Kashmir on Boil

Terror begets terror. The huge security apparatus built around counter-insurgency loses its meaning if there is no insurgency. More they talk of ‘zero tolerance’ of terror, more they find themselves bogged down in the quagmire of terror. There is every reason to believe that the security establishment has vested interests in keeping the terror pot boiling all the time under one pretext or another. Once again Kashmir is in turmoil. The stone-pelting protesters have a point to prove that in the name of curbing cross-border terrorism security forces always resort to severe excesses inviting further isolation from masses. This time they used pellet guns injuring around 5000 people—a record in itself. During the Vietnam War CIA’s guerilla warfare expert Douglas Pike asserted in no uncertain terms that even 25 percent popular support to communist guerillas would be enough to make the situation hopeless and volatile for government forces. In many ways Kashmir today resembles the Vietnam syndrome. In Kashmir they are not communist guerillas. Nor are they Maoists with a blueprint of new democratic revolution. They are all jihadis operating under different banners under the active patronage and guidance of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Yet they have mass support as the recent protest marches show. In truth the firepower of militants is very much at par with the paramilitary forces, thanks to Pakistan military.

Strangely, the army for the first time in 11 days after unrest broke out over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an ‘encounter’ on July 8, ‘‘deeply regretted the Qazigund firing incident and ordered a probe’’. The army’s apologetic stance was well publicised just on the eve of Army Chief General Dalbir Singh’s visit to the curfew bound valley to assess the latest security position and counter-infiltration operations along the Line of Control. Faced with the possibility of further escalation of street violence—violent mobs attacked army camps and police installations—to protest against the ‘encounter death’, the army was actually trying to pacify the aggrieved. Reading between the lines one may infer that the ‘encounter’ killing could have been avoided and people’s angry outburst over the fake encounter was genuine. There is an elected government in Srinagar but it is more like a big municipality because the army is the final word in allowing—or disallowing—democratic space. At the time of writing the death toll in the on-going agitation in Kashmir rose to 47 even as curfew remained in force. For one thing general strike followed curfew and the strike was total. They rule Kashmir by curfew, notwithstanding an elected government in Srinagar. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been living under emergency, rather martial rule, for long. Their right to freedom of speech has been curtailed beyond recognition. Whether they like it or not the militants have built a strong base of support among the bereaved family members and others. So they are joining funeral protest procession in thousands and they are defying curfew in thousands.

In the wake of widespread protests in the valley there was virtual ban on the press forcing the publishers and editors to suspend the publication of newspapers.

Asked about the current phase of anti-government agitation and systematic curtailment of civil liberties the Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu was virulently arrogant to advise the media persons that they should better pay attention to what is happening in PoK—Pakistan occupied Kashmir—not Indian Kashmir. Mr Naidu was actually referring to Hafiz Saeed, founder of the LeT and Sayeed Salahuddin of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, both responsible for attacks on Indians, eulogised Wani jointly in PoK. It is one way to tell the world that army action, even if it is blatant violation of human rights and denying democratic space to dissenters, is above questioning. No doubt the army is equally brutal to silence any voice of dissent in that failed state called Pakistan. But it cannot be an excuse to gag press in this part of the globe.

Today the valley of death—Kashmir—looks more like Guatemala as the number of the disappeared is horrifying. Human Rights Bodies across the country have failed to rise to the occasion beyond tokenism whenever there is gross violation of human rights by security forces in the valley. If rule by curfew becomes as normal as anything else, the special status that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys is bound to suffer which in turn will aggravate the crisis further in the entire valley.

The stage of heightened anti-army agitation in the valley comes at a time when the administration cannot hide either the fact of mounting unemployment—the root cause of youth unrest—or that the inflation continues to spiral despite cosmetic measures they offer every now and then, to control it. The economic crisis in the valley in particular, and in the country in general, is unseparable from growing violence and unrest. There is lack of development and non-availability of opportunities, even for the educated. As the unemployed youth want to vent their frustration and insecure life, attraction to militancy is quite logical. It happens everywhere in the world.

Revolt cannot be forever stifled where its objective bases persist. And its objective bases persist in Kashmir, in the North-East, in the jungles of Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. Today independent social movements, not excluding militant movements with religious or non-religious tag, abound from unorganised sector workers demanding living wage and evictees opposing displacement, to democrats and liberals protesting against state violence and discrimination, from women fighting patriarchy to political prisoners behind bars trying to highlight systematic human rights abuses and degradation they face. The tragedy is the so-called mainstream parties, even the opposition left parties are not reacting. The crux of the matter is the increasing militarisation of the state of J&K, it is above all an effort to destroy the possibility of new human relations in a situation of mass isolation opened up by the installation of an elected government, rather a rainbow coalition government. Killings by the army were the spark that set off the current phase of movement, radicalising even more people against Indian authority. No doubt, militants have brought grassroots people to the forefront. And it’s no mean achievement. They have also made sure to be clear about who it is they are fighting. They are consciously breaking from the way a lot of earlier groups have worked in the past, and again doing so explicitly and dangerously. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urged the Centre and quite judiciously to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act on trial basis for selected areas. But the Centre is not listening.

Vol. 49, No.4, Jul 31 - Aug 6, 2016