No hopeful ring in new year

2017 ends as dismaying as 2016 with violence, anger and frustration new levels even if not as visible
If 2016 ended in abject dismay and despair with respect to Kashmir, as another new year descends, a quick recap of 2017 does not inspire much hope either. It was not only a year of missed opportunities but also one that turned out to be one of bloodiest years in the last one decade. 400 people were killed in militancy-related violence in Jammu and Kashmir in 2017. Among the slain were 218 militants and 86 security forces’ personnel and the 96 civilians, which reveals a huge rise in the number of civilian killings and deaths of security personnel in action, even as security agencies have been claiming major successes in their counter insurgency operations. By no standards of military strategy, a highly disproportionate loss of lives of security personnel in combat operations can be deemed a success. Besides, this strategy has been unable to bring down the number of militant attacks or the fresh recruits in militant organizations. The precious loss of civilian lives lost is an indicator of the bloody nature of the year and a realistic head-count is not the only thing that reveals that Kashmir is far from the road to peace. The statistics of violence, besides militancy and counter insurgency operations, include the escalating tensions on the borders between the armies of India and Pakistan and also the killings by security personnel during crackdowns and operations for combating mob violence as well as two cases of lynchings by mobs in violence.

The fresh trends signal the gravity of the situation in the Valley as much as the statistics do. The official optimism about the situation stems from the selective count of militant killings and the low key street protests as compared to 2016. This wishful perspective neither takes into account the civilian and security personnel deaths, nor does it take into account the mood of the people, either in 2016 or in 2017. If the anger spouting on the streets in 2016 was a direct reaction to the killing of Burhan Wani and a reflection of pent up frustration, the lesser number of spill-over of crowds during street protests in 2017 is a reflection of fatigue and even cynicism, which are not good signs in any conflict situation. The more worrying sign is the suicidal nature of many protests. Sight cannot be lost of the fact that 2017 has witnessed the start of the new trend of street protests at the dangerous sites of encounters with the intended purpose of trying to protect the militants. The trend clearly signifies the public sympathy with the militants and this cannot be wished away by flaunting the deceptive calm or by boasting about the militant killings or a handful of surrenders. The rather poor turnout in the parliamentary by-polls in Srinagar and the fact that the polls had to be indefinitely postponed in south Kashmir was enough an indicator of the mood of the people.

If anything, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir throughout 2017 manifests the dangerous precipice that the Valley is standing on. It cannot be wished away through official denials or cosmetic efforts like amnesty schemes for stone pelters, which should be a matter of routine and not a special concession, or the appointment of a special representative, an exercise that is so far a poorer versions of the many of the Centre’s political initiatives and interventions. If 2017 was a year of relative calm with respect to civilian unrest, if not militancy violence and the India-Pakistan hostility, there was need to turn that silence of discontent into an opportunity. But for that there is need to realistically assess the situation and understand the anger of the people, atleast acknowledge it.

If 2017 continued to be a year of despair for the people in the Valley, it was also a year that reflected the confusing complexity of the official assessment of the situation in the valley. It remained a year of mixed signals of ’embracing’ people but continuing human rights abuse and brutal methods of control and harassment, whether it was in gagging media and employees through restrictions on internet connectivity or social media bans or by intimidating separatists and others with National Investigating Agency cases. That does not inspire hope and confidence among the public; rather it pushes them to the deepest recesses of cynicism. The new year 2018, unfortunately, has begun with the same pessimism in the Valley. Only a realistic assessment and out of the box thinking by the Centre can imbue some hope.

News Updated at : Tuesday, January 2, 2018