Policy beyond guns
In dire need of a political solution, militancy in Kashmir can only be curbed with sincere outreach
While Pakistan needs to be taught a lesson for sponsoring terrorist attacks in Kashmir, there is also a need to address the Kashmir problem internally. There is no doubt that there are many things which need attention including radicalisation of youth in the state. It is indeed sad to hear that it was a local young suicide bomber who caused the Pulwama attack, which needs further probing as to why the misguided youth are being attracted to militancy and terrorism.
For some time now there is an intense debate, whether a sizeable number of educated youth are joining militant ranks in some parts of south and north Kashmir. As former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha notes that the radicalisation is not because of one reason, but it is a combination of things. This includes the role of Pakistan, Wahabism and Islamic fundamentalism. Alienation is another factor as also the proxy war from Pakistan's side, for the youth getting recruited by the militant organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammad. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sponsored propaganda and intolerant religious and ideological narratives have been instrumental in eroding the ideals of 'Kashmiriyat' and gradually taking them towards jihadist culture.
As former chief of the Army staff Bikram Singh has noted in a recent article that compared to 131 youth who joined various terrorist outfits in 2017, the number in 2018 rose to over 200. Some new terrorist outfits, such as ISIS-Kashmir and Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind aligned to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Qaeda ideologies, have also grown in the past few years.
Experts point out that these are the children from the conflict zone, who have seen guns and rifles on the streets when they were growing up. They missed their childhood and had seen only violence and conflict, which robbed them of their childhood. The second thing is lack of educational opportunities. Thirdly, they do not find adequate jobs.
Former RAW chief A S Daulat feels that they are getting radicalised because they feel that they have no hope. The Jamaat-e-Islami is going about systematically. They also had the support of PDP, which won the elections with the support of the Jamaat. Now, there is huge disillusionment in the Jamaat over PDP. Social media was one of the major tools the militants use to propagate their ideology and to corrupt young minds in the Valley.
The only way to reverse this is to bring them around. There is a pressing need to look inwards and correct things, as even now it is not too late. The fact that a Kashmiri youth decided to be a suicide bomber in Pulwama shows this is the answer from them to the flawed Kashmir policy of gun. The young boy was one of those who felt he had no hope left in Kashmir. His father is a farmer and the boy was shot in the leg some time back perhaps for pelting stones on the streets. So he decided to blow himself up. This attack shows the extent of extreme alienation of youth.
Counter-narrative is the immediate requirement and the government as well as the political parties should address this on a priority. The Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik told me that after six in the evening there is no activity in the villages and to address this he has started cinema, radio shows and some sports activities for the young to keep them occupied. It is a welcome step that the Governor has already set up some groups for a counter-narrative and also talking to Maulvis to get them on board in tackling fundamentalism. Governor Malik feels that the mainstream politicians are not taking responsibility. The hardcore radicals are not many and he had told the forces to address the problem of homegrown radicalisation. He is worried that the youth are talking of 'Jannat me jaane ka hai' language.
The immediate thing is to set our house in order. More guns are not the answer, but something else needs to be tried. Kashmir experts like Daulat feel radicalisation could be reversed if proper measures are taken. As a first step, the Centre could talk to the state leaders like Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, and even Hurriyat as you really can't talk to the suicide bombers. The next should be installation of a popular government as a democratic government is a real answer to settle things in the state and not the Governor's rule. Above all, there is immediate need to calm down the sentiments and bring back normalcy in the state. Confidence building measures are needed and bashing up the Kashmiri boys and girls in Chandigarh or elsewhere is not the answer, as it would further alienate the Kashmiri youth. This would have further reaction in the state. In short, what is needed is a steady and long- term Kashmir policy.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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