Year of encounters and new militant recruits

A report in The New York Times by award-winning correspondent Ellen Barry marked 2016 as “the year of dead eyes” owing to the unprecedented number of youth partially or fully blinded by pellets. Year 2017 may well be remembered as a year of encounters and new militant recruits.

For the first time in seven years, the number of militants killed in Kashmir crossed 200. In 2010, 270 militants were killed. However the number dropped to around 100 per year by the end of 2015. In 2016, 165 militants were killed. Meanwhile, according to wire-agency PTI, there has been a spurt in young Kashmiris joining militancy in 2017, with the number crossing well over 100 for the first time since such data started being collated in 2010.

Citing official sources, PTI reported that 2017 has emerged as the year of highest recruitment of youth in various militant groups in last seven years. “In 2010, 54 youths joined militancy while in 2011, the number came down to 23 and further dipped to 21 in 2012 and 16 in 2013. In 2014, the number shot up to 53 and in 2015, it reached 66 before touching the highest mark of 88 in 2016,” the PTI report reads.

Not surprisingly, south Kashmir, which witnessed an encounter every other day this year, has emerged as one of the main hubs providing cadres to militant groups. As per the PTI report, 12 youth from Anantnag, 45 from Pulwama and Awantipora, 24 from Shopian and 10 from Kulgam have joined militant groups this year. In fact, the actual figures may be on the higher side as many cases go unreported.

As has been reported earlier as well, the ideological conviction of the present lot of militants has been found far more superior compared to those of early 1990s. As PTI report also points out, “While majority of the missing boys mainly belong to average middle class, there are also instances of literate students from well-to-do families picking up arms with conviction.”

Some people may argue that the revival of militancy was on the cards in the absence of a meaningful political engagement, particularly after the 2016 unrest triggered by killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

New Delhi has discredited the institution of dialogue paving way for a situation where there is a strong case for revival of militancy. In the past whenever the separatist leaders have met Pakistani diplomats and leaders, the politicians in Delhi questioned as to why they don’t talk to Indian leadership as well. The separatists are averse to holding dialogue with New Delhi because it always ends in disappointment.

When BJP was in the opposition, it criticised Manmohan Singh-led Congress government of committing a ‘diplomatic blunder’ by allowing Kashmiri leaders to meet Pakistani representatives on Indian soil. And when BJP government came to power, it prompted Pakistan to call off National Security Advisor-level talks by insisting not to include Kashmir in the negotiations.

This reflects the flawed political mindset in Delhi regarding Kashmir. Rather than asking “why they (separatists) don’t talk to Delhi?” the Indian politicians are more concerned of yielding diplomatic ground to Islamabad.

The institution of dialogue has lost its credibility in Kashmir so much that the word has come to mean a sell out. Syed Ali Geelani has opposed dialogue with India citing the previous failures of the exercise. So far, his stand seems to be vindicated. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has talked about the need for dialogue process of the kind initiated by A B Vajpayee in the past. But he has also realised the lack of sincerity on part of the Indian politicians.

Vajpayee had expressed willingness to resolve Kashmir issue ‘within the ambit of justice and humanity’, in a way acknowledging the genuine concerns of Kashmiris.Unfortunately, the seriousness reflected in Vajpayee’s famous words has been missing in reality. As a result, Indian government has not been able to inculcate enough confidence among separatist leadersto hold dialogue without any apprehensions.

India is known for its discomfort at the mention of human rights violations by armed forces in Kashmir so it is unlikely to consider the main demands of separatists like phased demilitarisation and revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This eventually limits the prospects of serious deliberations on Kashmir.

I remember a debate aired on NDTV during the 2010 unrest wherein BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad blamed Pakistan for instigating trouble in the valley and called on the UPA government to take up the matter with Islamabad. To this argument the host quietly winded up the show saying that “this time it is perhaps an issue between Srinagar and New Delhi”. Indian politicians are habitual of looking at Kashmir only through the prism of Indo-Pak relations.

The situation in Kashmir is more crucial for the resurgance of militancy than any other external factor. Militant groups will only take a chance when they find the local population receptive as was the case in 1990s. The disillusionment among Kashmiris, it seems, has served as a spur for revival of militancy in the valley.\