Failure to address simmering disconnect

The new al Qaeda video with its surprising focus on Kashmir, urging Muslims in Kashmir to follow the examples of ‘mujahids’ in Syria and Iraq and “wage a violent jihad” against Indian government may have created a flurry in media circles worldwide. However, within Kashmir it hasn’t cut much ice and remains to be a non-issue, irrespective of the challenged authenticity of the video. The separatists have distanced themselves from it and no militant organization has responded to the call. The al Qaeda threat in Kashmir may be quite meaningless even if strategic experts may like to see it in the backdrop of the US troops pullout from Afghanistan and speculate the pilferage of Talibanic influence to Jammu and Kashmir. However, the probability of some likely influence cannot be fully ruled out. This will less be a making of jihadi groups operating from outside or of the mischief of Pakistan’s army and intelligence agencies and more due to the internal volcano of anger, frustration and dismay simmering within Jammu and Kashmir (interestingly on both sides of the Line of Control), particularly the Valley. If the internal dimension remains unaddressed, the al Qaeda threat and the impact of the US troops pullout end of this year may not remain as insignificant as it seems today. 

To address this simmering discontent, the respective governments on the two sides of the dividing line, may need to understand the genesis and the complicated diversity of the bubbling anger. It doesn’t take rocket science to decipher the fairly visible codes. If it is development issues in much of Jammu region and the ghost of communalisation which is causing major discontent and disconnect, on the other side of the Line of Control similar issues of lack of development and the increasing and excessive invasion of Pakistan government and Pakistan’s mainstream parties in the politics of Pakistan Administered Kashmir is bringing anger to a boiling point. Both these situations provide green pastures for any militant threats to be carried out or manipulated to the advantage of the various vested interests at play. 

Signs in the Valley are even more evident. Pent up anger and new push towards re-glamourisation of the gun stem from the unresolved political question and from the brutalisation of society in recent years through continuum of repulsive militarisation and excessive repression under jackboots in recent years with an aim to crush peaceful protests and street violence, that were emerging as a strategy of resistance.

Between 2002 and 2007, fed up with the gun of both the militants and the security forces, Kashmiris reposed faith in a peace process but patience soon weaned away when confidence building measures did not translate beyond symbolic opening of Line of Control and dialogue remained confined to a few photo opportunities between select separatists and two successive prime ministers. Instead of initiating a meaningful peace process for which conditions were quite conducive then, the ruling class went on the binge of celebrating the increased participation of people in elections and misconstrued it as victory of Indian democracy. For Kashmiris, caught in the most militarized area in the world with a miserable track record of human rights, this democracy does not extend beyond the right to vote. The first flare-up was witnessed in 2008, with Valley shut for over four months, angered first by the Amarnath land transfer, followed by economic blockade from Jammu on the call of Hindutva elements believed to be backed by the administration, and finally by the brutal action including point blank firing on peaceful protests, giving birth to an era of protests by stone-pelters. The anger once again resurfaced in 2009 over Shopian double rapes and murders, though violent protests were mere aberrations. But justice came in the form of botched up probes. Even after 120 killings within a period of five months of shut down, protests and outrage, none of these cases stand investigated. FIRs have been lodged only in handful of cases, mostly after court interventions and fresh commission of inquiry has been ordered, after the previous one ordered selectively into 17 killings has been unceremoniously given the burial.

A cursory glance at events right from 2008 agitation to Afzal Guru hanging would reveal the systemic pattern of brutality, following which there is little hope, particularly amongst youth, of peaceful means of resistance yielding any fruitful results. Added to this, the arrests, detentions of youth and more vulnerable teenagers over frivolous pretexts, and gory stories of torture have pushed many to the wall. Recent killings of young militants in encounters have revealed the stories of continuum of harassment by police and other security agencies provoking these youth to pick up the gun in the first place. There may still be few takers for the gun but the glamourised role of the gun and growing sympathy for those who fight in this existing vacuum filled only with despair, humiliation and prolonged agony, further makes conditions conducive for the growth of a gun culture, its acceptability and likely support. 

It is the internal dimension that remains unaddressed and that alone lends some seriousness to the threat of US troops pullout and the al Qaeda video. After 2010, all that was required to enflame Kashmir was just a small spark which the Afzal Guru hanging, inspiring shock, grief and horror provided. But instead of recognizing these signs, all that the government has done is to cover up this raging inferno of anger is to prop up false narrative and pretended picture of normalcy through images of robust tourism, tulip gardens and smarting business of a few. Despite the seductiveness of this rosy picture, it is deceptive. What is real is that it has potential of becoming inflammable, not with a spark from outside but one within.