Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 09 April 2018
Gains by security forces have prepared the ground yet again in Kashmir to initiate enduring peace. There is surely a need of vigorous socio-political initiatives in Kashmir to capitalize the gains of security forces. The urgency is palpable and any further delay will be detrimental.
The overall situation in Kashmir is at an important crossroads. Indian Army along with the JKP and CAPF has successfully succeeded in managing internal security situation in Kashmir and the situation is now manageable. In the year 2017, a total of 213 terrorists were killed, which is the highest in last seven years. The appointment of Interlocutor has been a welcome step, common populaces have been interacting with their grievances and many interactions have been intense and extremely inclusive. Along the Line of Control, there has been a swell in cease fire violations (CFVs), infiltration attempts and so has been killing of infiltrators. In the hinterland, the terrorists are targeting soft targets like Security Forces bases and convoys. The sentiments of the local population are being exploited by Separatists and inimical elements to whip up passion and to destabilize the democratic institutions. Increased radicalization and agitational dynamics supported by social media campaign have thrown novel challenges to Security Forces. The NIA actions against the leadership of the Hurriyat has squeezed their activity and restricted their operating space and support base.
But the sense is that the current situation is definitely manageable. In most parts of Kashmir, people are fed up with terrorism and the society is badly traumatized due to violence. However, current situation is apt for civil governance to take vigorous initiatives and unless these are taken, we shall be wasting the gains. There is need of political vision which propels the national interest and is not at conflict with development and people.
In the recent past, mass uprising and protests were witnessed in Kashmir. After Machhil encounter 112 civilian deaths resulted, during Amaranth Shrine land agitation and now after killing of Burhan Wani 90 civilian deaths were caused. The first two actually took place at short intervals and can be considered happening in one cycle. But the latest protests after July 2016 have happened after relative peace of six years. This was the time when security forces had restored normalcy in the valley and political dialogue, good governance and mature statesmanship by leaders could have led to finding a lasting solution, but the golden opportunity was squandered.
The present situation wants us to do some serious thinking, to inspire every investment needed for socio-political initiatives so that Kashmir has enduring peace. If not done, then we will be left with cycles of violence wherein security forces and people of Kashmir shall remain the only two stakeholders. Is such a state acceptable? Surely this will be disastrous.
By an estimate, number of youth joining militancy in 2017 was 126, and this was 88 in 2016. From 2010 to 2015, there were few local militants, but post-Burhan wani elimination, the situation has changed. There has been growing public support to local militants. Some good students and a few boys from well-to-do families have joined terrorism. Funerals have been glamourised. There is little political outreach to these misguided youth and on the opposite, glamorized funerals and glorifying terrorism have given the Separatists the desired political capital.
Demographic disaster is palpable in Kashmir as 60% of population is the youth below 30 years. In the absence of any inspiring socio-political discourse, they are seeking inspiration either from the narrative of glorified terrorism or from social–media. With night life at naught, entertainment avenues just non-existent, social-media attracts hyper-activity and persuasive Pak-sponsored propaganda material.
Security forces and political establishment appear to have only one agenda of reducing number of terrorists either by killing, dissuading recruitment or stopping infiltration from across. Currently it appears that governance is just about managing protests and probably not ensuring governance. Political set-up must take initiative and lay down the preeminent and inclusive agenda.
Humane approach is surely needed. But if any militant chooses violence, is an enemy of the state, hence must be neutralised. Of course if any terrorist wants to surrender, he must be encouraged. Relentless kinetic operations to shorten life span of terrorists are good deterrence and many sons have responded to the call of their families. Government must be alive to it and must keep security forces duly motivated for relentless kinetic operations.
The Separatists will surely reject such socio-political initiatives and offers as they are used to pampering by Indian state and money from Pakistan. Their loyalties are with Pakistan and even their kins are part of propaganda machinery. Recent video of Mushaal Malik is one such example. But they are now ignorable lot. The effect of propaganda is even more glaring once a fifteen year girls shouts azaadi. Does she have an idea of azaadi? Political initiatives are a crying need to convince people of what Kashmir should become. There is need to change mindsets and confirm realities. The youth need to be explained that azaadi is never possible.
Dineshwar Sharma, the central government’s interlocutor for Kashmir is the first interlocutor to have been granted an official status. This conveys the message that the Government is serious. However speed is of essence. A long unending dialogue may get the frustration back in a much uglier form.
Youth must be engaged at length with full confidence and honesty. They are children of violence, have seen radicalization from birth, brainwashed that Kashmir is different from India and azaadi is possible. They haven’t grown and their aspirations don’t see beyond sloganeering and stone-pelting. Aspirations need to be infused into them and also due processes are required to be initiated for their growth.
Growth of Kashmir story is not inspiring. Other states have grown indeed. There is lack of development, opportunities and globally acceptable education. The pent-up anger against Government is partially justified. This shall wane away if youth are engaged. The protests prove that there is disruption of communication between political set-up and the people. There is feeling of alienation which has been exploited by Imams, Maulvis and of course Pakistan.
Government must dissuade disruptive forces but must engage proactively with all section of population, setting up preeminent agenda, institutionalize development projects, modernize education and infuse life and dreams among people. Terrorism has come down and security forces will do the needful through relentless kinetic operations may be many times over. But to ensure enduring peace, Government will have to undertake vigorous socio-political initiatives. Government has no choice but to restore connect at the grass root level, accelerate development and infrastructure and may undertake some populist developmental scheme as well. Media campaign to say the truth and laud an inclusive Government is indispensible.
Government can’t leave governmental initiatives to military hence must take ownership of people. If done, sanity will prevail and if Government yet again fails to initiate vigorous socio-political initiatives then obviously freefall of Kashmir into abyss shall continue. Government must not let it happen.
Shailesh Kumar is an independent journalist with over 15 years of experience in crime, political and defence reporting for leading media brands including Star News, India TV and NewsX. He is the founder editor of defence and security news portal and web channel, National Defence.