emotions are controlled and charged by proxies. People seem to be slaves of the dictates of the terrorists and separatism. 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 campaigned over the years is so strong that people refuse to see the logic. It is evident that Pakistan has effectively disabled Kashmir politically, psychologically and changed the demography of the Vale. Yet Kashmiris crave for peace and peaceful life for the current population and future generations.

The government should acknowledge that use of military force is not a solution to the complex situation of Kashmir. It has to be blend with engagement and dialogue with all the Stake holders. It is the psychological, attitudinal, social, political and economic grievances that need to be addressed. Therefore the Government should worry more about wining trust of the people back and let the terrorism be handled by the security forces.

People are making a connection between the heating up of the LoC and terrorist attacks in the state by terrorist 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 Pundits and not the land alone. Before the new age violent unrest and upsurge yet gets out of hand, New Delhi needs to deal with the issues in hand with a “grand vision.”

The mainstream leadership has expressed deep anguish on the current situation and repeatedly voicing that Modi Government must talk to separatist leaders and the stake holders. The central Congress leadership has also sensitized the nation on Kashmir Situation and assured support for the peace and political dialogue process. Union of India needs to act now and engage with new age youth and Kashmir leadership in a meaningful dialogue. Absence of engagement and dialogue with stakeholders is “behaving like a bull would in a china shop.”

Political dialogue with all the stake holders is an internationally acknowledged jurisprudence for conflict resolution. For New Delhi it would be the most prudent and astute political approach to reach a resolution of “Kashmir” imbroglio. Prime Minister’s flip flop political and diplomatic efforts so far have not brought peace in Kashmir. Therefore, change of policy perceptions is the only way forward. Kashmir calls for peace and its people crave for peaceful life for future generations.