Where is the end to Kashmir violence?

Sunday’s bloodbath in South Kashmir had been lying in wait. Everyone knows that Kashmir is a powder keg like never before. The silence on the spring day carried with it an eerie feeling and when it broke, by the end of the day at least 17 families were shouldering biers.

Three soldiers were also killed, taking the toll to 20, thus making April 1, the bloodiest day so far. It also served as the cruelest joke for April 1. What makes it worse is the obfuscation, the lies and denials. What Kashmir is unable to bear is the steady march of young and educated boys into the maw of the conflict. This is no time for requiem to the heart-gutting loss, but to think long and hard.

Kashmiris have for centuries shown the world what resistance looks like, and the last 27 years stand testimony to that. Thirteen people were killed who had chosen the path of violence to challenge Indian rule in Kashmir. But four more lost their lives as they stood up in solidarity and came in the way of the bullets. In 2016, the last time resistance took a heavy toll, nearly 100 got killed and thousands injured. In last Sunday’s agitations over 150 people were injured or blinded by deadly pellets.

They say South Kashmir is the hotbed of militancy and its fervor for volunteerism in support of militancy is alarming. That is why militant ranks, mostly having local recruits now, are swelling, and the challenge has acquired new dimensions. For government forces, they believe their only job is to kill militants, reduce the footprint and then claim normalcy. That, however, is the theory that has been proven wrong time and again.

If killing militants brings about the so-called normalcy, then it should have all ended by now. The reality is that the involvement of society, the consolidated anger against India and repeated calls for a political resolution are resounding with much force. Every time Kashmir reaches the brink, the usual response from the state is that it is Pakistan-sponsored terror. Even the mass uprising that ran for over six months in 2016 was “credited” to Pakistan having “patronized” mischief-mongers. What we miss all this time is the realization that an entire generation is at “war”.

When the National Investigation Agency rounded up a dozen middle-rung leaders of the Hurriyat Conference last year, the outcome was connected to the reduction in stone-pelting incidents. If that were the case, Kashmir would not have been in pain the way it is now.

South Kashmir has become a fertile ground for rediscovering the armed resistance. The figures that have been often quoted in the past few months suggest that it is proving to be a new ‘recruitment sanctuary’ for militancy. They don’t go to Pakistan for training but manage it here. There must be a support base and handling but that is not the question that warrants an answer. What is important is to understand why such a large number of youth have chosen this path. If BurhanWani was the poster boy of militancy, he was killed, and the trend should have stopped there.

In 2017, the government forces launched “Operation All Out” to flush out militants and the forces killed a record number of them. By that logic South Kashmir should have been militancy-free. That is not the story. In the past few months there has been a surge in recruitment. The point I have repeatedly been making in my columns is that the sanction for violence as a way to end the conflict has grown. This outlook is creating the space to make it a legitimate way to fight the Indian state.

When the armed rebellion broke out in late 1989 there was an outburst due to simmering discontent. It was fed by denial of political rights, thrusting of leaders and the lack of resolution to a long pending dispute. Notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan has been playing a role in furthering anti-India sentiment, the underlying reality is that people have themselves invested hugely in this.

The transition from violence to non-violence in the late 1990s, albeit with intermittent militant intervention continuing, was something that came as a realization that violence may not get Kashmiris and Kashmir anywhere. The brief reprieve that gave breathing space to peace moves with the involvement of India, Pakistan and a majority of Kashmiri leaders (except for Geelani) gave rise to hope there would be a resolution to the dispute. That, however, was derailed given the inherently intransigent approach that Delhi has been adopting.

The prime concern today is that Kashmir’s youth are being consumed in this battle and it has taken more than one shape. There is no doubt that Kashmir’s struggle is political but the fight within is now with the elements that are borrowing ideas and ideologies that have been alien to us.

To fight each other on those strong ideological lines is another major challenge the society is facing. Who will save our youth from this grind of violence that only takes their lives? The primary responsibility lies with New Delhi that must not push people to the wall and accept Jammu and Kashmir as a political reality. Mainstream political parties have run from the scene and are devoid of any influence; it is a stark reality that their stock has considerably shrunk. People may have elected them but when it comes to representation or exercising moral influence, they have lost it. The military’s approach and counting the dead as a solution have failed in the past, and it nurtures the idea of militancy further.

For the political leadership such as the Hurriyat Conference, shirking their responsibility is no way to confront this situation. Since they are leading the people under a new banner, they will have to chalk out a course that saves our youth. Condemnations alone will not suffice. It is not about South Kashmir only, but the response from the people has been the same across the entire Valley.

New Delhi must understand that the muscular response has not yielded anything. It might suit the current government headed by the BJP politically, but it has lost its moral ground as it takes pride in sending body bags back to homes in Kashmir. An honest engagement at all political levels, including with Pakistan, is the only way to see the tulips bloom in Kashmir and not the blood-soaked soil.

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Shujaat Bukhari

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