Stuck in a Bloody Rut

  • Ink Correspondent
  • Publish Date: Jul 14 2017 9:12PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jul 14 2017 9:12PM
Stuck in a Bloody Rut

                                                    File Photo: Habib Naqash

Kashmir, a year after Burhan Wani’s death


A year after Burhan Wani’s killing, Kashmir is more alienated than ever, angrier, helpless and hopeless - but in no mood to back out. Security agencies have failed to break the will of people while the protesting masses have failed to force the Indian state to take steps for resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The struggle continues.

This stubbornness has yielded a society that cares less for life and more for death. Trying to break army cordons with nothing more than stones to save besieged militants has become a norm. Attending the funeral of militants in the thousands has become a tradition. Opposing the policies of the government, deemed anti-Kashmiri, has never been so forceful.

In the weeks prior to July 8, when Burhan was killed, rumours were flying thick that the situation in Kashmir would worsen after Eid. Some say the security agencies took the risk of killing Burhan because they thought they could contain any fallout. Others propagate the theory that it was a coincidence that he was trapped. But the backlash was certainly beyond anyone could have imagined.

“No single person or leader invoked such mourning as Burhan Wani,” said Sheikh Showkat, professor of Law at Central University of Kashmir. “Even after five months, Kashmir was on the brink. It was unprecedented.”

Arguably the greatest impact of Burhan’s killing was that in its aftermath, the gap between political mobilisation and insurgency narrowed. “In 2008-10, Kashmiris took to peaceful means of protest in the hope that they will change the status quo in Kashmir. But that miserably failed as the state continued to use force against the population,” Showkat said. “This gave birth to a breed of militants who found new faith in the gun. In the wake of the hero’s funeral that was given to Burhan Wani, there has been a huge drift in favour of militancy.”

July 8, 2016 and what followed it changed Kashmir like few events have and its repercussions are long-term.


Hardening stance

The rise of a new wave of militancy has meant that the gloves are off. Be it the violent lynching of DSP Ayub Pandit or the burning of slain militants’ bodies, the situation is turning grim by the day. “New Delhi has made it clear that they won’t talk and they will crush militancy come what may. They are in no mood for dialogue and they are going after militants in an aggressive manner,” said an expert on strategic affairs who has been involved in Track II deliberations, speaking anonymously. “The situation is extremely difficult and chaotic. Nobody knows what is going to happen in future.”

The state government too has tacitly backed the operations against the militancy. After her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 15 this year, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said bullets, stones and dialogue can›t go together, indicating that there will be no talks until violence ends. «There is no option but to talk, but it cannot happen amid stone-throwing, bullets.»

On August 27, 2016, the chief minister had presented a “three-pronged action plan” to the prime minister for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The plan calls for involving the separatist leadership as well as Pakistan in a substantive dialogue to work out a solution to the problem in keeping with contemporary geo-political realities.

“Please appoint a group of individuals on whom people of Kashmir have trust, that whatever they are saying will reach to people at the helm of affairs in Delhi,” she had said, while outlining her plan. At that time, however, she had not mentioned an end to violence as a precondition for holding dialogue. Her changing of goalposts on dialogue has only confirmed the people’s perception that dialogue is useless.

The BJP ministers in Mehbooba’s coalition regime too have been averse to any kind of “soft approach”. As the chief minister was meeting Modi in May, BJP minister Chander Prakash Ganga advocated strong action, saying “traitors and stone-pelters should be treated with bullets”. On July 5, senior BJP MLC Ashok Khajuria said Jammu and Kashmir will be turned into a graveyard for those seeking Azadi from India and supporting Pakistan.

This politicking has only diminished hope for peace and served to enhance the appeal of the gun-toting youth.

In written replies to two separate questions in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir revealed that 88 Kashmiri youth joined militancy in 2016, the mostin six years. In the preceeding years since 2010, at least 54, 23, 21, 16, 53 and 66 youth, respectively, had taken up arms.

In the first six months of 2017, 50 youth have joined the militant ranks.

Killing all of them is surely not going to bring calm to the valley.

After Burhan’s death, nearly 150 civilians have been killed by government forces and 20,000  injured. Close to 2,000 people have been blinded in one or both eyes by pellets. “It is the human toll that is worrying us a lot. It creates a generation of people for whom violence is the norm,” said the analyst. “Be it the militant, policeman, informer or sometimes even an army man -- everyone is a Kashmiri. It is the society which is taking loss on both sides.”


Portents of discontent

In 1996, when the armed insurgency was at its peak and thousands of militants roamed the valley, the Indian government decided to hold assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir. Barring a few incidents of violence, the voting concluded with a decent 53.92% turnout. Fast forward to 2017, when the number of militants hovers around 150. In April-May, by-elections were scheduled for Srinagar and Anantnag parliamentary seats. In Srinagar, the polling was marred by widespread violence and an embarrassing 7% voter turnout. The Anantnag by-election had to be postponed indefinitely.

“Never before has the government seen such an opposition. The people simply rejected the polls,” said Showkat. “The assembly by-election in Anantnag, conducted before July 8, saw polling of 33.4%. Now compare it with the post-Burhan election and you see the difference in public mood.”


Talking terms

One major casualty of the 2016 uprising has been the institution of dialogue. “Three words sum up New Delhi’s intention about dialogue on Kashmir - They don’t care,” the analyst said. “They are not getting into any kind of dialogue, be it with the Hurriyat or anybody else. They are not interested in any kind of political intervention. As of now they are on a different lane, which is not good for Kashmir.”

The Agenda of Alliance between the PDP and the BJP, too, had called for substantive dialogue but like other promises made in that document, this has been a non-starter. “The Agenda of Alliance has remained just a piece of paper. No point in it has gotten the seal of approval,” said Prof Noor Mohammed Baba, who teaches political science at Kashmir University.

“They want to contain the situation with force and strict measures. It is the physical existence of militancy they want to eliminate at any cost,” Baba added. “Not only militants, they want to put the separatist leadership under pressure too.”

The NIA raids on some separatist leaders, downgrading of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s security, the vilification campaign in the media are part of this strategy to corner the separatist leadership. “They are in no mood to reconcile,” said Baba. “Mollification of sentiment is not their cup of tea at this hour.”


Precarious situation

Not surprisingly then, the situation now is precarious. People are highly suspicious of the government and militancy is thriving despite regular killings of armed men. Young men are willing to die for the cause of Kashmir. “The only difference between now and one year ago is that there are no continuous shutdowns, which anyway is not sustainable. People are as alienated as ever,” said Baba. “In South Kashmir, the situation is even worse.”

Baba believes that the separatist leadership and the wider civil society need to evolve their strategies. “Most of our youngsters were born in 1990 so they have no idea of peace. It is the elders in the political leadership and the civil society who have to take charge. They have to take the initiative and help Kashmir get out of this mess,” he said. “With Rs 16,000 crore of losses, the loss of a full academic year, loss of human skill and much more, the society cannot progress. Somebody must come out with new thinking.”

Still, there is hope that peace may yet be possible. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently revealed that he has been working to resume dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute. “Why do you think I met three times the prime minister of Pakistan and two times the prime minister of India,” Guterres said when asked if he was working to resume dialogue India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir.

As Prof Showkat noted, “Be it Rajnath Singh’s assertion that the Indian government is working on a long-term solution to Kashmir, UN chief’s remarks or statements from other world leaders, there are some positive developments that have the potential to force India to change its stubborn attitude. As for the contours of the BJP’s possible Kashmir solution, we will know in near future.”