Daily life was once again paralysed in Kashmir on Wednesday following the death of three civilians during an anti-militancy operation in Budgam district. It is the same story once again with the recent spike in militant activity. Security forces operating in the state are dealing with angry crowds, every time they lay siege upon these militants. Military experts argue that sympathisers incite and exploit these non-combatants to ensure that the militants escape.
It leaves the security forces in an impossible situation. Earlier this year, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat stated that the Army would treat "over-ground workers of terrorists" as anti-national elements. Many saw his comments as an attempt at extending greater freedom to security forces when operating in troubled areas. In another significant development, the Ministry of Home Affairs made fresh authorisation of 4,949 pump action guns (a ten-fold increase), widely known as pellet guns, for Central Reserve Police Force personnel deployed in the region.
During last year's agitation, more than 1,000 civilians were left with impaired vision due to pellet guns. These developments seem to indicate there is little or no political engagement with Kashmir. There is talk of the government reaching out to separatist Hurriyat groups, but this seems like a fool's errand, considering today's so-called radicalised teenagers have little regard for them. What the state needs are reserves of political will and confidence building measures to regain the faith of people. More guns do little to achieve such an outcome.
What is exceedingly worrying is the precedence of a particular ideological bent behind the recent spurt in violence. In a recent video published online earlier this month, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Rashid Bhat was heard urging Kashmiri youth to fight for Islam's supremacy rather than a new nation-state. It is a sentiment more prevalent among the disillusioned youth of the state.
This completely disregards the spirit of Kashmiriyat, which speaks for religious harmony and brotherhood. The nature of militancy has indeed changed, especially with the arrival of a profoundly reactionary strain of Sunni Islam in the Valley. One must not forget that the origin of the clamour for "azaadi" (freedom) was secular and trans-religious.
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