Violence in the Valley

D Suba Chandran | Updated on January 17, 2018

The anger It has a history and we must understand it   -  THE HINDU

It offers an opportunity to take a relook at the crisis and correct mistakes. The state and society must seize the moment

The ongoing violence in Kashmir is seen primarily from a negative perspective, with separatists in the Valley using it as a tool to bounce back and become politically relevant, bleeding-heart liberals using it as another tool to vilify the state and its (in)action, and security forces bouncing back with a ‘we told you so’ note and ‘this is not the time to discuss AFSPA’. What is forgotten conveniently in the blame game is the loss of young lives in Valley, hard-fought achievements of the security forces in reducing the level of violence, tough bargain between the two leading political parties and the slow process of normalisation.

Between 2010 and 2012, there was a clear window of opportunity for the state (especially New Delhi), security forces and the Kashmiri civil society. Violence had come down drastically, thanks to the security forces; Kashmiris were looking for a political opening, thanks to the civil society; and there was a moment of a dialogue, thanks to the tough to and fro led by interlocutors. It was a moment to be seized.

Some early action and few risks could have placed Kashmir politics in a different path. New Delhi could have started with removal of security forces and AFSPA from the urban areas, at least from few towns in the Valley. It could have been a great beginning.

That moment was lost; and the civil society in Kashmir and the state are back to square one. Both have to start all over again. The young lives that were lost should mean something for both the security forces and the civil society together. One cannot blame the other completely to go back to what they have been doing during the last three years; New Delhi has to think beyond having a BJP government in Srinagar.

The ongoing violence perhaps presents another moment again. Can we, as the state and society seize this moment again, and ensure that there are no more lives lost?

Wrong reading

First, the new development should make New Delhi understand that the end of violence does not mean the end of conflict in Kashmir. Unfortunately, since 2004-06, we started believing ourselves with a number that is convenient to back our theory. We started measuring the ‘return of peace’ with ‘absence of violence’, ‘reduction in cross-border violations,’ ‘number of foreign militants present’ and more importantly ‘number of tourists visited’.

The last one was a self-defeating point in particular. All those who have been making pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu region are counted as tourists visiting J&K. The equation then became simple for the state: no violence, less foreign militants, high voter turnout, increased tourists — put together mean the end of conflict in Kashmir.

Second, the state should take political control and not fire from the shoulders of the security forces. This has become a South Asian trait, visible in India’s approach in J&K, and also in its northeast. The security forces can only help the state in eliminating militancy and to an extent reducing the ‘physical’ violence.

But in the process, there is bound to be an element of ‘emotional’ violence built into the society and its brutalisation. This is not just collateral, but inevitable. The replacement of militant violence with teenagers’ stone pelting is an expression of violence getting internalised. This internalisation of violence by the youth is worse than the external violence led by militants.

Healing touch, again

Third, the absence of a ‘localised’ healing touch makes the above internal violence keep simmering. It is extremely unfortunate that the Mufti is not here at this moment; his presence would have made a substantial difference within Valley and in his dealing with New Delhi and also the BJP in the State. Unfortunately for Mehbooba Mufti, most of the last year was spent politically in dealing with the BJP, than addressing real issues in Valley.

However, she is still capable of bringing the society back to normalcy. She has already taken measures to meet with various sections of the society and use her party leaders to talk to others, including the Hurriyat leaders. The security forces can bring down the external violence using force; but only Mehbooba can address the internal violence of the youth through politics. Perhaps, the time is ripe for a policy of Healing Touch-II.

Fourth, the Civil Society of Kashmir will also have to seize the moment. From parental crisis to the problems in educational institutions — there are numerous reasons for the youths to pick up stones, and some of them even guns, even if it was for social media. Undoubtedly, none will deny the long pending political cause, but let the civil society not blame only the security forces and New Delhi. If the present situation has to continue, it will take Kashmir back to the 1990s.

New Delhi will only be willing to fire once again through the shoulders of the security forces. The resulting violence may lead to further loss of lives. Let those lives lost during the last few days, and during the last few years may serve as an eye opener to prevent any further loss.

The separatists in Valley — may come with further political slogans to revive their career and also become politically relevant. Both the civil society and the State should understand their narrow politics and fall into their trap.

Don’t repeat mistakes

Finally, New Delhi should take responsibility for what has happened in the last few years and ensure the mistakes are not repeated again. It should have seized the moment during 2010-12 and taken few risks. Removal of AFSPA from few urban towns could have been a great beginning. There were substantial recommendations in the interlocutors’ report.

While the immediate priority for the State should be to address the violence, long term objective should be aimed at political engagement. Let New Delhi and the BJP in the State encourage Mehbooba for a Healing Touch-II. Once the present level of violence comes down, let there be a serious discussion in handing over security operations to J&K police in select towns and remove the military and AFSPA from those places.

The ongoing violence do present a moment. Let the state and society seize the same; this is the only way to respect the loss of lives — whether youths or security forces.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He researches on armed conflicts and peace process in South Asia

Published on July 14, 2016

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