FEAR IS NOT THE KEY Kashmir militancy could spill over to rest of India

Proposing the extension of President’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament, “Those (in Kashmir) who have anti-India thoughts in their minds should fear us … They should be scared and this fear is only going to increase.”
Clearly, nothing has changed in Delhi. Nothing has changed in the Valley either.

The people may have been more subdued and dejected about their future, but militancy is not any weaker. Although over 100 militants have reportedly been killed in Kashmir in the first five months of 2019, the overall number of youngsters joining militancy has gone up comparing figures from 2014 with the period from 2010 to 2013. Since March 2019 alone, nearly 50 youngsters have joined the militancy. Another half a dozen youngsters have gone missing from their homes following eight big encounters that have taken place in the Valley since June 11. They too may have possibly joined the ranks of militants. Although the most of the new recruits are from South Kashmir, a couple of youngsters trying to cross over to Pakistan and arrested by the army have been from North Kashmir.

The J&K Governor generated unrealistic and false hopes by making much of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s statement that the response to a meaningful dialogue would be positive. The governor should have been cautioned by the total silence on the issue from Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the oldest and the most-respected of the separatist leader in the Valley.

In any case, those in jail or under house arrest can hardly be expected to hold meaningful political dialogue. For the past five years, the triumvirate of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik has emerged as the ‘joint resistance leadership’. Geelani remains under house arrest while Shabir Shah who leads his own faction of Hurriyat is in Tihar Central Jail, as is Yasin Malik, Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. There was no way that a dialogue could have been initiated with only one of the three. It was surely a misjudgement if the governor expected Mirwaiz Farooq to begin a solo dialogue with Delhi given that his family has suffered two political assassinations.

There is also little prospect of progress on the Kashmir issue without a dialogue with Pakistan. Ignoring the fact is futile. The Modi government will have to make its own tortuous journey to the realisation that Pakistan is a stakeholder in the Kashmir tangle.
The biggest question however is what can be the agenda of a dialogue of this government with the separatists in Kashmir? The ‘state doctrine’ prevalent in the corridors of power in Delhi holds that there is nothing to talk about. When the Home Minister says that Article 370 is only a ‘temporary provision’ of the Constitution and his party stands for revoking Article 35A, then ab initio any notion of a comprehensive dialogue on Kashmir becomes futile.
However, the Home Minister’s speech in parliament provides some clear pointers of what the Modi government hopes to achieve in J&K. He wanted elections to the state legislature within the next six months and to end “three” political dynasties emanating from the state – presumably the Nehru-Gandhis, the Abdullahs and the family of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.
In all likelihood the elections would be in September-October this year after the Amarnath pilgrimage is over on August 15. As for political dynasties, Shah has already marginalised the Nehru-Gandhis in Delhi. In J&K, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, founded by Mufti Sayeed has been given the kiss-of-death by having formed a coalition government with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). That leaves only the Abdullahs and their National Conference, which is expected to do well in the state elections for lack of a better alternative.
The ideal outcome for the BJP would be to win a majority of the 37 assembly seats in Jammu and its allies bagging about 14 to 15 seats from the 46 in the Valley. This would allow it to install a Hindu Chief Minister in the state . That could “dispose of” the Abdullahs politically. To achieve these ends the BJP is said to be exploring an alliance with ambitious local politicians like Sajjad Lone of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Conference, former civil servant Shah Faesal who launched the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement and Engineer Rasheed, an independent politician.
If successful, it would put the BJP in a dominant position in J&K. But will that subdue militancy or resolve the Kashmir issue? Not as long as the party equates eliminating militancy with eliminating militants. Purely military measures will only lead to militancy spreading.
The basic political conflict which has led to the militancy has never been addressed by the BJP. Its proclaimed desire to take away the rights promised to the state’s people by the Constitution at the time of accession to India attempts to further disempower the Kashmiris. All Kashmiris who disagree with this approach or civil society organisations which promote human rights and rule of law are dismissed as supporters of militants or stooges of Pakistan. So the government cannot leverage Kashmiri civil society and NGOs to counter the spread of militancy. Moreover, instead of helping to bridge the gap between the two major religious communities in the state, its politics feeds off increasing differences between the Valley Muslims and the Jammu Hindus. These policies continue to push vulnerable groups of youngsters towards radicalisation and violent extremism.
Militancy is also an attempt by those who consider themselves weak to redress the perceived asymmetry of power. Roughly, there are about 1,000 security personnel (including the state police) for every militant active in the Valley. This imbalance could force the militants to fan out to the rest of India. Instilling fear by use of maximum force against those who are opposed to a particular idea of India could therefore come with unforeseen consequences. One wonders whether these are taken into account by those advocating a harder line in Kashmir.
(The author tweets @Bharatitis)