It’s the kind of outcome that counter-insurgency specialists hope for but one that rarely occurs in real life. Tahir Ahmad Mir, a son of a former militant in Kashmir, has joined the Indian Army, the very force his father set out to fight against during his youth over two decades ago.
Hindustan Times has reported that thousands of young Kashmiris are attending the Army recruitment drives . A three-day rally in March for the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry saw 40,000 Kashmiri candidates turn up for 50-odd vacancies. The Army is pleased with its efforts and the trend that recruits to its units generally outnumber those joining militant ranks. Interestingly, even the hardline separatist Hurriyat does not contest the Army’s claim about Kashmiri youth’s interest in joining the military.
Amid this celebratory fervour, a bit of perspective is important. There is little doubt that surging interest has to do with poor employment prospects in the state. J-K’s economy has struggled to prosper owing to the insurgency and continuing spells of unrest, such as those during 2008-2010. Add to that the devastating floods in September 2014, the slow, inadequate delivery of relief, the limited footprint of the private sector and erratic access to credit for entrepreneurs, and one understands why public sector employment is so compelling for the Kashmiri youth who seek secure livelihoods.
The Army is a major player in the organisation of rural life in Kashmir — and it is understandable that where it is able to provide services that communities need, particularly in the hinterland, it is able to draw the youth into its ranks.
This development should not, however, persuade policymakers that the ground situation will inexorably improve. There are other optics to be mindful of. The youth in the Valley’s cities and towns remain deeply disaffected with New Delhi’s policies. There is increasing incidence of the educated youth taking to militancy, unmindful of personal costs and disregarding the unfulfilled experience of their predecessors who took up the armed struggle in the 1990s.
Funerals of militants still draw large crowds in rural Kashmir — a clear expression of an anti-establishment sentiment. Several factors compound the fraught scenario: The absence of justice for past excesses, the military presence fortified by draconian legislation, the steady rise of communal politics, pitting the regions of Jammu and Kashmir against each other, and the curbing of political freedoms that makes the youth lose their faith in democratic instruments to redress grievances. The security establishment can buy time but there is no substitute for a political process to tackle the difficult situation in J-K.