Neros watch as Kashmir burns

By Anis Ahmad
Since the beginning of armed insurgency in Kashmir Valley in the late 1980s, there has hardly been any long stretch of time when the violence has subsided. However, before the beginning of the present new wave of protests, there was a lull, and a considerably longer one. The phase of quiet, of peace, was suddenly disrupted with widespread protests over the killings of young, school-going boys. For some time it has been noticed that the forces in Kashmir valley are targeting the Kashmiri youth. The short period of peace was lost in a matter of days. More than a dozen young boys have been killed by security forces since January 2010. At the time when it was being assumed that militancy in the State is gradually subsiding, the valley is witnessing protests and killings once again. The valley is in flames.

 The present scenario is that the entire valley looks like a war zone. On the one front there are the paramilitary forces, armed not only with sophisticated weapons but also with the draconian "Armed Forces Special Powers Act" which allows them to kill small kids as old as 9 or 10 and, on the other hand are the "brutal stone-pelting youth" who deserve no less punishment than being killed in cold blood for their unpardonable crime. Ironically, the same forces are "reluctant" to act against the Maoist insurgents in Bengal, western Bihar, Jharkhand. Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh because they do not want to take any strict action against their "own people". This attitude projects a very clear image. People in Kashmir are/were never "our own people". They are Kashmiris, they are Muslims, and they are pro-Pakistan!  

The State agencies, time and again, issue advisory to the forces involved in the state to exercise self-control specially when dealing with the protesting mobs, but protests, in fact, occur at the second stage. Protests are the result of high-handedness, often a brutal action taken by the forces normally resulting in a death. Often when there are small pickets of police constables or men from paramilitary forces, the local boys do indulge in teasing them or provoking them, but from a safe distance. It is in such instances that the men in uniform display an extraordinary intolerance. Their attitude changes to that of "have weapons, will kill". In such cases, those who get killed are innocents.

The side effects of such depressing scenario are serious. For one, these developments fuel strong anti-India sentiments among the Kashmiri people who had lost trust in the government in New Delhi two decades ago. New Delhi still tows its own line of tackling the volatile situation in Kashmir. It still feels that it can curb menace of terrorism by using excessive force and pointing its iron fist!

In 2008, a row pertaining to the acquisition of land to build facilities for the Amarnath pilgrims took a very ugly turn and turned into widespread protests by Kashmir Muslims. Jammu, a part of J&K, and a predominantly Hindu majority region retaliated ferociously. It took a long time for the tempers on both the sides to cool down. The summer of 2009 also saw similar agitations when the bodies of two young Kashmiri girls were discovered. The valley was on the boil once again because the locals believed that both the women were raped and thereafter murdered by the security force personnel.

The valley has seen the killings of more than a dozen young boys since January 2010. The J&K Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, has expressed his concern over these incidents. But, at the level of governance, things have not worked the way Omar Abdullah would have anticipated. With all his experience as MP and his stint as Minister of State for External Affairs, it was expected that he, as a young, energetic and experienced politician would emerge as a role model and an example of youth power. That, however, did not happen. At the time of crises, he did not, or could not show the required maturity and leadership qualities. Moreover, his failure to make his team of ministers work in tandem has also proved to be a big handicap.

The obvious result of the State government’s failure is that the state has been witnessing crises after crises. The separatists have once again become active and are trying to exploit the situation to fulfil their own agenda by launching agitations after agitations. There is no denying the fact that agitations lead to more and more protests and street battles. Presently, the situation has become so critical that the army has been asked to take charge. It is conducting Flag March in the disturbed areas.

It is high time that the Chief Minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, asserts his authority and grasp over the highly inflammable situation in the State. What he needs to do is to be assertive in his decisions and actions. One cannot squarely blame the elements in Kashmir alone for problems in the state as Mr. Abdullah too is responsible for many acts of commission and omission. He has to show more maturity in handling the situation instead of losing his cool and allowing his opponents to exploit the situation.

Kashmir, today, needs effective governance and not gimmicks. Abdullah has very earnestly appealed to the youth in the valley to exercise restraint so that incidents of violent confrontations could be avoided. While this is a welcome step, at the same time it is necessary for the Central government also to ask the paramilitary forces, especially the CRPF, not to overreact.

So far, the Centre’s efforts at curbing militant activities, stopping infiltration of trained militants and weaponry from across the border have not yielded any positive results. Also its efforts towards initiating trade across the Line of Control (LoC) as also movement of Kashmiri people have not borne any results. All the more it has been blamed for serious and grievous human rights violations in the State. If the Centre falters further, there is a danger that some of the positive gains that it has made, like holding two free and fair elections in the state, the latter marking a record turnout despite calls for boycott from the separatists will, in all likelihood, be washed away.

As such, the Centre needs to play a pro-active role in Kashmir at this point of time, especially when thousands of people from outside Kashmir will converge in the state to perform the holy pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave. There is, no doubt, a large presence in the state of elements that would use every opportunity to create new flash points in the Valley to keep the so-called Kashmir issue alive. Any untoward incident involving the pilgrims and the militants will have serious consequences.   

Now that the dialogue with Pakistan has resumed, it is time that India takes a tough stance. The Indian government should not only press the Pakistan government to bring to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, but it should also tell them in no uncertain terms to stop infiltrating trained militants and sophisticated weaponry into Indian territory through its border in J&K. These are some of the very serious issues and India needs to convey to its not-so-serious neighbour that enough is enough and we mean business now! 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2010 on page no. 1

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