Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2016-07-18 11:07:39 Published on Jul 18, 2016
Delhi must act to address #Kashmir turmoil

The world is changing. Power is shifting eastwards towards China and India, and is being diffused downwards to non-state actors — including NGOs and terrorists. But what we are witnessing these days is something far more dramatic, and frightening. The events in Turkey, the massacre in Nice, Brexit, and the verdict against China in the UNCLOS tribunal, are just the latest evidence that the world is not just changing, but being turned upside down.

This could well be the first sign of a different, more difficult world, with jobless growth, a broken global trading system, and Islamism going rogue across the world. Even worse, it’s also about being blindsided, as people certainly were with Brexit and the rise of the Islamic State. However, India — even with its usual chaos — is an oasis of calm where economic growth still means growth above 6 percent. Where it is politics as usual, though with a dangerous edge of majoritarian grievance.

Alarm bells are certainly ringing across the country, but none so loudly as the ones in Jammu and Kashmir. A superficial glance would suggest that the events rocking the state have become routine. After a bout of curfew and repression, things will settle down to the kind of uneasy peace that has prevailed through the past decade and a half.

But the eruption that took place after the killing of Burhan Wani needs to be analysed in careful detail.

The significant pockets of separatist activity across the Valley are well known. They have manifested their presence in the markedly lower voter turnout of constituencies in and around Srinagar, Sopur, Baramulla or Anantnag, and separatist leaders can bring the Valley to a halt through strike action. Men carrying guns are still a regular sight in the Valley, despite a reduction recently. Besides the neo-Hizbul Mujahideen, with its penchant for self-publicity, there are small groups of Pakistanis who are remote-controlled by the ISI.

Events in 2008 — the protest against the land transfer to the Amarnath yatra shrine board, and in 2010 — the Machhil fake killing of three innocents by army personnel — led to a popular upsurge where protesters adopted the dangerous tactic of pelting security forces with stones. Eventually more than 150 people were killed in the police shootings that were used to control the protesters.

In both instances, there appeared to be reasonable grounds for civil protest, which was subsequently manipulated by militants like Masrat Alam to become violent. In the latest instance, the death of a militant has triggered the clashes.

Wani lived by the sword, and perhaps unsurprisingly died by it. There are all kinds of dark hints to suggest that he was extra-judicially executed. But Kashmir is a place where rumours flourish, often because of the ham-fisted way the government attempts to control the narrative.

The danger that we see is not so much from Wani and his associates, but the mood that has persuaded thousands of protesters to brave the security forces' bullets. In an era where Islamist radicalism has mutated so sharply in states like Iraq and Syria, you cannot be too careful. That is why New Delhi needs to pay more attention to J&K than it has previously.

Read | Kashmir: Government need to do more than slogans

There are three elements of the Kashmir problem: One is the need for a discussion with Pakistan to resolve the outstanding dispute, and a second is the vital need for New Delhi to address the sense of grievance in the Valley. In both areas, little or nothing is happening on the NDA-II watch. Thirdly, the security forces have done all they can to bring armed militancy to heel in the state. But despite the experience of 2008 and 2010, the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar have not been able to develop a professional police force equipped and trained to deal with crowds.

A CRPF constable trained to fight Maoists armed with AK-47s cannot switch personalities when dealing with a civil protester throwing stones at him in J&K. Each of these elements is linked to the other. The difficultly lies in synchronising the three.

We often find that the Pakistan part moves ahead, and Srinagar gets forgotten - or some event like Wani’s shooting triggers an uprising which undermines the first two elements. A glance at those injured by pellets would show that most were born after 2000, with little or no memory of the dark days of the state in the 1990s. And like all teens, they seldom really think through consequences. However, they do create them. And that’s why we need to move with some urgency in the state.

This commentary originally appeared in Mail Today.

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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