The signals from Kashmir are disturbing and ominous. The winter months usually provide a period of deceptive calm but this time the Valley has defied the norm. It was witness to the defiling of soldiers’ bodies at the Line of Control, several encounters between militants and security forces and the killing of civilians including children. The uprising that followed the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander and Robin Hood-like figure, Burhan Wani in July last year changed the rules of the game. The summer was marked by an intense phase of stone pelting in which scores were injured and blinded. The winter too saw its share of pellet injuries and ophthalmologists in Srinagar were inundated with fresh cases.
There were many firsts this winter. Armed terrorists barged into the home of a police officer and threatened his family: We will kill him if he doesn’t quit the force, they said. The local police has been under pressure not to act against local militants and now Wani’s successor, Zakir Musa, has not just termed the police and Army personnel as ‘kafirs’ (traitors), he has asked the youth to come out and pelt stones.
In a fresh video, Musa can be heard exhorting the youth to pelt stones, “not in the name of nationalism, but in the name of Islam”. In the Valley, where radicalisation has been on the rise, Musa’s open call in the name of religion only complicates the disturbing ground reality wherein the youth and women are already thronging funeral processions and showing support for dead militants.
Kashmir is in for another dreadful summer, which may not be very different from the one in 2016 when the Army was forced to call off counter-insurgency operations in the hinterland for fear of collateral damage.
Already ‘stray bullets’ have claimed the life of an 11-year-old girl and the questions locals are asking is: Was she a militant? Why was she killed? Each death adds to the narrative of alienation and it is imperative that the governments in Srinagar and Delhi wake up and realise that they don’t have a strategy in place.
Neither Kashmir nor the country can afford another uprising that will only lead to another vicious cycle of violence. The central paramilitary forces say they have tweaked the pellet guns to avoid blinding civilians. The newly- designed weapon will aim for the legs, they say, but do we now want maiming to be the new leitmotif for the summer of 2017?
There is no getting away from the intrinsic fact that Kashmir is begging for a political resolution. Flush with victories in Uttar Pradesh and other states, the NDA government must focus on how to engage the youth in Kashmir.
No government can afford to take its eye off the ball in Kashmir. The increase in the number of encounters and the civilians rushing to such spots show that the army chief’s warning of treating them as over-ground supporters of militants has not had the desired impact.
The politics of engagement is the only way forward.