Containing the unrest
During his monthly address to the nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra reiterated his government’s stand on the on-going violence in Kashmir. “Every single life that is lost in Kashmir, be that of a youth or of security personnel, it is our loss, loss to our own people, loss to our nation,” Modi said, adding that “people who are putting innocent young boys forward to disrupt peace in Kashmir, one day they will have to answer to these boys.” On Saturday Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met the Prime Minister and presented a “three-pronged action plan” to resolve the current unrest, which has claimed over 70 lives. This action plan includes the visit of an all-party delegation to the state, the appointment of a team of interlocutors and a possible change of Governor. In her address to the media, Mehbooba Mufti blamed Pakistan and separatists for fuelling the ongoing trouble in the Kashmir Valley that has been brewing with violent anti-government protests for the past two months. “I want to tell Pakistan, if it has any sympathy for Kashmiris, it should stop provoking (Kashmiris) to attack police stations,” she said. She also reiterated her view that the violence is the handiwork of "5 percent" of the people as the rest of the population is keen on peace. Mufti’s meeting with the Prime Minister and her subsequent comments assume serious political significance as it strengthens the impression that the PDP and BJP are largely in sync in assessing the cause and the possible strategic solutions for the strife-torn state. It is imperative that both sides are on the same page. In the recent past, especially during the current unrest, the coalition partners rarely saw eye to eye, exacerbating the current state of chaos. With both sides seemingly on the same page, one hopes that a concerted and coherent effort at restoring peace begins. But curfew continues to be imposed in some parts of Srinagar and South Kashmir, while restrictions on the Assembly of people were in force in the rest of the Valley where life remained paralysed for 51 consecutive days.
Despite all the talk, one of the fundamental problems that afflict frontier regions—Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast—is the absence of a well-functioning civilian administration. Reports indicate that the situation in South Kashmir has deteriorated. The law and order situation in four districts of the region—Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag—looks especially bad. Police stations are functioning without a semblance of efficacy. Many among the constabulary have abandoned their posts. Some were even seen joining “anti-India” protests. Dozens of police stations have turned into empty shells now protected by the Army and CRPF. To the uninitiated, South Kashmir is at the epicentre of the current unrest. Reports indicate that the Chief Minister’s panicked response to civilian deaths and the injuries suffered at the hands of the armed forces have resulted in the current administrative vacuum. According to one national daily, Mufti instructed local policemen to remain “invisible” from the streets and avoid giving the slightest provocation for another potential flashpoint. Many among the J&K police force feel that they’ve been abandoned by the state administration. Instead, they’ve become targets for the militants. On Saturday, a policeman was shot dead by suspected militants outside his home in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The maintenance of law and order in a volatile area is a complex affair. Nonetheless, without a functioning police, who are trained to maintain law and order, the state government has ceded space to the paramilitary and armed forces. The state administration needs to reclaim its authority in the region from the armed forces. With draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Public Safety Act in place, allied with a poorly-functioning state administration, excesses against the local civilians will continue to occur, further fanning the flames of unrest. It is Pakistan and violent separatists who will pick up the pieces.
As part of her three-point action plan, Mufti had suggested the appointment of a team of interlocutors to facilitate the peace process. After the violent unrest of 2008, the UPA government had set up a team of interlocutors led by former information commissioner MM Ansari and noted journalist Dileep Padgaonkar to ascertain the reasons behind the violence and ways to prevent its occurrence. The subsequent report tabled in front the UPA government contained recommendations that included reducing the army’s visibility, urgently address gross human rights violations, review AFSPA and lift the Disturbed Areas Act. True to form, the UPA government ignored the report and failed to engage with the local populace. Admittedly, the nature of militancy has somewhat changed in the region. Some have called it the “ISIS-isation” of the Kashmir Valley. “What we are essentially witnessing is the ISIS-isation of the Kashmir Valley, with self-radicalised youths, additionally instigated by the Pakistani Deep State, using "azaadi" as a slogan for Islamist mobilisation and jihadi violence,” writes noted columnist and prominent Modi sympathiser, R Jagannathan. Unlike the militancy of the 1990s, the "jihad" against the India state has grown local. But it is also a fact that the security forces have indulged in serious human rights violations against the local populace and they’ve not been held accountable for their actions due to prevailing laws. One act of violence feeds into another. India’s history has witnessed a slew of draconian laws. AFSPA contains provisions that violate constitutionally conferred fundamental rights. Key provisions in the act allow security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without consent. Members of the various security forces, primarily the army, undertake these acts with the knowledge that they will not face any legal action for operations conducted under the act. The implementation of such laws only heightens the sense of alienation, hate and mistrust among the local populace. Violence is an outcome of such discontentment in a volatile area. Although the nature of militancy has changed in the region, the government must also make a concerted effort at addressing the legitimate grievances of the people, including the removal of laws like AFSPA and PSA from various districts. The Chief Minister seems to believe that the victimhood narrative instigating the current unrest is unjustified since it did not emerge from any instance of alleged excess by the security forces. It is true that the current unrest was triggered by the killing of a terrorist. But Mufti should know better than most about the daily acts of violence and humiliation that her people suffer at the hands of security forces. In her meeting with the Prime Minister, Mufti had also suggested the involvement of separatists and Pakistan in a substantive dialogue to work out a solution to the problem. But the Centre is in no mood to follow through on her proposal.