Co-Written by Sheikh attar And Palvi Singh Ghonkrokta
Kashmir is on the brink once again. The recent surges in military operations and encounters in Kashmir underline the urgency in the official circles to curb militancy and take control of the situation in Kashmir. The visibly tough stand in the approach of the government is in sync with the on ground activities which have placed talks on the backseat, advocating a military course of action instead. The use of force it seems is aimed at eliminating rather than engaging ultras. This is the typical state response of power without prudence but employing it poses a very real risk of resurgence in violence and militancy fuelled by home support.
A sledgehammer approach to insurgency has invariably proven to escalate the conflict and Kashmir is no exception. The approach itself is questionable in that it can no doubt quell the changing faces of the movement, from the streets to fatigues, from stones to arms but the underlying ideologies are not as easy to dismantle and put down with the gun.Consider for example the number of militants before 2016.Between 2011 – 2013 the total number of new recruits was sixty. In 2014 there was an upward spike with fifty three men picking up the arms while 2015 saw a total of sixty six fresh recruits.
In 2016, notwithstanding the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani being considered a big success and a bolt to militancy, the surging numbers tell another story. Wani’s death was able to sway a large number of youth, eighty eight to be exact, to join the militant ranks. Further in the first four months of 2017, another thirty took to militancy, according to police records and the chances of it stopping seem slim.
As per official records, presently, there are about two hundred and twenty four militants operating in the Kashmir valley out of which a hundred and thirty are locals and Burhan Wani’s home district of Pulwama accounts for a whopping number of seventy out of this .This is unusual considering the past trend where foreign militants outnumbered the locals and substantiates the point that the killing of local militants creates a ripple of sympathy and anger among youth and results in more people opting for guns out of vengeance.
It comes as no surprise then that the activities of the state agencies and militant outfits proportionally match each other. That is not to say that military action is the sole reason for the rise in militancy. With the BJP-PDP government at the helm of affairs, little meaningful political engagement has ensued while there has been a steady rise in the number of militants operating in the valley. The urge to resort to coercive actions has not been dovetailed with a political engagement of any sort for any good to come out of it. It is baffling that even as the Agenda of Alliance of the BJP-PDP has acknowledged the need to take every opinion into consideration including those of the separatists but in practice their efforts have been lukewarm at best. The lone attempt to reach out seemed to be a crisis management manoeuvre, rather than a well chalked out political move.
Already the media portrayal of a Kashmiri youth as a stone pelting ‘anti-national’ has gained traction. It has severely detracted from the real issue at hand i.e. of peaceful, political resolution of the Kashmir conflict – not territorial, not religious but a political solution that mirrors the rights and representative aspirations of the average Kashmiri.
Measures that rely on sheer force while sidestepping soft power initiatives may provide short term reprieve but can prove to be counter-productive even detrimental in the long term.What should be an emergency measure to curb unrest is painfully prolonged in the interest of maintaining normalcy and disengagement from the political process invariably follows even as the underlying dilemma of the movement remains.
The lasting fatality then will be that of the collapse of the already shrinking political space. With no majority consensus in sight and no end to the schisms in Kashmiri society, the political impasse is the only constant among the volatile variables in the Kashmiri equation.
The general feeling of a trust deficit in the democratic process persists. The separatists have also lost their appeal to some extent as they could not achieve any concrete goal. Their hartaal politics has only crippled the economy and made common people suffer.
This has disillusioned people further and led everyone to pursue their own path and paint the conflict in their own color. In an increasingly hostile society unfortunately the most extreme elements take the fore front as was seen in the gruesome and inhumane act of the lynching of a Deputy Superintendent of Police, outside Jama Masjid.
Likewise when former HM commander Zakir Musa comes out and brands the Kashmir struggle as an Islamic struggle rather than a political one, it personifies the division in society, that endangers the very fabric of Kashmiriyat. There must therefore be an implicit recognition that it has the potential to snowball into a wider, religious revivalist and decisively fundamentalist conflict and that its consequences would be nothing short of a calamity
It is therefore time that government shuns the might is right attitude and initiates talks with the separatists, the youth including stone pelters and even try to get the most extreme ones on board.
Institutional democracy in Kashmir is already in peril. A state clamp down in such circumstances is a predictable though arguably an inefficacious measure. It is true that coercive action and use of force is a universally recognised measure to maintain law and order and restore peace. However it has limited life and w hat is equally true is that no law can be allowed to subsume the legitimate political process let alone supplant it.
If the State seeks to strengthen the arms of democracy, it must recognise, its forceful actions may well prove contrariwise, even if inadvertently, striking at its roots.
Sheikh Attar And Palvi Singh Ghonkrokta are freelance journalists.