Kashmir: Why are we where we are?

After 2007, we were in a conflict stabilizing phase as a lot of peace dividend was in hand, generated from 2002 to 2008.
Kashmir: Why are we where we are?
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In the previous column, I analyzed the implications of a weak state government in a politically sensitive state and argued that there is no reason why the institution of state government in Jammu Kashmir should suffer erosion in its power and prestige. In this write-up, we need to look at other factors that have pushed Kashmir into a situation where the fury and anger of the youth declines to recede. Martin Luther King Jr in a different context said" they fear each other because they don't know each other, they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other". Whereas the land row was the immediate provocation in 2008 and Machill fake encounter in 2010, what is puzzling in 2016 is the emergence of a new wave of militancy. This surely needs an analysis so as to understand its various dimensions. After 2007, we were in a conflict stabilizing phase as a lot of peace dividend was in hand, generated from 2002 to 2008. This escaped the attention of the policy pundits at different levels as if this peace infrastructure had come out of the blue. We did not fully appreciate the type of scenario emerging due to the peace activity and could have easily converted it into some immediate benefits. We could have reconstructed the Kashmir polity through the mechanism of transitional justice, leading to ultimate resolution of problems.

 Positive Atmospherics 

During the period of peace activity (2002-2007), a positive atmosphere was created in which many issues were discussed in a candid manner. Militants realized that the search for an identity did not need to entail recourse to violence and that it could more effectively be pursued in a peaceful environment and through the instrumentality of dialogue. The state actors in India and Pakistan were working towards the resolution of the problems rather differently by making the politics of the dispute disappear. It was done consciously knowing that the religious right in both countries wants to turn the conflict millenarian. According to US cables released by wiki leaks, General Musharraf made it clear to Hurriyat leaders not to expect India to pull out its troops from the valley. Here in Kashmir, Hurriyat leaders contributed to the new scenario building. Mirwaiz Umer asked the Indian people not to look at Kashmir through the Pakistan Prism. About electoral politics, Syed Salhudin stated that militants would not scuttle the Panchayat elections in Kashmir. Prof. Abdul Gani Bhatt claimed in a seminar that "If you want the people to be free from sentimentalism, you have to speak the truth". Senior Hurriet leader Syed Ali Geelani said on many occasions, "Kashmiris are not against India's integrity. We want India and Pakistan to prosper. Government of India has choked political space in Kashmir". At a different plane inter-community dialogues between Kashmiri pundits and Muslims were held and the feeling among participants from two communities was that we are united by our victimhood but divided by states. The security situation in the valley also started improving. The then core commander of Chinar corps General Atta Hasnanian introduced familiarization capsules for incoming army units at 15 corps battle school at Khrew (unlike in July, 2016 when forces landed in Kashmir and started shooting in Pulwama  without any knowledge of the area). Army men were asked to address people in Kashmir as Jenab, Begum, Muhataram, etc. All this could have been channelized towards crafting a new polity. Kashmir came a long way forward from its painful past and the time was ripe for conciliatory politics. There was a need for sustainable political engagement, not a strategy influenced by spy and security agencies. The immediate benefits of the political engagement for the people could have been delivered through the process of transitional justice, leading to the restoration of rule of law, ending the culture of impunity, disbanding of illegal entities, rejuvenation of corruption free administration, release of political prisoners, rehabilitation of widows and orphans and many other positive ends. This, unfortunately, was not done. It took the army three and half years to constitute a court of inquiry for the fake encounter of April 30, 2010. The timing of the announcement of court martial ruling was a ploy to defuse the tension building after the Budgam killings on November 3, 2014 when two youths were killed at Chattergam. The other objective was that it may also have given some impetus to the election campaign of the Bhartiya Janta Party in its determined campaign of 44 plus seats in 2014 elections in Kashmir. The theoretical explanation for inaction is provided by that great theoretician of twentieth century Antonio Gramsci who wrote, "In diplomacy and war status-quo powers [India in this case] usually engage in wars of position, they adhere to well-defined negotiating planks, battle lines and so on. Unpredictability is their hallmark, inflexibility their burden".  While all this was going on, nobody had the time and foresight to see the rapid rise of the youth power and its impact on conflict in Kashmir The great lesson drawn from conflict areas around the world is that societies having experienced conflict stabilization for some time have often dissolved into violence again because elections were held but institutions were manipulated. 

Youth Bulge

 Preoccupation with political conflict had its own consequences. The global, regional and local changes were occurring at enormous speed in economy, demography, technology with implications on politics, society and polity. One such issue, about which we suddenly became conscious, is the youth bulge. It is true that, in our larger neighborhood, other places are also confronting the youth related problems, but, in our case, not much attention was paid to it considering the fact that the conflict is happening in a dependent and non-performing economy where people have a deep sense of injustice. Jammu and Kashmir is demographically endowed. While, in the rest of India, 30 percent population falls within the age group of 15 to 30 years, it is 40 percent in case of J&K with a 57 percent young electorate. The needs and aspirations of the educated youth found expression in our print media only after 2008 and 2010 when they challenged the existing political order. The people and institutions having vested interest in the conflict had no reason to worry about the youth and their future. The political class in our part of the world usually is concerned with immediate and ultimate slips out from their imagination. The situation in  our higher  educational institutions in the valley  is reminiscent of the situation in Baghdad many centuries ago when learned clerics were debating the possibility of a camel's passage through the head of a needle while a Mongol horde was about to sack the capital of the great empire. Never ever have we tried to understand the causes of social disintegration, not to talk of offering hope to young people? Our educational system is unmarketable. Our youth possess high degree of political awareness and are deprived of any legitimate space to deliberate and discuss political issues both local and global. In the post- 1953 Kashmir barber's shop would carry a type of statutory warning that "Yehan Siyasi Guftago Karna Mana Hai" (discussing politics is prohibited here).Unfortunately in an age of so called democracy the warning is now inscribed on the walls of our educational institutions and mercifully the barber shop and small street has become the space where life in future Kashmir can at least be discussed by the kashmiri youth not through academic argument but by the force of a stone. The tragedy of our youth is that when they protest against administrative inefficiencies, unfair appointments, wasteful expenditure and corruption they are accused as Hurriyat supporters but when they pelt stones outside the same youth become freedom fighters. Rarely do we understand that rebellions generally are started by the hopefuls not the abject poor. The heads of our higher educational institutions are invested with a responsibility to provide a platform to the youth so that causes of social disintegration can be discussed by them. They need to provide inspiring causes to the youth and also create an environment where potentialities of future can be discussed.  In a different part of the globe, studies show that one-third of the East-Asian miracle growth can be attributed to the demographic dividend .The state government in Jammu and Kashmir  in alliance with the union did formulate certain schemes which could have proved helpful had these been fine-tuned with the passage of time. The advent of an increasing prominent global startup culture can to a certain extent help address problems  and allow youth to directly channel creativity into tangible initiatives. Some experts working on Kashmir have been suggesting that the state needs to move from the physical plane to mental plane and  the shift has to be from critical domain to psychological domain, which is people specific. Concern was also expressed for moribund Kashmiri language and culture although very often this new crop of cultural purists ignore that a knowledge society cannot be created merely by shedding tears for local languages. A knowledge society is where mind replaces the muscle; intellectual property rather than the physical property is the crucial component of that society. The fact of the matter is that youth bulge is positively correlated to political volatility and in our case no one needs to manufacture a political problem for the youth. Scholarly literature hints at links between political violence and increase in the number of young adult males. A large youth population can boost economy, but poorly performing economies with weak governance structures in a  conflict place like Kashmir  may lead to cycles of violence. 

 Discernible Shift in Militancy

During 2008-9, there was a shift in the nature of armed militancy when it shifted to mass unarmed protests. Today it has changed into a somewhat native armed militancy and Burhan Wani, in many of his expressions before and after his killing, defines the nature and direction of this militancy. Its forceful expression is noticeable by the presence of near about two lakh people who joined his funeral and also the fact that, in a largely fortified area like Tral, Hizbul  Mujahideen was able to  give twenty-one gun salutes at the time of his burial. This phase of militancy is called as "Selfie Militancy'' because of their presence on cyber space, social media and on popular websites. The big change that has taken place in the past 60 years is that one does not actually have to join the mass movement any more. Following it online and participating remotely suffices these days. Many of these militants have no proven record of notoriety. They are fairly informed about happenings in Kashmir and at the global level. Their real weapons are face book images. They ensure safety of Hindu pilgrims and religious minorities. They have zero tolerance for indignity and humiliation unlike youth of 1990,s. They reportedly are not getting involved in local social or domestic disputes. But the youth are emerging from a sturdy Kashmir social structure which over the years is in a state of decay. Many of these youth denigrate the present where oppression is way of life, celebrate a glorious past (about which they have heard only) and believe that ultimate truth lies in another realm. In rural Kashmir I have heard youth describing life in the valley as uninspiring pit. The image of Indian state as an ultimate enemy had been somewhat blurred during 2003-07. It is now back with many possible violent repercussions. The most dangerous tendency amongst the young population is that they have lost the fear of death. There is also an aspiration for martyrdom. The new militants enjoy support in all groups of population, particularly the youth. "The average Kashmiri views these militants not as proxy warriors of a neighbor but as sons of soil fighting against the everyday humiliation heaped on Kashmiri by the perceived oppressor that is the Indian state and its representatives in the valley," reports Indian Express on April 25, 2016.At many places where encounters take place people come out openly in support of the holed up militants. It was because of this that the army warned people to refrain from protesting at the sites of operations failing which the army would be constrained to initiate an appropriate action. This statement came from Srinagar based 15 corps Lt. General Satish Dua. Earlier in March, the state government banned assembly of civilians in a radius of two and half Km of such locations. The former national security advisor Mr MK Narayan wrote in an article in the Hindu "the valley got a new set of martyrs .The tendency on the part of Kashmiri  youth to attend funerals of militants and hold cricket matches  for trophies named after prominent militants has grave connotations for peace and tranquility in the state. The absence of decisive leadership in Srinagar is also a factor. The agenda of alliance is a non-starter. There is clear ideological divide". Earlier a fact-finding report prepared by Virnda Grover and Ravi Hemadri in 2010 concluded, "around 120 youth have lost life in highly unequal street contests. The stones have moral capacity to shock and disturb. It is a weapon of choice for a people that seem simply unwilling to accept defeat even in the face of all coercive might deployed against them".

 The youth, I have heard without any surprise, follow no leader. But, the only surprise for someone like the author of this article, hailing from the South Kashmir, is why these young people mostly have made their powerful appearance from the South, which is supposed to be home to political pluralism and what political scientists describe as the rational political culture? Hope that people manning the organizational apparatuses of mainstream political parties particularly the Peoples Democratic Party provide a better answer.

The author is teaching political Science at the University of Kashmir.

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