Things have come a full circle in Kashmir. When militancy declined in the mid-2000s, there was widespread acceptance in the Kashmiri society that violence had to stop. Militancy had given them no azadi from anything, only suffering. The people did not want the militant’s gun anymore.
The national security-types in Delhi celebrated this as the defeat of the Kashmiri insurgency. But today, the gun is back in Kashmir. Friday’s attack on a CRPF convoy, killing at least 37 men, took place in a Kashmir where people celebrate the militant and his gun. We have all seen images of ordinary Kashmiris rushing to encounter sites in defence of militants, without fearing for their lives.
What went wrong? The 10-year rule of Manmohan Singh was the lost decade in Kashmir, when he did not take forward Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s efforts towards a political intervention in Kashmir. A land transfer controversy in 2008, rape allegation against security forces in 2009, and alleged firing at young stone-pelters in 2010 saw the Kashmiri society rise up in rebellion.
Do not listen
The idea that the gun was not the way out had led initially to peaceful protests in 2008-2009, but by 2010 it was all about stone-pelting. When I interviewed stone-pelters in Srinagar around that time, they said they pelted the forces with stones because they wanted to be heard.
When separatists call for a protest, the security forces impose a declared or undeclared curfew, preventing people from protesting non-violently. This encouraged stone-pelting and made it a mainstream activity. Stone-pelting protests, sometimes lasting days, killed and maimed many young boys over the years. This spiral of violence, young protesters complained, was because “India” wasn’t willing to “listen” to them. India wasn’t even willing to “talk”, let alone listen.
And what did they have to say that “India” wasn’t willing to hear? The dreaded A-word? Yes, they would shout, “Hum kya chahtey? Azadi!”, but if you were willing to give them a patient hearing, they would tell you they wanted an end to the conflict. New Delhi thought that putting down the militant’s gun was the end of the conflict. The word “normalcy” that came from Delhi riled up Kashmiris. Just because bullets weren’t flying in the air anymore, didn’t mean they no longer had any problems with New Delhi.
In the northeast and Punjab, rebellion has faced military repression, but resolution has been political, through talks. But on Kashmir, India’s political class has its lips sealed. They don’t even pretend that Kashmir exists politically. It exists only as some distant place on the India-Pakistan border. As long as Indians can take a boat ride on the Dal, all must be well.
From one generation to another
Putting down rebellion by force works for a year or three, but if you don’t resolve it politically, it comes back stronger and deadlier as a young generation of teenagers grows up. The cycle continues from generation to generation as stories and suffering are passed on. While young men are giving up their lives on the streets with stones and guns, grandfathers are sitting in homes in curfewed neighbourhoods, telling teenagers the history of the Kashmir conflict. The seed of anger, anguish, victimhood is planted. The feeling of having being wronged is internalised. A few years later, it bursts out like a volcano.
In Anantnag in 2011, I met a 14-year-old stone-pelter who said he wanted to die from the “Indian bullets” while hurling stones. His shahadat or martyrdom, he said, would bring ‘azadi’ to Kashmir. He won’t be around to see this ‘azadi’, alas, but he would have escaped the prison of life. I urged him to rejoin school, make a life, a career. He said it was revenge he was after. He was two years old when the Indian army, he claimed, took his father in and tortured him. He was lucky to be released alive but has since been a “mental patient”. Growing up with a mentally unwell father, who knows ‘India’ did this to him, the young boy wanted revenge.
That’s how the cycle of alienation and violence perpetuates itself. It finds fertile ground in Pakistani support and Islamism and the Internet. Bringing peace to Kashmir requires New Delhi to reach out to that 14-year-old and make him calm down. But all that New Delhi seems to have for him is the bullet he so craves for.
The Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party was founded in 1999 by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a Kashmiri and a former Congress party member. Better known as PDP, the party played an important role in the Valley’s politics. Until its rise, anti-incumbency against the National Conference governments used to be exploited by the separatists. Now, there was a local opponent.
The PDP went a step further, with some encouragement from New Delhi — it adopted soft separatism. It tried to disrupt the status quo by waging the cause of conflict resolution, which involved talking to Pakistan. Azadi-wallahs felt nervous with the rise of the PDP as it had the potential to co-opt separatism into the Indian fold. The PDP was advocating everything that was possible under the sun but without leaving India. Its agenda came to be known best for the term ‘healing touch’. That is exactly what was needed after years of violence.
When Narendra Modi became the prime minister in 2014, there were those in Kashmir who felt he might take the thread forward from the Vajpayee days, and reopen political engagement with the Kashmiri society with the aim of resolving conflict and alienation. This hope was part of the PDP’s rationale behind coming together for an unlikely alliance with the BJP to form a government in J&K.
The PDP-BJP alliance was based on a common agenda that both sides agreed to, but New Delhi didn’t keep its side of the bargain, which included talking to the separatists. Instead, New Delhi, the BJP, and the RSS all went on an aggressive spree to further the Hindutva agenda in Kashmir. When they needed to say resolution, they said muscular policy. Through agitations and courts, they made Kashmiris feel that New Delhi wanted to undo the special status granted to Kashmir under the Indian Constitution.
The BJP, with its Hindutva ideology, was never popular in Kashmir. Modi’s handling of Kashmir, far from being Vajpayee-like, turned out to be more in the RSS’s realm of things. This discredited the PDP completely, making it unpopular even among its core supporters in south Kashmir — the epicentre of the new phase of militancy in the Valley, and identified by the figure of Burhan Wani, whose killing in 2016 sparked another mass uprising.
The PDP, which was seen as an Indian asset by the separatists, was thus politically decimated by a government that claims to own Indian nationalism. This Modi government’s chosen mouthpieces on news TV debates remind Kashmiris every evening how much they hate them and the Muslims.
Making it worse
Pulwama is in south Kashmir, and the suicide bomber who carried out the CRPF attack, Adil Ahmed Dar, was an Indian citizen from Pulwama, not a foreign militant. Things have become so bad in Kashmir that we now have local suicide bombers. Of course, there’s Pakistan fishing in troubled waters, using the Jaish-e-Mohammed to carry out spectacular terrorist attacks in Kashmir. But the masterminds can’t succeed without local support, not in 2019, when the LoC is far less penetrable than it was in 1989.
Why are the Burhan Wanis and the Adil Ahmed Dars ready to kill and die? It is because there is something called the Kashmir conflict that India’s political class refuses to acknowledge, let alone resolve. If anything, they are happy to make it worse with their jingoism and insensitivity.
This terror attack will be forgotten after some military action. We will pretend the problem is in Rawalpindi and not Srinagar. Security forces will continue to die. Only when more than five are killed in an attack on a single day will we take note. Yet another ‘interlocutor’ will be appointed to pretend New Delhi wants to engage with the Kashmiri society and the separatists. This farce has no end.
For ThePrint's smart analysis of how the rest of the media is doing its job, no holds barred, go to PluggedIn.