Kashmir is seething with anger again, this time over the killings in Kulgam district on Sunday. The situation is unfortunately quite familiar. The killings are not new to Kashmir which has witnessed one of the bloodiest conflicts of modern times. Outraged over the Army firing in Kulgam, many people could be heard blaming Mehbooba Mufti. Does it spell danger for her government? Experience shows she will survive without a scratch. After all, Mehbooba survived one of the worst phases of public upheaval in 2016 so she has every reason to believe she would tide over the Kulgam incident without much trouble. Her predecessor, Omar Abdullah also managed to cling on to his chair even as over 120 civilians were killed in 2010 uprising. Barring the 2008 unrest impact on the PDP-Congress coalition, it seems the governments have mastered the art of surviving mass uprisings.
Apart from the widespread bloodshed, people of the valley have also become used to the failure of the successive state governments to protect their life and dignity. The governments, irrespective of the party or alliance, have been playing mere lip service to the demands of troop withdrawal and revocation of laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Whenever civilian deaths took place in unwarranted military action, the governments rely on statements of token condemnation and in some cases expression of helplessness on their part. Their response in the wake of military excesses has become so predictable that it hardly registers.
The chief ministers have failed to realize that the resentment their weak response stirs up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion brought by their political pretence.
Mehbooba will not be able to get Delhi agree to revoke AFSPA with her arguments. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, which unfortunately has been missing in her case. Let alone resigning, she has not even threatened to do so which means Delhi can take her and her tantrums for granted.
When Omar Abdullah came to power, courtesy Congress, many people saw a glimmer of hope in him. More than his age and charisma, they were misled by his promises. He proved to be just like any other chief minister- ineffective and helpless when it comes to stopping human rights violations- and Mehbooba appears no different.
Kashmir is not like any other place where you assess the chief minister’s performance on the basis of governance and development alone. It is a place laden with political baggage so even if everything appears peaceful on surface there are strong and dangerous undercurrents. The calm is oftentimes deceptive and no chief minister would know it better than Mehbooba.
With the state government having no bearing on the conduct of troopers, it has been unable to stop human rights violations. Ideally a government is responsible to ensure that rights abuses are halted, criminal perpetrators face justice and that victims can seek redress. The successive governments have been found wanting on all these fronts. There is no deterrence in place and the official probes have not yielded results and lack credibility. Infact, we have lost count of such eye-wash inquiries.
After every civilian killing, as a knee-jerk reaction, the state government is quick to put the blame on the forces thereby attempting to divert the public attention from its own follies. The government cannot exonerate itself from the responsibility of safeguarding civilian lives by blaming armed forces and AFSPA every time.
Though New Delhi has all along claimed that the Pakistan-backed insurgency is the only impediment to peace in J&K, it is the trigger-happy armed forces which have emerged as the biggest threat to return of normalcy in the state. In a democratic set up, like the one India boasts of, there can be no justification for violation of human rights as witnessed in J&K.
People gradually switch to normalcy when there is no loss of life over a period of time. It is not subject to instigation by separatists as Mehbooba Mufti and other mainstream politicians would have us believe. Civilian deaths at the hands of armed forces are the real hurdles to normalcy. As long as the killings continue, sustained normalcy will elude Kashmir. The utter disdain shown by armed forces for human life will continue to keep the valley on edge.
Blaming armed forces and AFSPA may seem a good option for the government to deflect the public anger, but it won’t help it wash its hands of the innocent blood spilled by the forces in the valley.
We have been used to the assurances of “zero-tolerance to human rights violations” from politicians and security agencies. The truth is that they have long crossed the threshold and reached “infinite tolerance” to bloodshed.