Lessons not learnt
The deliberation over how to contain a restive Kashmir valley remains an inconclusive intellectual engagement of little consequence.
On July 8, 2016, Indian security forces successfully eliminated a most-wanted local commander, Burhan Wani, in Kashmir valley. Wani, a poster boy of new-age militancy, belonged to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, an indigenous Kashmiri separatist group, and a designated a terrorist organisation. However, the matter that demands attention and grave consideration is what followed his death, and even after one year, has not come to rest. The situation thenceforth escalated, ultimately calling for the deployment of the most extreme methods of crowd-control. Plenty of reports indicate how the situation was inexcusably manhandled and mismanaged. The deliberation over how to contain a restive Kashmir valley remains an inconclusive intellectual engagement of little consequence.
Barring the single exception of Tamil Nadu, the nation largely remained silent and rather indifferent to the strife-torn valley. But not our notorious neighbour. Pakistan, with its sinister intentions, was quick to seize the opportunity to feign sympathy for the people of the valley. The decision to mark a Black Day to honour the slain militant came instantly, and although mere tokenism, the formality was accomplished by Pakistan. Cricket matches between India and Pakistan have Kashmir taking sides, thereby giving away their affinity in terms of nationality to the rest of the nation. So what does this point to? A sense of belongingness which the Indian Union has been consistently failing to develop and encourage in Kashmir.
While Pakistan may unjustifiably feel entitled to have a say in matters pertaining to Kashmir, it is for India to be firm and stern about its domestic disputes. The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is a distinct militant outfit which, unlike militancy from previous times, recruits local Kashmiri youth that are not trained in Pakistan but in the jungles of Kashmir. Hence, the surge of these rebel activities and curbing them is very much within India's reach and responsibility. This crop of indigenous militants is a product of the palpable vacuum in Kashmir for which both state and Central governments are responsible. But here lies the catch. Owning up to negligence and a situation gone out of control is political suicide that no establishment, national or regional, will risk doing. And the fact is that over the course of seven decades, the prominent national parties of imposing stature have ignored ample opportunities to effectively resolve the Kashmir dispute - the leftover form the Partition. So they have practically no one to blame but themselves.
Recognising the problem and diagnosing it correctly is the first step to its resolution. The problem per se is not militancy but what leads to it. Numerous stories of youth joining militant ranks have one thing in common: general discontent - the reason for which is not their family or immediate social environment. This discontent comes from the extremes of a militarised (and clandestinely politicised) environment. Criminalising sympathy for militants will only glorify militancy and instigate more youth to turn to it. Constructively engaging youth and nurturing their aspirations will keep them from being distracted and straying away to militancy. Getting them to go to other parts of India, primarily for education, is a mutually beneficial way integrating Kashmiris with other Indians.
As far as the presence of security forces goes, it runs counter to its very purpose. Militarily, it has been a remarkable feat to keep the region held together. The ill-treatment allegedly meted out to Kashmiri civilians by the security forces is a difficult thing to monitor given that the military has been made to do what is not its job – handle civilian situations. A territory with people, potential, and resources needs more than being kept together. It has to thrive, just like any other place and people. And this can be made possible not by the military's competence but by effective governance. The government of Jammu and Kashmir ought to be proactive and forthcoming in dispensing its duties. Banning social media at the drop of a hat out of fear of uprising is only provocative, not preventive. Making a case of the historical blunder and its promise of self-determination which is redundant in the current context does not pass the entire responsibility to the Centre.
Law and order is a state subject. Therefore, it is for the Jammu and Kashmir state government to manage their preventable crises and not turn to the Centre for 'intervention' which will eventually only compound matters. A relevant instance to quote here is GreyHounds, a special force established in undivided Andhra Pradesh to tackle the menace of Naxalism. The problem of Naxalism persists but Andhra Pradesh has effectively contained it. States of the Indian Union are granted enough powers to function as near-autonomous entities. Jammu and Kashmir, with its special status, is not bereft of such powers. It is only a matter of political will to implement tough measures.
The Centre has an inevitable role to play as Jammu and Kashmir is a border state. This does not mean shared responsibility; this means clearly divided responsibilities, the fulfilment of which must not conflict one another. With a progressive Jammu and a developing Ladakh, the deteriorating situation in the Valley (with its geostrategic significance) does not bode well for India's popular secular and nationalistic character. Decades of indifference has inadvertently led to the alienation of a once self-sufficient and enterprising people. Dumping packages of measures to band-aid a festering crisis instead of devising a solid result-oriented policy will be of no real consequence. Holding on to a territory without caring for the people who inhabit it cannot guarantee possession of it for long. Burhan Wani's death has brought to the fore not just different aspects of the contemporary Kashmir issue, but also possible ways resolving them and restoring a long-awaited peace.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal.)