The government appears to be at sea about how to deal with the new militancy that is inexorably rising in Kashmir. The arms of the state have not been able to get a grip on the tactics of this new militancy, leave alone its strategies, objectives, or geopolitical connections. The discourse of think-tanks and retired army officers indicates that the eyes of the state’s counter-insurgency experts are still trained where they were during the earlier militancy.
They measure militancy chiefly through the extent of infiltration across the Shamsabaari and other specific ranges along the Line of Control.
The primary reason is that they do not accept that this is a new militancy, with new patterns of motivation, linkages, tactics and strategy.
Some have belatedly begun to talk of a ‘post-conflict scenario’, but others obdurately do not accept that the militancy that began in 1988 ended almost a decade ago. It is difficult to precisely date the end of a round of militancy, for a diehard or two is bound to occasionally use leftover explosives. However, from a distance of about a decade, it is clear that the militancy which began in 1988 ended in 2006.
The reason it was never declared over is that a wide range of vested interests and institutions are deeply invested in the economy of militancy.
For, a counter-insurgency regime is not only invested with immense power, it enjoys vast unaccountability. In fact, even some of the statistics of militancy generated and filed over the past several years are suspect. The murders of a carpenter and other men who had nothing to do with militancy at Ganderbal in 2006-07 — and the murder of three young men at Machil in 2010 — prove that some of those involved in counter-insurgency were not above collecting rewards, medals and promotions for the murder of innocents.
A court martial sentenced five soldiers, including two officers, to life imprisonment a few months ago for the Machil murders, and a senior superintendent of police is among those who have been charged in court with committing the Ganderbal murders.
On paper, these and other murdered innocents were initially shown as foreign militants killed in encounters. Such fudged records obscured peace.
The continuation of the overwhelming apparatus of counter-insurgency, experienced as physically and culturally intrusive and deeply humiliating, is a major cause of the new militancy. It began in a very small way in 2009. Boys began to go underground in Shopian that year, deeply affected by the deaths of two young women in a nocturnal act of apparent foul-play.
A CBI investigation attributed their deaths to drowning, but the contra-legal shortcuts adopted for counterinsurgency had badly eroded the credibility of such investigations by then. Kashmiris by and large believe that the two women were raped and murdered by the security forces.
Their deaths became the sort of cause celebre, which comes to signify a complex of linked narratives and discourses.
That tiny trickle of new militants has grown slowly but steadily.
Today, they lurk across large parts of the Valley. It is ironic that this new militancy should surface when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has returned to office. For, it was under his earlier watch as chief minister (from 2002 to December 2005) that the previous militancy more or less ended.
Former prime minister AB Vajpayee deserves the main credit for that ending, but Mufti’s “healing touch” policies and responsive governance too played a part. The new militancy incubated under Omar Abdullah’s stint.
Typically, today’s militants do not physically cross the Line of Control. Their links appear to be technological, their organisational structures relatively diffuse. One of their tactics is to snatch weapons from soldiers — making gun-snatching an unacknowledged phenomenon in Kashmir, a little like chain-snatching elsewhere.
Many of the new militants are well educated, and have fared well in exams. Their teachers, parents and peers are more likely to describe them as pensive than mischievous.
This generation was born into violence during the 1990s. They watched the earlier militancy and counterinsurgency at close quarters when they were little boys. The net-enabled mobile phone shaped their adolescent world.
So they have received a barrage of seminal messages about the War on Terror, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Islamic State, and atrocities against Rohingyas. (They are influenced by orthodox, exclusivist ideas about identity. In that light — and thanks to the misdirected efforts of certain self-important administrators — not only secular pluralism but even Sufism sometimes appears to them to be a project of the Indian state.)
It does not matter much to them that elections were not rigged in 1996, 2002 or 2014, as in 1987. Nor does their geopolitics comprise an India-Pakistan binary. Their perception of enemies is global.
So, potentially, is their war. They generally believe deeply in an orthodox, puritanical and exclusivist Islam. In that light — and thanks to the misdirected efforts of certain self-important administrators — not only secular pluralism but even Sufism sometimes appears to them to be a project of the Indian state. Sometimes still in their teens, they are motivated to leave home, education, and the prospects of a career.
The most important fact is that a substantial majority of this Kashmiri generation, particularly women, wish for peace with dignity, and not for a new militancy.
Sadly, the organs of the state seem largely oblivious to the gravity of the situation. Their predominant mood has been denial, even after the most daring series of militant attacks in 15 years took place on December 5, 2014.
Until they acknowledge that this is a new militancy, they will continue to view it through lenses developed in and for the earlier militancy. That may not be adequate to formulate viable responses.
(David Devadas is the author of In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir. The views expressed are personal.)