May 2016 News

Adrift In The Valley

29 May 2016
The Hindu
M. K. Narayanan

New Delhi: News emanating out of Kashmir over the past few months should be a matter of utmost concern. Delhi and Srinagar, but for different reasons, seem to be unwilling to admit to the gravity of the situation that is developing in the Valley. However, if those in power at the Centre and in the State fail to heed the lessons of history, merely hoping against hope that things will settle down, it could be a costly mistake. Those familiar with Kashmir's history would be aware that violence in Jammu and Kashmir generally tends to come in 'waves'. Since the late 1980s, there have been at least four such distinct 'waves'. Each wave had its own characteristics, but the common thread was opposition to 'rule' from Delhi. The metaphors may change - sometimes the demand is for 'azadi', at other times it is for 'greater autonomy'. The tactics might differ, but alienation has been a semi-permanent theme. The degree of alienation tends to vary, depending on the extent of the distance between Srinagar and Delhi. Viewed through the same prism Accustomed to periodic outbursts of 'anti-India sentiment' in the Valley, the tendency in Delhi has generally been to see all these agitations as similar in nature. This ignores both ground realities and the region's history of violence and turbulence. There have been periods in Kashmir's recent history when the State appeared to be on the brink, and only deft handling helped retrieve the situation. Today, the main issue in Kashmir's dialectics is not so much accession to India, as the erosion of Jammu and Kashmir's 'special status' as well as the centrality of Article 370, given that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the past had given the impression that Article 370 was an anachronism. Consequently, when agitators today talk of 'azadi' - and demand an end to Delhi's rule - there are subtle differences in the tone and tenor of the slogans, which has to be factored into any calculation of what the present unrest in the Valley signifies. We must remain prepared for a possible fifth wave of unrest and violence in the Valley. Letting things slide cannot obscure the reality that since the beginning of 2016, the Valley has been facing its gravest crisis since 2008 and 2010. The number of fatal casualties may be far fewer, but the intrinsic nature of the protests and, more importantly, the atmospherics surrounding them, make the current situation highly incendiary. Echoes of the past Kashmir is bracing itself for a long hot summer of incursions of Pakistan-based militants from across the border. As it is, infiltration of Pakistan-based terrorists has gone up substantially since the beginning of this year. More attacks are taking place, and several of them have occured in areas far from the border, including in Srinagar itself. Gun battles are lasting for much longer - for days rather than hours. Hardly any of the attackers have been taken alive. What is most disturbing is that many of the infiltrators are finding shelter and refuge with Kashmiri families, reminiscent of and reverting to the situation that existed in the 1980s and 1990s. The Army's counter terrorism grid has, no doubt, been successful in thwarting several attacks. However, this begs the question of how best to blunt or limit the impact of the externally inspired and targeted militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, diversions such as the Pakistan-directed attacks in Gurdaspur and Pathankot are causing Delhi to take its 'eye off the ball', for the main battle is in Kashmir and not elsewhere. North Kashmir, which had remained quiescent for quite some time has, of late, become the main locus of violent activity. The March 31 incident in the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, leading to a serious clash between 'locals' and 'outsiders' over a non-event viz. India's defeat by the West Indies in the ICC World Twenty20 Championship, should have been an eye-opener, for it revealed how deep the divide was and the degree of polarisation that it signified. Subsequent unravelling of the situation, once the security forces intervened saw slogans such as 'Pakistan Zindabad' and 'denigrating' India being raised. By then it should have become evident that underground militants, mainly the Hizbul Mujahideen, had begun to take control. This was proved beyond doubt once students belonging to other universities in Kashmir joined the violent protests and began raising similar anti-national slogans. Growing confrontation The months of April and May this year have been particularly bad for Kashmir. Several incidents of a disparate nature have tended to coalesce and create a mighty river of discontent. In the aftermath of the NIT incident, unsubstantiated allegations of a young girl having been molested by an armed forces personnel produced a visceral reaction. The violent protests soon went out of control and the resultant firing by security personnel led to a complete shut down across the Valley, including in Srinagar. The death of five local youth in police firing also produced a new set of martyrs, giving fresh ammunition to the protesters. In several places across the State, eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between militant youth and security forces is today in evidence. After a long time, Army vehicles are patrolling civilian localities. Perhaps for the first time after the 1990s, local citizens are openly confronting and preventing the security forces from carrying out anti-terror operations. The Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir Police has been thwarted on more than one occasion when trying to arrest or deal with a suspected militant. At the same time, accusations of genocide are once again being levelled against the police and the security forces. Tapping the young Released militants have become a serious bane for the maintenance of order in Kashmir. They have been active in mobilising crowds for agitations and swelling the ranks of anti-India protesters. They are also encouraging young people to resort to tactics such as pelting stones to provoke security forces to retaliate and create a strong adverse public reaction. The 'youth bulge' in Kashmir, with vast numbers of educated unemployed, is providing ready manpower for the growing numbers of protesters. The tendency on the part of thousands of Kashmiri youth to attend 'funerals' of militants and hold cricket matches for trophies named after prominent militants has grave connotations for peace and tranquillity in the State. It is adding further grist to the protests against the establishment; this includes both the government in Delhi and in Srinagar. Dissatisfaction is writ large across the State. The degree of resentment against the Indian state is probably at one of its highest points ever. A feeling has been deliberately generated that Delhi currently shows even less understanding of the concerns of locals than many of its predecessors. The Hizbul Mujahideen has, meanwhile, re-emerged as the most important underground militant outfit, though both the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed are simultaneously very active. These underground outfits utilise and exploit the social network to generate further unrest. A major difference between what is happening today and what occurred during previous 'waves' is the impact of radical Islamist propaganda which is being pushed via the Internet. Radicalisation of Islamic youth in the Valley is today at an all-time high. The absence of decisive leadership, leading to a political vacuum in Srinagar, is also an important factor. It is encouraging militants and anti-India elements to demonstrate their open defiance of the Indian state. The Agenda of Alliance, between the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has been a virtual non-starter from its inception in 2015. The three-month hiatus following the demise of the State's Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, till Mehbooba Mufti took over the reins in April this year, has been a high-cost misadventure. It is extremely unlikely that the ideological divide between the BJP and the PDP can be bridged by Ms. Mufti, who is more adept at fanning radical protests rather than acting as a strategist. As time goes on, the gap between the two parties is likely to become more obvious, and with this, Srinagar's ability to deal with the situation will get further compromised. In short, the Valley today confronts a grave situation at a time when neither Delhi nor Srinagar has adequate political resource or enough comprehension to effectively deal with it. Yet the problem needs to be attended to without further delay as it could well spin out of control unless effective steps are taken. M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Adviser and former Governor of West Bengal.

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