Tuesday, 9 August 2016

A month later, no signs of peace in Kashmir. Mehbooba in Delhi to craft solution




By Ajai Shukla
Srinagar
Business Standard, 9th Aug 16

On Tuesday, Kashmir completes a month of violent public protests that have roiled the valley since July 9, a day after the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Police gunned down popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani. There are increasingly strident questions about why Prime Minister Narendra Modi is remaining silent, even after 60 people have been killed and 3,000 injured, 300 of them seriously, mainly in firing by security forces.

Until Wani’s killing, Kashmir was enjoying its sixth lucrative tourist season in a row, with hotels and houseboats fully occupied, taxis hard to find, and the road running along the scenic Dal Lake crowded with visitors. That idyll has now degenerated into a repeat of the nightmarish summers of 2008-2010, with mobs pelting stones and curfew confining large sections of the valley’s seven lakh people to their homes.

Indian leaders, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, were quick to blame Pakistan for the turmoil. “There should be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs”, Rajnath thundered while visiting Islamabad on Thursday. In fact, the public uprising surprised Islamabad as much as it did New Delhi. Only after three days of rioting and the deaths of some 50 Kashmiris, did Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif grasp the opportunity that had presented itself, deploring what he termed India’s use of “excessive and unlawful force”.

Protests in Kashmir are traditionally quelled by a spell of curfew. This time, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has not succeeded in pacifying the valley thus. Large towns like Srinagar simmer resentfully, while rural South Kashmir --- especially the districts of Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag --- belong as much to the mobs as they do to the government. With 24 police stations having been set ablaze by protestors, the security forces, including the army, are confining themselves to heavily guarded camps. No counter-militancy operations have taken place for a month. Senior officers say this is in order to minimise the possibility of further clashes between the military and civilians.

It remains unclear why the insurgency-savvy administration was taken by surprise. In February 2013, the night before convicted terrorist, Afzal Guru, was executed in Delhi, the J&K Police locked down the valley in two hours flat, in accordance with an existing “curfew plan” that involves rounding up troublemakers to tamp down on the possibility of public protests on the streets. This time, although the administration had ample time between Wani’s death at 6.30 p.m. on Jun 8 and his burial the next afternoon --- after which rampaging mobs stormed government buildings and police stations --- the preparations turned out to be inadequate.

Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police (IG Kashmir) Javed Geelani explains that the on-going violence has been different from the violent summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010, which provide the model for the police’s contingency planning. “In those years, violence began in the towns, and remained largely urban. This time, it began in the rural areas of South Kashmir, Burhan Wani’s stronghold. The countryside is far more difficult to control. To lock down a town you just plug the main roads. Rural areas are sprawling; one cannot plug all the fields, roads, tracks and streams”, says Geelani.

The police says that militants, mostly concentrated in rural South Kashmir, have taken to instigating the crowds. Their modus operandi is to merge with the civilians, fire at the security forces to provoke a violent response, and then use the resulting deaths and injuries to inflame the situation.

“Terrorists no longer have the appetite to confront the security forces. Over a hundred have been killed in each of the last three years, and infiltration is less than that. Today there are just 147 militants left in the valley. Only the Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists, who have trained in Pakistan, know how to fight. The Kashmiris, who mostly join the Hizbul Mujahideen, have no place in the valley to train or learn to fire their weapons. With recruitment drying up, separatist leaders are choosing to instigate public violence, instead of fighting us with weapons”, says a senior army officer.

* * * *

Talking to the young Kashmiri protestors who make up the stone-pelters, there is no missing the angry defiance. Unlike the last generation of youngsters who picked up the gun, underwent training in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and were killed in large numbers (in 2001, the peak year, 2020 militants were gunned down according to official figures); this generation of Kashmiri separatists is schooled in the street protests of 2008-2010. The result is mobs of unarmed civilians, including women, who are increasingly willing to confront armed soldiers and policemen. In the recent protests, most civilian casualties, especially blinding of people, occurred while they were frontally storming police stations, when beleaguered and frightened policemen, fearful they were being overwhelmed, fired 12-guage pump-action shotguns at point blank ranges into crowds. Ironically, these guns had been inducted as “non-lethal weapons”, meant for use from distances of 40 metres or more.

Bitter anger at the civilian casualties in 2008-10 has been sharpened by a growing perception of Kashmiri victimhood. Every youngster in the valley will bring up the hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013, and the unfeeling way the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government denied his family a last meeting. Guru’s hanging is seen as a humiliating blow aimed at Kashmiris.

This narrative of mistreatment has only grown since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. Divisive controversies like the so-called love jihad, beef ban, and the lynching of a Muslim family in Dadri last year --- which might not have resonated strongly in Kashmir in earlier days --- enhanced the perception that Muslims are under siege all over India. Simultaneously, ill-considered initiatives to build “Sainik colonies” and “Pandit colonies” in Kashmir are projected as conspiracies to change the valley’s demography. The increase in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activities in the valley compound a long-held apprehension that Christian missionaries are carrying out conversion, unchecked. Article 370, which mandates a special status for Kashmir, has come under increasing attack from Sangh ideologues. And the BJP has moved court against the unfurling of the J&K state flag along with the national flag.

Says Shuja’at Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir newspaper: “A wave of intolerance across India has heightened the Kashmiri Muslim’s sense of insecurity and vulnerability. Every evening, we see jingoistic TV news anchors painting Kashmiris as terrorists. The nationalist struggle for ‘azaadi’ is now tinged with the narrative of ‘Islam-under-siege’.”

As worryingly for the administration, as for the traditional separatist leadership like the Hurriyat Conference, there is a touch of anarchy around the mobs that hurl rocks at the police everyday. The Hurriyat puts out a weekly “protest calendar”, but how the protests actually play out remains in the hands of impetuous youngsters, some just 16 years old, who are driven only by blind anger at the Indian state. When unarmed mobs were assaulting police stations just after Wani’s killing, Mehbooba Mufti turned to Hurriyat hawk, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to quell the protests. Geelani obliged, issuing a restraint call, as he had done before Eid, when Kashmiris threatened to sacrifice cows in public places.

“When Geelani is our partner in maintaining a semblance of order, we really need to think hard about what is happening”, says a senior police officer wryly.

Compounding the public alienation in the valley is a sense of betrayal at the political alliance the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) formed with the BJP to form the government in Kashmir. While many accepted initially that this might bring Kashmir high level attention, New Delhi’s failure to launch any peace initiative created rapid disillusionment across the valley. Now Mufti’s leadership stands badly undermined by the BJP alliance, but she has decided that, for now, walking out of the alliance would be even more damaging.

Says Suhail Bukhari, media consultant to the J&K government: “The decision to ally with the BJP was taken by Mufti [Mohammad Sayeed] Sahib. Mehbooba-ji has reiterated that she will remain true to the vision of the Mufti.” At the same time, Bukhari highlights the fundamental contradiction in the alliance: “the Agenda of Alliance is the only binding constraint on the PDP, as also the BJP. Neither side has abandoned its political ideologies.”

Given the stalemate in the valley, the next step is clearly in New Delhi’s hands. Said Rajnath Singh during his visit to Srinagar last month: “Let there be peace and everything will follow.” On the PDP’s foundation day rally, Mufti promised: “The sacrifices of those killed will not go in vain.” With Mufti currently consulting with top BJP leaders in New Delhi, the success or failure of the two alliance partners to craft a credible strategy for the valley is now literally a matter of life and death.

10 comments:

Alok Asthana said...

Mehbooba's visit and entreaties to Centre are a classic case of passing the buck, or at least, passing her part of the buck too. Centre has a large part to play, but it is not that PDP and state legislature have NO part to play in this at all. What has she and her MLAs done? Have they gone out street to street, meeting those who voted them to power and applied that ointment she want Modi to. Being locals (and getting paid for it), they are in the best position to do so. J&K is not under President's rule. She is the first port of call, isn't she?

diwakerdogra said...

An excellent article. The first one to list and analyse the happenings in Kashmir Valley since Burhan Wani episode. I term it as episode as the killing of the terrorist pans out as anti climatic plot in the Series `Kashmir a Smouldering Paradise' scripted since 1947.

Anonymous said...

mehbooba mehbooba...

ab kya gulshan main gul khilenge........sehra main milte hain....

Anonymous said...

NSR says ---

J&K problem is its Article 370 as it gives Muftis, Farooqs, and separatists to keep Indian people away and it even callously keeps POK Hindus from getting J&K citizenship...

One separatists even gave ultimatum to Pandits and Hindus to leave valley or get killed...such is the sad story of J&K...

Without movement of Indian people and its industry into J&K, there will be no development and jobs...The situation will worsen exponentially...

Not any amount of money thrown at J&K will help the situation...

So Indian government either Abrogates the Article 370 or teaches its police force to use same rocks to throw at the hooligans...

Stop using pellet guns and pellets...rubber bullets and stones would do...


Alok Asthana said...

Hearing suggestions to abrogate Art 370. Shocked to see willingness to go back on what is the whole basis of a relationship. Even if India doesn't want to talk of plebiscite, to talk of abrogating 370 is really shocking. If someone takes my car and promises to pay Rs 2 lacs for it, can he be allowed to later 'abrogate' the payment of Rs 2 lacs, for ANY reason? Ethics apart, the abrogation of 370 would see Kashmir, and India, burn brighter than a forest fire.

Anonymous said...

bad wilful... release... jailed... stone throwers...

sudeep said...

We owe the fellow Indians in Kashmir a chance to be regular Indians. Abrogate 370, Governors rule for 25 years, a forceful dose of secularism to scrub the mullahism and talibanism that has crept into the society. The cultural model for Kashmir should be akin to Ataturk's Turkey rather than Zia-ul-haq's Pakistan. The political model should be akin to West Bengal or Tamilnadu.

As for the caterwaul about injuries to 'youthias', stop trying to kill the security personnel and you wont be shot at. Is that so hard to understand? Would you rather have the 7.62mm slugs instead of bird shot?

@Shukla saab, you talk either to IPS officer types who are very restrained in what they say by training, or to the disaffected. Can't you get a single trooper to talk to? What goes through his mind facing these violent mobs? what are the choices he is faced with? Is he not human? Does he not bleed..? How about the families of the Kashmiri servicemen who have been killed?..

Anonymous said...

NSR says ---
@Alok Astana


I do not think you have a valid thesis in your writeup/argument...


Remember one thing - The J&K relationship completely changed since 1989 by the separatists and militants coming from Pakistan and it is not definitely the same as that it was when it chose accession to India...


The separatists with the help of money and terrorists from Pakistan have only one thing on mind as to how to get Kashmir into Pakistan in whatever manner or means it can use...
They killed Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, Gujjars, etc

These separatists does not talk to our Indian government but they go and bend and fall/hug all the Pakistani leaders and talk to them at their embassy...
They marry Pakistani brides and do not have any feelings for India...


Hussain Haqqani says Pakistan should keep Pakistani Kashmir and India should keep Indian Kashmir and declare LOC as an IB and develop the land and people...
I think he is right...

It is fine if J&K burns...India will not burn...I do not know where you live but Indian Muslims have better intelligence and decision making than you think...

India must abrogate Article 370 and go full steam with movement of people and industry,, jobs, and infrastructure...
Only the income will ameliorate the suffering and make separatists/terrorists irrelevant...

Anonymous said...

Jobs, infrastructure, industries : these are the drivers for progress & peace. Why has the state government failed on all these counts unlike its peers ? Why do citizens of india have to fund thousands of chores to this state with no visible profess ?
Muftis & Abdulahs gave ruled this state for long. for lingo, can they give an account instead of sending meaningless political tweets ?
Forget extra fund, let J&K govt produce accounts for funds released so far.
They have let down the state, tne nation.

SachinWRT said...

India is a pluralistic culture and there will be no surrender to backward monotheist ideologies of the valley. The valley muslims must either bow down to pluralism or abrogate article 370 and be done with. PLURALISM MUST NEVER SURRENDER. It must destroy every element of monotheism.