Kashmir is on the boil again & a concrete strategy to diffuse, filter and pave way out of the conundrum is pertinent. Decades of proxy war unleashed by Pakistan sponsored terrorism has had grave fallout for Kashmir in particular, and India in general. It’s been almost close to thirty years and the character of militancy, turmoil and unrest in the state has taken up several hues from time to time. Ever since it began, the valley politics of conflict has thrown policy makers, analysts & commentators in a tizzy off & on. The complexity has again started to deepen, contributing to the conundrum as it exists now.
The latest on the radar has been the situation arising out of unilateral Ramadhan ceasefire, its fall-out & subsequent revocation following the targeted killing of an eminent journalist Shujaat Bukhaari on the eve of Eid. It has once again proven how fragile peace or peace initiatives in Kashmir can be. Kashmir gets convoluted into a deadlock, out of fear of repercussions & the maze that it entails, when it comes to finding a middle ground. It has got consumed by the Frankenstein of gun culture where facts get cloaked by fiction, and conspiracy theories galore. Killing of Shujaat Bukhari is a pointer to the rot beneath the glossed over facts promulgated by various lobbies in Kashmir, Lutyens Delhi & maybe even at the helm of affairs. The Kashmir Policy of the NDA-PDP agenda of alliance was groping for answers on the strategic front. Two most visible symbols of J&K i.e. Media & the Forces being targeted with the brutal murder of a top scribe & a Soldier, was a pointer in that direction. The well-planned attack by the disruptive forces sent a message, which eventually cascaded into a spiral of events, which calls for a threadbare analysis.
What can be the genesis of the issue at hand currently? Can Kashmir be discussed in terms of binaries? Can drafting any policy be based on oversimplification of facts? Why was “Unilateral Ramadhan Ceasefire” as a policy initiative in Kashmir, in the line of fire? Turned out, that in a conflict zone, ridden with a high degree of strife, it turned out to be an arbitrarily drafted & politically motivated simplistic attempt at peace. No doubt there need to be peace parleys in Kashmir, for a turnaround to happen, yet in the said scenario “Ceasefire” wasn’t a prudent enough initiative. Somewhere the agenda of alliance gave way to a knee jerk reaction basis a simplistic interpretation of facts on ground, leading to a misdirected & faulty implementation of policy. Unlike earlier such initiatives, this URC was based on euphemism seemingly. It was done without settling the chaos simmering at large. It was rudimentary in its calculation & should have been preceded by constructive agendas/diplomatic initiatives creating a feasible environment for implementation. Any such initiative calls for positive reciprocation from the other end, and it was not to be seen. A haste in this respect turned out to be counter-productive whilst losing control. Shallow rhetoric, policy of appeasement and hasty measures can’t replace strategic initiative & requisite insulation against potential risks.
In the bargain, a militarist & muscular strategy to quell the chaos in a complex conflict zone is a no brainer. Any initiative can’t sustain itself in vacuum & prudence of military is in sticking on to the position of control. On account of delivery deficiency by state government, any sustainable solution by the forces stood nullified, forces lost ground & passed on the initiative to militants to regroup & reorganise, collected funds, recruited afresh. Increase in cross border incursions during the period added fuel to the fire. Lack of clear policy & direction passed on the collective initiative to Pak sponsored proxy dynamics. In the bigger picture it weakened the security apparatus. Scant regard was given to security implications & security systems; making probable cannon fodder out of civilian leadership, academics & bureaucrats. A hollow & anarchist set-up can’t be an anti-dote to conflict & its machinations. In absence of proper checks & balances, it just stays a political decision of mutual appeasement & compulsions of politics of coalition.
Such like loopholes & lack of administrative governance turned out to be non-conducive to an aspirational environment of peace. The double speak of Common Minimum Programme between PDP & BJP with respect to their lack of strategy in countering odds, added to the chaos. Dynamics of Foreign policy & nuances of security policy nuances might give such initiatives a chance; but at the same time it needs a holistic bird’s-eye view on many levels & simultaneous cooperation of all antagonistic lobbies viz Separatists & Pakistan. Going by the sequence of events it was highly plausible that separatists/militants would reiterate their adherence to violence, as a willful intent. Violence continued unabated and ensured that a high target casualty around Eid sealed the deal, thereby derailing the ceasefire initiative. All along the optics were shaky & swung like a pendulum with regard to the feasibility of the initiative. Subsequently the ceasefire was revoked keeping in view the fragility of the scenario & upcoming Amarnath yatra. Within a day the “unholy alliance” too broke apart when BJP withdrew support from the ruling PDP lead by Mehbooba Mufti, citing irrevocable ideological differences as the reason. Too little, too late, some would call it, but it becomes imminent to do a fact check & delve into the way ahead.
FACT CHECK: A BRIEF OVERVIEW
The question arises; how do such ceasefire initiatives help a common Kashmiri in the first place? Does it make any difference to his life? In this context, initiation & extension of URC was considered as a panacea for counter-terror operations & subsequent civilian unrest. State government had opined that it was unable to adopt counter-narratives in wake of such unrest & thereby ceasefire would be a balm of sorts. However the intervening period should first have been utilised for an outreach & counter narratives to annul radicalisation. Of late there’s been an increase in the number of local boys picking up arms. A recent survey pointed out that there’s no plausible factor really, which would account for such trends. Religious indoctrination coupled with flawed narratives has been the toxic dose on which generations post 90s were brought up. Onus also lies squarely on the shoulders of Kashmiri collective society of mentors, parents, teachers & leaders who fed them a Utopian concept of “Freedom” basis a religious tilt, all these years. The self -sabotage is visible in brutalised minds of Kashmiri kids filled with nothing but vengeance out of aimlessness & propaganda, rather than a fair sense of judgment. Lack of opportunity & initiative associated with youth was hijacked by the “Jihadi” narrative of separatists who made cannon fodder out of youth, and used them as a bait to appease their proxy masters. The spiral of such waywardness of youth has not been tackled with any strategy or conviction.
As far as the life of a common Kashmiri goes, it hangs precariously between the hard facts & narratives on ground and the way things might shape up. It’s a conundrum of sorts wherein he’s stuck in a vicious cycle of violence & political uncertainty. It’s a situation of getting damned if you do and damned if you don’t. This, because the space of moderation, rationality & logic has shrunk alarmingly & the associated vulnerability makes anyone a sitting duck in the hands of gun totting & stone yielding rioters. No doubt it’s a chicken & egg story and there’s a counter clause to any narrative. Some would like to call it a political issue to be sorted out bilaterally between the two countries. However, that’s how things pan out when logic is thrown out of the window & gun culture is ushered in at the behest of proxy war unleashed by a self -serving enemy. Militarism & Muscularity on either end are the optics of a society losing grip on reality & that leaves negligible scope for any other recourse.
LOOPHOLES IN COUNTER STRATEGY
Having said that, there has to be a counter strategy to catch hold of strings somewhere & get things back on track. Majority of the masses are fed up with violence & ceasefire implied absence of encounters, killings & chaos at large. However when understood in the context of larger proxy conflict in J&K, the suspension of military operations and ceasefire becomes a mockery of sorts. There was vehement opposition from the separatist lobby at the outset, blatant cross border incursions & cease fire violations along the IB, huge sufferings of civilian population along the border, infiltration upswing by Pakistan, escalation in rioting & stone pelting, and increased ambush on military vehicles & death of several police & army personnel.
Earlier, there was no real initiative on ground to de-radicalize or amalgamate Kashmiri youth back into mainstream India. Giving amnesty to approximately eleven thousand stone pelters on the behest of PDP can be termed as first aid applied to a cancerous tissue. Subtle appeasement of separatists left no recourse for middle ground, because in Kashmir, things are always over the edge & can pan both ways. That’s where PDP lost grip with reality, or else succumbed to cross border pressures, when its base in South Kashmir became a hot bed of militancy. Why couldn’t a regional party check such developments under its nose? Why couldn’t BJP rein it in without getting arm twisted, as it accuses PDP of, now? Was it about the subtle or hidden compulsions of agenda of alliance, where the respective factions pandered to their respective galleries & yet in the bargain failed to save face? At the end it seems, one radicalism fed the other radicalism, as it happens more than often. The casualty is always the underdog, the masses, who seemingly are the hordes of rudderless youth, hugely influenced & radicalised by a plethora of nuances in a hub of theo-fascist arena. The civil society/middle ground watches helplessly in hope of some magic cure. They lost ground to radicalism long back, knowingly or unknowingly, again in some illusionist utopia. The last straw on the camels’ back was the hopelessness which set in, as Hurriyat too seemed to have lost the plot and troubled local hubs of South Kashmir see civilian deaths off & on. The youth is rudderless and vulnerable to any momentum from ISI towards radical Islamisation. Now is the time to take some concrete steps to rein them in, own them up, and to engage and divert them. The pan- Islamic forces like Al-Qaeda & ISIS are making inroads into Kashmir and its high time there’s a strategy formulation to reclaim Kashmir by providing a respectable exit route to the misguided youth, and subsequently peace & reconciliation towards conflict resolution.
The counter strategy hung perilously between iron fisted rebuttals, to total giving up of initiative on part of Centre. There’s no in between, and that lacuna is harnessed by the enemy. The vacuum failed to yield any echo, but was amplified towards a din.
END OF AN ALLIANCE: GENESIS & RECOURSE?
The nucleus of unrest, turmoil & limelight has been Kashmir since ages. Anything that happens in Kashmir snowballs in other regions of J & K & in India. Recent events unfolding in Kashmir have the greatest import for the country. As the BJP-PDP alliance comes to an end, Kashmir is ushered towards a faceless government in the shape of Governors rule. Rhetoric is ripe as BJP is accused of opportunism in wake of forthcoming general elections on one hand & hailed as a patriotic master stroke on the other. While for PDP it’s an anti-climax of sorts, or perhaps life coming full circle.
The state had already been getting aggressively polarised of late, and it has reached a binary of Nationalist v/s anti-national. Two antithetical parties got together to govern a state, in order to evade the consequences of a hung assembly & subsequent Governors rule. The “unholy alliance” supposedly was a sure shot mechanism to claim their respective ideological territories viz Jammu & Kashmir. BJP did away with the headache of multiple elections spiral in J&K, and thereby could focus on rest of the states. PDP got their share of pie viz being in power & claiming right to the spoils it entails. Governance is not easy in a place like Kashmir, replete with communal militant intent & multiple forces working on destabilising an elected Govt. Therefore, any such alliance of convenience could not have yielded results. Even if it’s symbiotic, the alliance ought to have had its heart & mind at the right place.
In nutshell, it happened to be a win-win situation for both parties but no action-plan for Kashmir per se. Such a transactional alliance was neither in keeping with democratic ethics nor was it a divergence towards something productive. Middle ground seemed untenable in wake of the ideological clash & pandering to their respective vote banks. All in all, on the political front J&K was left in lurch & forces could only do as much. It just turned out that Kashmir had no real bearing in the overall scenario, except for turning it into Nationalist v/s Anti-National hype, with Pakistan taking the major share of the pie, by fomenting trouble on the border & in the state. So who won ultimately & why, is anyone’s guess?
After the misadventure it entailed in the ensuing months, and as elaborated upon earlier, BJP pulled the plug. Irrespective of blame game, what now? Governor’s rule might be a temporary stitch but it’s highly unlikely that the retiring Governor can pull some new tricks to salvage the damage. Kashmir needs a Governor who’s familiar with the dynamics & equally committed to the cause. Army needs deliverance at governance level, in order to carry further its strategy & consolidate its gains.
Kashmir’s political ‘middlemen’ or parasites, along with the separatist blue eyed boys need to be taken to task. The unnecessary nurturing of such lobbies needs to be siphoned off & funds need to be spent on Kashmir for real. There’s an urgency of a whiplash on all who tend to disrupt & derail Kashmir & a sounding board for those who are pro-active Indians at heart. A policy that makes stone pelting non-lucrative, which yields rewards for being pro-India, a strategy which defeats Pakistan’s proxy dynamics via bras stacks, is the need of the hour. Illusioned, misdirected youth need to expend their energy & India needs to harness it productively. After all it’s an alpha male masculinity which needs channelizing towards better areas. The narratives of Kashmiris need to be maneuvered. Kashmiris are an intelligent race, yet emotionally oversensitive. Their psychological fabric shouldn’t be ignored while rolling out a plan. There’s an equal deluge of Kashmiri youth who are adept at analysis, expression & extrapolation. Their world view is at crossroads with influences from the world at large & of the chaos of Kashmir, in particular. India, as a system needs to empower them with opportunity on ground & adherence to Indian constitution needs to be mandatory, yet lucrative vis-a-vis the utopia of Pakistan proxy dynamics in Kashmir.
Prognosis of the evolving socio-political landscape and the prevailing scenario, points towards a pertinent need to arrive at a framework for conflict resolution and measures to improve security, governance and sustainable development. The measures should take into account all the voices which define J & K. It would necessarily involve reconstructing the political framework of the ruling dispensation in J & K, in order to eliminate dissatisfaction. More lucrative avenues vis-a-vis the stone pelting industry need to be harnessed immediately. At the end, after all it’s about economics. Initiating an atmosphere which gradually eradicates the generalised persecution complex in a phased manner is imminent. There ought to be no denial of the factual situation of Kashmir & thereby the biases of polarised media & paid news also need to be reined in. This would involve encouraging measures towards building & reinforcement of Kashmir positives in mainstream media. This also entails checking the propagandists who create half-baked state narratives in national & international news portals. Deconstructing & eliminating the falsehoods of illusionist Azadi narrative as fed by separatists & by Pakistan to Kashmiri youth is the basic requirement for any such measures to yield success.
An exit route from the Azadi narrative needs deconstructing it, and replacing it eventually with an alternate arrangement which strengthens a third tier of people to people, and people to administration engagement. Civil society engagement is pertinent and this includes engaging opinion makers & NGOs from mainstream India & Kashmir. Synthesising their voices towards a pro-active engagement & deradicalisation of youth is the need of the hour. The role of Army as benefactors on so many levels needs to be highlighted, in order to break the negative stereotyping by a large chunk of populace inside & outside Kashmir. Likewise the fringe in mainstream India needs to be dealt with an iron hand. Such anti minority narratives, however irrelevant they are, snowball into an excuse of alienation & resentment in Kashmir. Institutional mechanisms to redress the binaries of communal polarisation would curb the virulent streak of the rhetoric in Kashmir by default. Same would apply to the whole state & to India at large.
As far as Pakistan goes, talks haven’t and won’t yield much in the given scenario. A strategy more vociferous & visible in action is need of the hour. A broader extrapolation of foreign policy dynamics vis-a-vis China & CPEC in context of Kashmir placement can be worked out. After all a peaceful Kashmir goes a long way in easing out any complexity with respect to CPEC & Chinese economic pursuits in the subcontinent, especially in wake of Trump-Xi equation of counter sanctions. A deeper insight & juxtaposition of India in the context, makes Kashmir a pivotal point.
Last but not the least, given the nuclear threat that such complexity entails for all & Kashmiris included, why can’t we chalk out a policy on the lines of South African model of Truth & reconciliation? Embolden & encourage people by assuring fair jurisprudence, transparency & rule of law, so that they come forward and confess. This would involve initiating strict checks on misgovernance and promulgate welfare schemes at grassroots. Streamlining the extremes of Kashmir narrative in mainstream media; Neither Devils nor Angels, is the prime need of the hour, to rein in alienation of those who have succumbed to fear or anger. There’s a vacuum as far as middle path third tier narrative/forums with artistic leanings go. Such initiatives need encouragement and platforms of intra-state thought exchange, camaraderie, community development and unity need a boost.
Kashmir can be, and needs to be reclaimed with a nuanced intensive approach, sooner than later. For any peace initiatives to yield the desired results, the gaping gorge between policy & deliverability, strategy & governance and most of all, willful intent of Kashmiris to consciously strive for growth & development, is the need of the hour. It’s now or never!
©Manmeet Bali Nag