Where is Kashmir heading?

For 75 days now Kashmir is undoubtedly passing through the toughest period in the recent history. It is locked between the government curfew and the continuous shutdown called by the joint resistance leadership comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. The trio though jailed and house arrested has been leading the current unrest in Kashmir that has left 86 dead and over 11000 injured. For the first time in the recent history Kashmir was deprived of celebrations on Eid as the government clamped curfew across the 10 districts to thwart a march to United Nations office in Srinagar called by this leadership. There is hardly any space in sight that could promise any respite from the situation since governments – both in New Delhi and Srinagar have failed to contain the situation. Brute force has been the only answer since July 8, when Kashmir broke into an entirely different phase of uprising that puts all such outpouring of past on the backburner. An average Kashmiri youth besides holding a stone in his hand is armed with a different weapon this time. He believes it is a die-or-do and now-or-never situation for him and is “convinced” that this would lead to the political solution of Kashmir, which in his thinking is “Azadi from India”.

In over two and a half months now, Kashmiris have gone through a grind of violence that for the first time was entailed with record and unbreakable period of curfew. Educational institutions are closed, businesses are shut and normal life is a thing of past. Government has its own theory of terming this uprising as handiwork of Pakistan and a handful of elements who want to keep the pot boiling for their “own interests”. But the fact is that it has hardly done anything to bring a change in the situation and only resorted to use of force and restrictions, adding up to the number of dead thus “helping” to spiraling effect of the anger that is ruling the minds of an average Kashmiri. It is unlike 2008 and 2010, where the end seemed to be in sight soon after few weeks. Today no one is talking about or quizzing as to where we are heading. Because the bloodbath has created such a situation, no one thinks on those lines or does not feel talking about the schools and businesses when 11-year-old boys are delivered dead to their parents after being hit by the pellets. Even on Eid days there were five deaths as people resisted the restrictions.

This situation is not ordinary. It has put Kashmir in a knot. For most of the fall-out, it is the government which is to be blamed for this seemingly point of no return. It did not wake up for long. And if it decided to open up the lips, it was late and the effort if any was half-baked. An All Party delegation did visit Srinagar to break the ice. But it failed as it came in the backdrop of Government of India’s denial mode with which it lived for two months. Except for blaming it on Pakistan and few elements, it did not seem to be addressing the problem as political one for which the dialogue and engagement is the only way. They would say they were snubbed by separatists like Geelani who did not open the door when opposition MPs knocked at it. Geelani’s refusal to open it might not have gone well with Kashmir’s traditions of hospitality but the way this “dialogue” was happening it did not fit in any parameter of political engagements done to resolve a conflict. By putting the opposite party in detention and expecting them to come on table is something unheard of in the history of conflict resolutions.

Back home the state government has been grappling with the challenge of restoring even the semblance of normalcy. But it has failed. Obviously when the approach to the crisis has been flawed from day one and same people are in-charge of the crisis management, how can it change the dynamic? Politically also the government has been crippled and the way the political outreach in any form is missing, it has further created a vacuum. On the top of it one of PDP’s founder members and member of the parliament Tariq Karra resigned from both the party and the parliament being unhappy with the handling of situation comparing it with Nazis. This may not rattle the PDP that is ruling the state in coalition with BJP, but it is a huge challenge to their moral authority. For PDP, one of its architects has walked away siding with what is happening in Kashmir. And for the BJP that is leading the government in Delhi, it is a reprimand. Delhi has been vehemently arguing about the elections being held in Kashmir with the participation of people. And Karra is an elected representative who defeated none less an entity then former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah that too from Srinagar in 2014. So how do they explain the resignation of an elected representative, who does it in the interests of his electorate? No MP has resigned from Kashmir in protest against what he called the ‘state sponsored’ atrocities on people.

Now that a fearful attack on Army’s Uri base has taken place claiming 17 lives, it will now change the discourse and further divert the attention from what Kashmir is facing. The focus is now shifted to United Nations where India and Pakistan are set to take on each other. Such an attack is significant in view of the magnitude of loss. It will overshadow the current crisis in Kashmir. It will push Pakistan on back foot that has been trying to up the ante over human rights situation in Valley. If the militants are Pakistan-backed as made public by India, then Islamabad also has a serious problem and the infighting within the state is obvious. This attack will certainly shape up many things in the coming weeks and months since New Delhi has made it clear to toughen its stand.

The follow-up both to possible clash at the UN and this attack will determine whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Pakistan in November to attend the SAARC meeting. Unfolding situation in its aftermath will push Kashmir in the background both internally and externally and to address the crisis within is the bigger challenge for the joint resistance leadership. Whether they can afford Kashmir to be in strike mode and if so then how long. People expressed concerns when the protest program did not had any relaxation last week and no movement of people even in emergencies was allowed. People of Kashmir are immune to sacrifices, but the leadership must take stock and think where it is heading. But for that government also will have the responsibility of letting them out of jails and give them space. Perhaps then only one can even question them.