By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Aug 2016
After the 2014 general election, sections of the Kashmiris, weary of insurgency and clutching at hope, believed that a vigorous Bharatiya Janata Party government would quickly finish off the flagging insurgency. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they believed, would force Pakistan to stop infiltrating militants, and life in the Kashmir valley would regain a semblance of normalcy.
Quite the opposite is happening. On Saturday, for the first time since the insurgency began in 1990, a mainstream politician, Iftikhar Misgar from the National Conference (NC), publicly renounced mainstream politics and pledged support to separatism. Misgar is a prominent leader; in the last Kashmir election, he contested against Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and, before that, against the late Mufti Mohammed Saeed.
The frenzied public embrace of separatism is even more worrying. In 1990, Kashmiri youths joined the “azaadi” (freedom) movement in the thousands, driven by raw emotion and without considering the consequences. Since then, they have paid the price in deaths, injuries, disappearances, psychological trauma and lack of development. Today, with full knowledge of the consequences, Kashmiris are back to openly supporting violent separatism.
Over the last two years, civilians have even begun confronting the army. In incident after incident, unarmed locals have attacked armed soldiers who had laid cordons around villages where militants were holed up. Since most militants operating in the valley are now Kashmiri, the civilians pelted stones to breach the cordon and provide a route for the militants to escape.
In April, the army was forced to issue a statement warning locals that force would be used against civilians breaking a cordon. This followed the injuring of a dozen soldiers in stone throwing by locals. In February, two civilians, including a female university student, were killed while attacking an army cordon in Pulwama.
Furthermore, Kashmiri civilians are now defiantly attending funerals of militants killed by the security forces, celebrating their “martyrdom”. Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s funeral earlier this month is estimated to have been attended by 1,20,000 locals. The burial was delayed by three hours because only 30,000 people could fit into the enclosure where his funeral prayers (namaaz-e-janaaza) were being read. The prayers were eventually conducted four times.
Ironically, public protests are escalating as armed militancy ebbs. After insurgency began in 1990, thousands of militants roamed the valley. Now, according to J&K Police and army figures, there are just 147 armed militants active in Kashmir.
With the Line of Control (LoC) now fenced and the army having gradually improved its three-tier “counter-infiltration grid”, Pakistan cannot send in enough militants to replace those getting killed by the army and police. Last year, the security forces killed 92 militants; fewer than that managed to infiltrate into the valley. This year, just 54 militants have successfully infiltrated, says the J&K Police.
This declining trend could reverse if Kashmiris start picking up the gun again, admits the police. Since Burhan Wani’s killing sparked the current wave of violence in the valley, almost a hundred local boys have gone missing from their homes.
Inspector General of Police for Kashmir, Javed Geelani, says it is unclear how many have actually joined the militants. “Many of these youngsters will return home when the dust settles. Only then will we know how many have picked up the gun”, he says.
With the security forces oriented towards combating an armed insurgency, an escalated popular uprising would require a major re-orientation in approach, equipment, force structure and tactics.
Geelani points out that the militants, reeling under pressure from the security forces, are already using the civilians. “The current violence began from South Kashmir villages where the militants hide out, not from towns and cities. The militants are also mixing into the crowds and firing at the police, hoping to provoke a violent response that would trigger fresh protests”, he says.
“This will soon peter out”, Geelani says, optimistically. Things will be back to normal by the 15th of August.”
The furious Kashmiri youngsters have a more sobering message. Says one: “We don’t have any guns as yet. Other than that, we are all militants.”