Millennium Post

Burhan Wani and the Kashmir question

Kashmir is burning once again. The immediate provocation came after the Indian security forces shot dead Hizbul Mujahideen’s 21-year-old poster boy Burhan Muzzafar Wani, along with two of his accomplices in Kokernag area on Friday.

 The incident has provoked mass mourning across the valley even as each new death is only fuelling further anger. Protesters, mostly young men, (more than 30) are reported dead and 1,400 injured. Whether the police intended to kill him or not, the damage has been done, and the valley is simmering.

Burhan may be dead but the fallout is huge. The situation reminds one of the 2010 unrest when 120 people were killed by the security forces trying to suppress the youth. Most of them born after 1990, and hundreds of thousands of mourners who joined Wani’s funeral procession proved it.

The incident has brought out several facets. There is a local angle, there is a national angle, there is an international angle, and also there is an Indo-Pak angle. The echo is heard in Pakistan as Wani’s photos were posted on the social media.

 Taking this opportunity Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday called for a plebiscite in what he called “occupied” Jammu and Kashmir to let its people decide if they want to be with India or align with Pakistan. Radio Pakistan quoted Sharif as saying in a statement that the “massacre of citizens by Indian forces and use of brutal force against Kashmir is regrettable.”

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, has called on all parties to exercise “maximum restraint” to avoid further violence and hoped that all concerns would be addressed through peaceful means. Last September Nawaz Sharif met Ban Ki-Moon on the sidelines of the UNGA Session, and urged for a plebiscite in Kashmir, stressing on the need for implementation of the United Nation’s Security Council resolution in this regard.

As for the local politics, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has warned that Burhan dead is more deadly than Burhan alive. “Mark my words -- Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” he had tweeted.

Who is Burhan and why should his death invoke so much violence? He represents the dangerous home-grown militancy. The 21-year-old youth had a Rs ten lakh bounty on him. The son of a headmaster, he took to guns reportedly to avenge the death of his brother. Burhan joined the Hizbul Mujahideen and rose to become a commander. He was also the first militant from Kashmir to reveal his identity on social media.

The eruption has been coming for long and it is not clear why the authorities did nothing to prevent it. Firstly, there is no cohesion between the ruling coalition partners – the PDP and the BJP. Also, the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has fallen between the two stools. In 2010, she was the one who supported the youth uprising.

 As Chief Minister she has arrested the Hurriyat leaders and now she is appealing to them to come to her rescue. On the other hand, the Centre does not have the same confidence it had in her father late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

Secondly, the Centre seems to think that the violence in the state can be tackled by deploying the army to crush militancy. This has not paid dividend as political commentator Dilip Padgaonkar has observed the face of the militancy itself has changed in the state. 

The home-grown militancy has overtaken the foreign militancy from across the border. It is now the local youth, well educated, well versed in the social media and well indoctrinated who are now the face of the new militancy. According to one estimate out of the 145 active militants in the valley, 91 are locals and the rest from Pakistan. It is perhaps this local factor the funeral attracted thousands of mourners.

The third is the lack of strategy on the part of the Centre and the state. For the past decade and more since Manmohan Singh held a round table conference with the stakeholders, no fresh effort had been made to address their concerns. So while the home-grown militancy is growing, the moderates are becoming irrelevant.

Fourthly, what Kashmir needs is a political solution. The ball is in the court of the BJP, as it is not only ruling at the Centre but is also a coalition partner in the state. It was indeed a welcome step from the Modi government that reached out to the Congress and other opposition parties. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s telephone calls to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi was part of that effort. An all-party meeting may be of help before the Monsoon session.

Fifthly, as retired Army chief Gen. Malik observes that whenever dialogue process is suspended, infiltration and militancy raises its head. The two Prime Ministers should take forward the tea diplomacy Modi practised by dropping in at Nawaz Sheriff’s residence in December last and 
resume dialogue.

The road ahead is clear. The priority is to restore law and order and reach out to the people. Mehbooba should be given all support from all sides as her authority is getting weakened by the day. There should be a healing touch, and all MLAS should fan out to their constituencies. 

Almost two-thirds of the Kashmir population is now under 30. The Centre, too, should address the concerns of the Kashmiris and build consensus by involving all stakeholders including Hurriyat. It is a false hope that the situation like 2010 will pass. One option could be a look at the interlocutor’s report of 2010. The urgency to address it as the problem cannot be pushed under the carpet anymore.         

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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