New Delhi must demonstrate sensitivness to Kashmir’s grievances

Kashmir-grievancesIndia would have faced far greater criticism of its handling of the outbreak in Kashmir if the international scene was calmer.

With the US embroiled in its own racial militancy, France reeling under repeated terrorist attacks (Nice being the latest), Turkey facing a coup and most other European countries still grappling with the economic and social consequences of Brexit, not much attention has been paid to the violence in Kashmir as may have been expected.

It took four days for the US and the UN to react after Pakistan predictably told the Security Council members that the upsurge was not India’s “internal affair”.

There is little doubt, however, that if the situation is not quickly brought under control, there will be widespread disquiet about the frenzied protests in the valley which have underlined the continuing alienation of ordinary Kashmiris from the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar.

The situation has been complicated by the fact that although the leader of the ruling coalition in Srinagar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has its roots in the Valley unlike its junior partner, the BJP, it has been unable to effectively reach out to the people.

The reason for this failure is the high level of anger and disenchantment of the locals against the “establishment”, even if the latter includes Kashmiri representatives, including Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who belongs to the younger generation and has been credited with being a good communicator by her political rival, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

However, if Mehbooba has been relatively silent and seemingly clueless about how to deal with the crisis, the explanation is not only her youth and administrative inexperience but the breakdown of communications between the politicians and the people.

It is possible that even reaching out to the separatists of the Hurriyat conference — hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq — as has been done by the government, will not be of much help since the popular anger over the killing of the young militant, Burhan Muzzafar Wani, has acquired a momentum of its own.

It goes without saying that the death of a popular rebel — JNU student leader Umar Khalid has compared Wani to Che Guevara — can pose problems well beyond the capability of the trigger-happy security forces to solve. In death, the 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen “commander” has acquired a larger-than-life image.

Ironically, he was called an Indian agent not long ago because he was allowed to post pictures and videos on Facebook when such acts of other militants were censored. Now, the truth about his real identity will never be known.

The fallout would have been less violent if Wani had been arrested and not killed. It will be a pity if the killing represents a new line of thinking on counter-insurgency operations which generally steered clear of extreme measures in order to avoid turning militants into martyrs in the eyes of the local population.

What Wani’s killing and the deaths of more than 30 protesters have shown yet again is that high-handed action is not the solution to the unrest in Kashmir. All that it can do is to exacerbate the situation, leading to the knee-jerk reaction of the authorities to send more and more paramilitary personnel.

As the Supreme Court’s criticism of the immunity provided to the security forces by the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act even in “war-like” situations suggests, the government has to be far more restrained in trouble-prone areas. Otherwise, the disenchantment of the locals cannot but intensify.

In Kashmir, the difficulty is that there is no one for the government to talk to in order to defuse the situation. The protesters are a leaderless mob. Reaching out to them will be a fruitless exercise, especially when the government’s dependence on the insensitive and unpopular police and paramilitary forces undermines official and political bona fides. The services of local politicians can be utilized, but they will either be too scared or will hedge their bets about their sympathies.

The Hurriyat might have been of some help. But, as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has said, the government seeks help from the organization when in trouble but treats it like a pariah in normal times. The governments in Delhi and Srinagar may decide to wait, therefore, for the storm to blow over.

But what the two governments will have to realize is that throwing money at the Kashmiris in the name of development while building bunkers for the security forces, which remind Kashmiris of their vulnerability, will not bring peace.

Instead, the security forces have to be far less visible. Their operations will also have to be targeted mainly at the infiltrators from Pakistan while the use of excessive force against local suspects will have to be discouraged.

Such restraints may not immediately defang the jehadis, inspired as they are by ISIS and Pakistani propaganda. But the average people may begin to distance themselves from the extremists.

Since a political solution, which means drawing the stiff-necked, pro-Pakistani separatists into the mainstream, is not feasible in the foreseeable future, Delhi and Srinagar, especially the former, have to demonstrate their sensitiveness to the grievances of the locals which is mainly directed at the security forces.

Medaram Jathara

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