Jammu and Kashmir has been on the boil for the past four months. The Kashmir valley has been simmering post the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani by the security forces on July 8. The international border and the Line of Control (LoC) have flared up since Pakistan-based terrorists attacked the Uri Brigade headquarters on September 18 with the Indian response coming in the form of “surgical strikes” on militant camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir 10 days later.
The downward spiral continues with the Pakistan army and rangers resorting to heavy cross-border firing in Machchil and Uri sectors in Kashmir and the entire border south of Pir Panjal. The focus of the firing and mortar shelling has been some 125 villages along the border in Jammu, while the Pakistan army-backed terrorists with their so-called border action teams are waiting to ambush their Indian counterparts on patrol duties along the LoC in Kashmir. In short, Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned to alienate the masses from the Indian State, just as the latter is making efforts to integrate them.
The results on this side of the border are not flattering for either the Narendra Modi government at the Centre nor the PDP-BJP state government with both civilians and security forces getting sucked into the mayhem and violence. The reality is that Islamisation is on the rise in the Valley with symbols of Arabian influence visible among the youth, who are increasingly getting attracted to radical preachers of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Ahl-Hadith.
Yet, the slogans are not religious, but demanding azaadi, clearly indicating that the radicalisation in the Valley is politically motivated. This is typical of predominantly Muslim societies where religious symbols are used to pursue political agendas. Even Sufi leaders in the Valley have joined hands with their religious adversaries and boarded the azaadi wagon.
A normal Kashmiri youngster feels empowered by pelting stones as he believes that azaadi is around the corner for him with governance going to pieces in the Valley, particularly in south Kashmir. Rather than pushing her party legislators to engage with the Kashmiri youth and address their genuine grievances, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed, like her predecessors, has taken the predictable route of seeking a dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad to ease tensions. The better option for Mehbooba Mufti would be to let the two armies tackle each other on the border while concentrating on governance which is missing in the Valley.
The annual shifting of durbar to Jammu on November 7 provides an opportunity for both the state and central government as the Valley prepares for the dark icy winter ahead.
Can the governments ensure that the Valley faces no shortages of food and fuel once the Banihal Pass gets snowed under and roads linking Kashmir to the rest of India are cut off? If the Mehbooba Mufti government can deliver on this and the ruling party legislators can get out of their houses without fear and engage the angry youth, then there is hope of a turnaround. The PDP must recapture its political space in south Kashmir and push for an aspirational agenda for the youth by ensuring that scholarships exist not only on paper but are also distributed in a just fashion. The exercise must be to wean away the youth, who were born in the mayhem and turmoil of 1990s, from the separatists, as the latter have no agenda for Kashmir beyond joining hands with Pakistan.
While New Delhi is getting agitated over more than 25 schools have been burnt down by militants in the Valley, the reasons may not be as binary as they seem. The burning of schools could be related to the state government forcing examinations on children despite a total lockdown for the past four months and the syllabus not being completed. Maybe a better option is to promote students to the next class barring those appearing for the final board exams. Another reason for this could be to deny security forces the use of schools as bases for counter-insurgency operations and law and order duties during the winter holidays in Kashmir. The attacks could also have happened because Islamists are opposed to secular education and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the pro-Pakistan separatist, has called for a school bandh.
While there is no denying that Pakistan has let loose the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen on the Valley, governance also seems to be seriously lacking in the state with the ruling coalition partners at cross-purposes. The police thana system has all but collapsed and the administration seems to have fled from south Kashmir in fear of the militants and their proxy stone-pelters.
The ceding of space by the local civilian and police administration has forced the intervention from central security forces and the Indian Army, which is leading to further alienation of the Kashmiris. The media may get worked up seeing Islamic State flags in the Valley but these are only to annoy the Indian State. One must remember that there was no al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS) or Islamic State in the 1990s when the Valley erupted over the calls for azaadi. The only common factor was poor governance and alienation.
The coming four months or the time before the durbar returns to the Valley in April is a time for both the Centre and state to redeem themselves in the strife-torn state. The border firing is expected to cease or ease up once the succession of the next Pakistan army chief is decided by Islamabad by November 29 — the date when the present boss General Raheel Sharif is to hang up his boots.
Infiltration will cease in the winter months resulting in lower levels of violence in the Valley. Now is the time to break the impasse.