Flood havoc, shelling on the international border, Chinese incursions, an inadequate and insensitive state government — all these recent events may seem unconnected, but these trends could combine into an extremely menacing web.
The series of skirmishes between Pakistan and India over the past several months have generally been viewed in isolation from the repeated Chinese incursions in Ladakh.
A hard-nosed security analysis must factor in the possibility of coordination between those two countries. After all, there has been a pattern to China’s bellicosity with regard to Jammu and Kashmir ever since the Beijing Olympics.
The Chinese army’s repeated incursions into Ladakh have combined with its refusal to accept the Indian passports of the state’s residents, and statements that China must be involved in negotiations regarding the state. Pakistan has grown increasingly close to China over the past half-century.
The Pakistan army’s proximity to China was underlined by General Pervez Musharraf’s presence in that country during the Kargil conflict. Although both countries’ moves might turn out to be no more than pinpricks, it would be best to be extra vigilant in this context.
That is one more reason — if more reasons were required — to take very seriously the possibility of a new insurgency in Kashmir. There have been straws in the wind for several years now but, as in 1988-89, these signs have generally been ignored. Many in the security establishment have a static view of Kashmir as an ‘insurgency-ridden’ area.
They do not acknowledge that the insurgency which began in 1988 ended around 2006. They are even less willing to acknowledge that, since then, several ham-handed mistakes have alienated a new generation of the Kashmiri youth. The fact is that, about seven or eight years ago, a large proportion of the generation that was born during the previous insurgency was disillusioned with, even contemptuous of, militancy. The past six years have driven them to frustration and fury.
Several factors have contributed. One, the paraphernalia, methods and special laws of counter-insurgency remained in place too long. They were experienced as constricting and humiliating.
That paraphernalia was only dismantled (to an extent) after the terrible summer of clashes between flash mobs of boys (and sometimes other Kashmiris) armed with stones, and police and para-military forces armed with bullets in 2010. Thereafter, the draconian Public Safety Act was misused to intimidate and repress young men.
There are many stories of torture, abuse and extortion among young Kashmiris. Some of the brutalised boys could be tempted to take up arms afresh. There have been rumours for the past five years of boys going missing — some of them highly educated boys.
Another kind of repression has contributed to distress among the youth over the past few years: Sections of Kashmir’s police and its education system have become vehicles of fundamentalism.
Policemen have on many occasions imposed variations of Saudi law to repress young people. On the other hand, the state has cussedly refused to act against sections of the forces who have committed excesses, including killing ordinary young people (generally very poor) after framing them as terrorists.
For its part, the state government under chief minister Omar Abdullah has too often been cynical, insensitive and unresponsive — not only on human rights but also public facilities and utilities. This was most tragically obvious during the floods that devastated much of the Kashmir Valley in September. If many young men had already become distressed over the past six years, Kashmiris in general have now become deeply resentful.
Contradictory narratives (propagated by television news and social media) have worsened the catastrophe. Army men worked hard to rescue people but were so hard pressed that an army officer’s wife from Srinagar’s cantonment wrote an open letter to the prime minister complaining that the local government had disappeared.
Those charged with rescue had inadequate equipment. Saddled with lists of marooned people about whom the Centre had received specific distress calls, official rescue teams sometimes had to ignore others whose lives were also threatened.
The state government not only evaporated before the flood, some of its responses were farcical a week later. The Centre has not stepped into the breach, opening itself to the suspicion that it is playing politics.
Many Kashmiris believe the Centre is allowing the National Conference-Congress government to discredit itself further while it waits to show how well a combination of the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state might deliver.
It is also possible that the Centre will impose Governor’s rule when it is confident that the elections can be held within six months — so that it does not have to face the Congress-dominated Rajya Sabha for an extension of Governor’s rule.
The sooner this is done, the better. For, the tasks of relief and rehabilitation are Herculean, and urgent. Vast numbers are homeless and without food, medicines or succour.
Rents have gone through the roof in Srinagar. Businesses have collapsed. And a furious response is coalescing. It could explode during the harsh winter if perceptions about the situation continue to remain hopeless.
Adding to the urgency is the dangerous potential of the triad of forces that could come together: Pakistan, China, and the alienated, potentially militant, Kashmiri youth.
David Devadas is the author of In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir
The views expressed by the author are personal