The challenge of engaging with a hitherto unknown Kashmir

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Aug 22, 2016 22:54 IST
BSF jawans stand guard during a curfew in Srinagar. (PTI Photo)

The predominant sentiment in the Valley is that of anger, of alienation. Yet reason hasn’t died. It gasps for breath.

In the thickening gloom it was imperative to empower voices perceived as pro-India. For that could buoy reason from the Indian standpoint, making stakeholders other than separatists a trifle relevant amid cries for freedom.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at a meeting with Opposition leaders from the State need to be deciphered in that context. “People who died during the unrest in Kashmir are part of us, our nation. Whether the lives lost are of youth, security personnel or police, it distresses us,” he said.

The prime ministerial outreach— in which he spoke also of dialogue within the framework of constitution-- took a long time coming. But it’s an improvement on his I-Day address that was more statist than empathetic-- and problematic therefore from the reigning perspective in the Valley.

Read: Signalling a shift: PM Modi reaches out to Kashmiris

Even now, the PM’s angst, well-meaning it might be, could ring hollow without cogent confidence building measures. A slew of unilaterally announced CBMs can reduce the huge trust deficit between the protestors and mainstream political establishments in Delhi and Srinagar.

In fact, the word ‘mainstream’ sounds incongruous when elected representatives are hiding indoors, fearful as they are of the electorate.

Such is the intensity of rage that no politician has set foot in Srinagar hospitals where the injured are under treatment. Even state government employees are suspect. Those attending work are mostly from the police and the health department. Others avoid using locally issued curfew passes as those reporting for work amid Hurriyat-sponsored shutdowns are treated as fifth columnists, said an officer of the Kashmir Administrative Service. That these permits aren’t recognized by central forces is proof of their no-confidence in the state’s machinery.

A refrain that ran constant in this writer’s interactions with students, teachers, lawyers, traders, businessmen and government employees was about Modi linking Balochistan with Kashmir. “He talked about rights violations in Balochistan but ignored our plight,” rued several boys under treatment for pellet wounds in a local hospital.

Read: Kashmir issue can be resolved politically, not judicially: SC

The upsurge in the Valley has been variously described: civil disobedience; uprising; intifada. “What you see on the streets is the consequence, not the problem that has remained unresolved for 70 years despite promises,” cautioned a faculty member at the Kashmir University.

He agreed that tensions might defuse if the security forces abandoned using pellet guns; withdraw AFSPA where possible; stopped raiding houses; used force only when direly needed. “Containment is the key,” he said.

Be that as it may. The current crisis is way graver than it was in the 1990s, 2008 or in 2010. So cosmetic surgery won’t work, surmised an ex-militant.

He used a famous Donald Rumsfeld quote to drive home the point: “There are known knowns; things we know we know. Then there are known unknowns; that’s to say we know there are things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

That sums up the emergence of a Kashmir hitherto unknown—and the challenge of engaging with it.

Read: I don’t know why India hates Kashmiris, says Burhan Wani’s father

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