Need to understand bitter reality to Kashmiris discontent and alienation

Upsurge in militancy

The recent upsurge in militancy is indeed a cause for concern in the valley, where excessive bloodshed in the last over two decades has only brought fear, panic and pain. But this concern would be cosmetic if the powers that be are unable to also understand the very genesis of militancy and its survival. No act of violence can be condoned. But neither can the acts that collectively contribute and provoke this violence. No doubt, militant organizations and a section of youth getting enamoured with the gun need to realise the horrifying effects of the gun, whether aimed selectively at security forces and police or ones that end up consuming lives of innocent civilians. In either case, it is the loss of the Kashmiris whether they get killed or injured or have to face the possible retaliation of such attacks. But the onus to prevent such incidents is far greater on the governments in the state and at the Centre. They must begin viewing militancy as a phenomenon that erupts less out of an adventurous desire to be trigger happy, and more out of discontent and lack of confidence and faith in the rulers. The state has already suffered enough bloodshed after insurgency erupted in 1990 owing to repeated follies and blunders of the successive governments in their apathy towards dissent and discontent. The government would once again repeat the same blunders if it tends to see Kashmir simply as a law and order problem or security issue. 

The present situation may not be as alarming as the 1990s. Militancy is unlikely to revert back to such a crescendo, despite the likely impact of US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan in Kashmir, unless internal factors like acute discontent, alienation and anger provide it the necessary fuel for survival. Yet, it is not a situation that can be ignored. It needs to be tackled at two levels. One is the strategic level, which is already being taken up through the massive counter insurgency grid already operating in the Valley with a flourish. Second, is preventive measures through a complete overhaul of Indian policy vis a vis Kashmir. Distress in Kashmir has reached a new high and trust deficit between Kashmiris and New Delhi is almost irreparable, thanks to the repressive policies of the government in the last few years, the last straw being the Afzal Guru hanging. However, there is still scope for hope to re-emerge, provided there is some sincerity on the part of the government to connect to the people of Kashmir not only through better governance but also through democratising civilian space. The argument that de-militarisation is unthinkable now with signs of militancy re-appearing can easily be turned around; the fact is that despite excessive militarization and diminishing presence of militants, it is once again re-emerging. Kashmir has been heavily militarised even when militancy was reduced to a naught on the pretext that any withdrawal or thinning of troops would encourage militants to strike back. On the contrary, the militants seem to be striking in a bigger way despite the disproportionate militarisation. So, obviously, the problem lies elsewhere. 

The government does not need much scrutiny to do to find that anger is caused by repressive measures like brutal violence against protestors, routine crackdowns, raids and whimsical arrests with hundreds of boys and youth languishing in jails with framed charges or simply by invoking the Public Safety Act. Human rights abuse has not ended but continues in a different form which needs to be arrested. There is need to address this problem. There is also need to engage meaningfully with a cross-section of people of Kashmir, to hear them out with the aim of responding with a human touch. A good start to reducing this trust deficit would be beginning fair probes into atleast some of the allegations of human rights violations. If it wants to, the government could easily make a beginning with the un-investigated killings of 2010 or by telling the truth about the men who disappeared in custody of security forces. But if the government wants to conveniently ignore this bitter reality of Kashmir’s discontent –both political and due to gross violation of civil liberties, and instead carry on treating it as a problem of law and order or insurgency, it may be making a far greater blunder than it did in these last two decades.