Kashmir gets out of hand

Funerals of militants have become a public expression of rage and alienation in Kashmir. While the Union home ministry’s official estimate for the number of militants in theKashmir Valley is now a little less than 200, against over 3,500 in the 1990s, the army and paramilitary report an unprecedented rise in local support to insurgency.

This is manifested in efforts by villagers to hamper counter-insurgency operations in the Valley, including by women. Army units have been reporting efforts to snatch weapons, something unprecedented. Earlier north Kashmir used to be the centre of insurgent activity. It is now south Kashmir.

Militants, dead and alive, are present in public consciousness everywhere. Burhan Lions, Aabid Khan Qalandars and Khalid Aryans were the names of cricket teams that played IPL-type matches in south Kashmir this April. These teams were named after militants from the region killed in army action. The cricket matches went ahead as scheduled and neither the police or army tried to disrupt an activity that glorified slain militants.

The latest? Hours after his death, the Pakistan Cricket Board, that held a meeting to discuss cricket issues, passed a resolution mourning the death of 21-year-old “martyr” Burhan Wani, whose funeral has sparked unprecedented protest all over Kashmir.

How did things come to such a pass? Can India retake the initiative in Kashmir?

When full-blown militancy struck Kashmir in the late 1980s, it was considered an assertion of majority sentiment in the only state where Muslims are in a majority. The pattern of economic development in Jammu & Kashmir was also a reason. When he imposed and implemented land reforms, Sheikh Abdullah was, some say, brutal. On the other hand, this also ensured every Kashmiri had a piece of land, however small. And, the means to sustain cottage industries, given that the climate forced families to be house-bound at least four months in a year.

However, young people wanted more. And, the back-end for marketing of pashmina and Kashmiri carpets were not developed in a sustained and committed fashion. Export of fruit from the state suffered from serious deficiencies because roads, highways and bridges were neither enough or of the required quality to evacuate in time for sale in the plains. In neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, the state developed its food processing industry through skilful marketing. In Kashmir, this never took off.

Then, how was the government to engage the young men who were pouring out of their homes in search of jobs and were continually frustrated? “Just consider. If you were born in the mid-1980s, today you will be approaching middle age, with a wife and a family to support, and with no job. What will you do?” asks a serving IAS officer from the state.

In the absence of other gainful employment, the government had to become the principal employer. Thousands of government jobs were created, whether needed or not. Money was thrown at the state, with successive central governments hoping desperately if there was enough money, somehow, militancy would go away. Reviving tourism and the other sources of employment.

That didn’t happen but corruption increased. If a government job was the most prized objective in the life of a Kashmiri, those who could offer him that were more powerful than him. So, whether it was a Class IV employee’s job or of a daily wager, the government became bloated.

State finance minister Haseeb Drabu, in his 2016-17 Budget presented in May this year, was frank about corruption. He cited an example. “An austerity drive was announced a few years earlier. The big cut the finance department enforced was on tea served in offices. The tea never actually stopped but its financing changed. The tea ministers and officers had was paid, if whispers in the secretariat are to be believed, from faking printer cartridge bills. This, to me, sanctifies unethical behaviour and breeds corruption at the lowest level — the system not only condones it but also internalises it as acceptable behaviour,” he said.

Corruption meant a drop in standards, administrative compromises and an economy where subsidies thrived, as they generated more rent-seeking. Above all, this underlined the impression Kashmiris in general have, that they will never get justice from the system.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came to power for the first time from 2003 to 2009 in alliance with the Congress. The power sharing agreement was put in place under Manmohan Singh. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad ruled for a three-year term each. It was the start of a government “with a healing touch”, a new deal for estranged youth. Now, the second part of the story is unfolding. After the state elections in 2014, the valley is represented by the PDP, and the Jammu region by the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the valley, south Kashmir is the PDP’s stranglehold.

Mehbooba Mufti took over as chief minister a few months earlier; she succeeded her father, who died in January. She assumed office after a prolonged show of reluctance, not wanting her constituency to think she was overly eager to do a deal with the BJP.

Mehbooba was supposed to have an ability to reach out to elements on the fringes of militancy and bring them back. However, since she has come to power, there have been no overt initiatives to this group.

Can India retake the initiative? On the face of it, the security situation is deteriorating. According to MHA assessments, against 35 infiltrators who crossed the border in the January-June 2015 period, this number has gone up to 100 for the same period this year. According to a recent intelligence review, 73 terrorists were gunned down between January and June 2016; it was 39 in the corresponding period in 2015.

The central government’s position on political actors in Kashmir is confusing. On the face of it, the All Party Hurriyat Conference is considered an untouchable, since its leaders visited the Pakistani high commission ahead of the Foreign Secretary’s planned visit to that country in mid-2014. The visit was cancelled on this ground. However, minister of state for external affairs, V K Singh, also gave a written reply in the Lok Sabha that as members of the Hurriyat were ‘Indian citizens’, they could visit anyone freely.

Leading cleric Umar Farooq has said the government must engage the Hurriyat and the JK Liberation Front. “The Kashmiri people’s grievances must be addressed,” he said last week.

As the security situation in the state deteriorates, the army and paramilitary forces will also become more aggressive. This will invite provocation and retaliation from the militants, egged on by Pakistan. What Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Chinese President Xi Jinping about relations with China hold true for Kashmir as well: “A toothache can infect the entire body.”

June 25, 2016: Eight paramilitary CRPF troopers were killed and 20 injured when militants ambushed their convoy at Frestbal near Pampore in Srinagar on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway. Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba spokesman Abdullah Ghaznavi claimed responsibility for the attack

December 8, 2015: Two militants killed and four, including two CRPF personnel, injured in a shootout in Pampore area of Pulwama district

Nov 25: Three Jaish-e-Mohammad militants killed in an encounter when a group of heavily armed fidayeen militants attacked an army camp near LoC at Tanghdar in North Kashmir’s Kupwara District. Two army officers were injured in the attack

May 31: Army foiled a fidayeen attack on its brigade headquarters in Tanghdar sector of Kupwara district, killing four of six militants

March 21: Two militants killed during a fidayeen attack an an army camp on the Jammu-Pathankote National Highway in Samba district

March 20: A fidayeen squad of militants in srmy fatigues stormed a police station in Kathua district, killing seven

Kashmir gets out of hand

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