Call for political solution
The situation in Kashmir is getting worse every day with the misguided and frustrated youth taking to streets and pelting stones at the armed forces, which are using force to quell the dissent. Due to continued hostility since the killing of Burhan Wani last July by security forces, militants and youth have started targeting police and security forces. The situation, as some Kashmir experts feel, is worse than in 1990 when the militancy was at its height.
Almost three generations of Kashmiris have now seen militancy, and most of their children had missed their childhood growing up in a state of fear and frustration which is why the Burhan Wanis have sprung up. Today, they are proud to be stone-pelters and even ready to die. Even women and school going children are out on the streets.
Why is this state of affairs? The first is that the first ever PDP-BJP coalition government has not yet settled down though it is almost two and a half years since it came to power. "What's happening now is different (from 1990). It springs from 2014 elections. That election actually didn't satisfy anybody. The BJP was looking at mission 44, and they got 25 seats, PDP was dreaming of 45 seats they got 28 seats. Mufti Sayeed had no option but to tie up with the BJP," said former RAW chief A.S. Daulat in a recent interview. The alliance has just not worked.
Despite all her good intentions, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has not been able to deliver so far. She has too many problems within her party and outside. The first is to keep her party united and the second is to make sure that the BJP-PDP combination worked at the ground level. This has not happened because of the inherent contradictions between the two partners and their ideologies.
The Centre, as well as the State, failed to deal with the consequences of the killing of the Burhan Wani on July 7 last year and the discontent is still simmering with more Burhan Wanis springing up. They failed to engage the frustrated youth. The result is that Pakistan is making use of the resentment.
One was hoping that during the winter, the situation would improve due to the heavy snow in the valley but the militant activities had only increased. What should be worrying is that the local militants are growing in number and are willing to take on the security forces. The second is the level of mass interference during the security operations against the militants. Because of these, the task of the security forces is more difficult as they cannot shoot unarmed people indiscriminately. The result is the confrontation between the youth and the security forces. As the separatist leader Geelani notes that "despite (the government) utilising all its resources and military might during the last 70 years, the issue is there and not an iota of change seems (to have happened) on the ground." He is daring the BJP to hold a referendum.
So what is the solution? The future looks bleak unless there is some out of the box thinking. Former Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General D.S. Hooda had pointed out recently that if the people are not on the side of the government nothing can be done. He merely echoed what Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel said in 1948 that "Some people consider that a Muslim majority area must necessarily belong to Pakistan. They wonder why we are in Kashmir. The answer is plain and straightforward. We are in Kashmir because the people of Kashmir want us to be there. "
Secondly, there is a fundamental difference in their approach for a solution. While Mehbooba feels that dialogue is the only way out, the BJP wants a muscular policy and believes that the violence is only due to Pakistan, ISI, or ISIS and so repression should be intensified. The Centre is not willing to resume dialogue with Pakistan demanding that Pakistan interference should be stopped before that.
Ultimately, as many Kashmir experts believe, the solution is political. "Kashmir is a political issue and needs to be resolved on first priority so that people in the state can live in peace," claims National Conference president Farooq Abdullah. "As long as its resolution is delayed, the situation is bound to deteriorate further instead of getting back on track." The other two stakeholders – the Congress and the National Conference are busy faulting the Centre and the state government.
It is true that it is not easy to find a solution in a day, but the government should explore available options. The path ahead is not bright. There are many expert committee reports on Kashmir, which needs to be looked again. Back channel negotiations with Pakistan should also be resumed. There should be efforts to involve all stake-holders and political parties. Before all these, confidence-building measures need to be taken to assuage the feelings of the Kashmiris. The Centre seems to think that brutal force of the security forces is the solution while the problem lies elsewhere. It is crying for a political settlement. It is imperative that the Centre and the State governments should ensure at least there is no escalation of violence. Mehbooba needs the unstinted support from the Centre if she has to succeed and adopt a healing touch to assuage the feelings of the hurt youth.