The latest uprising in Kashmir, triggered by the encounter killing of the young Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani, was waiting to happen for some time. The writing on the wall has been clear to those who cared to read it: that Kashmir would soon bounce back to the days of home-grown insurgency, with religious radicalization acting as a force multiplier this time. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in New Delhi, in its impatient race for power in Srinagar, did not care to read the signs, and when told, it didn’t care to listen.
The Kashmiris knew that things were not going to be easy for them if the BJP were to come to power in the State, and so they voted in large numbers to keep it out. But they were in for a rude surprise when BJP interlocutors sweet-talked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into believing that the “Agenda of Alliance”, that the two parties put together after months of negotiations, would be an inviolable document for political action. The PDP has since been silenced and the so-called guiding document has been cast to the winds. We are perhaps one last stop away from the Valley slipping into another full-blown insurgency: with Rawalpindi aiding and abetting it, disaffected Kashmiris being hopeless and edgy, and clueless New Delhi playing with fire throwing all caution to the winds.
A decade of follies
There was a time, a decade ago, when we were close to ending the Kashmir insurgency. It was the heyday of Manmohan Singh’s proactive diplomacy with Pakistan on the Kashmir question even as his interlocutors were quietly negotiating with the dissident leadership in Kashmir on a ‘Kashmir formula’. As per anecdotal evidence, a majority of the dissident leadership in the Valley, barring Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was on board the formula. Not only were the Pakistanis supporting the process but had even tried to reach out to the dissidents in the Valley to convince them of the proposed solution! Dr. Singh held extensive consultations with the Kashmiri leadership both publicly and privately. While Dr. Singh lost his political nerve in mid-2007 to take the initiative to its logical conclusion, his counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, lost his domestic support thanks to the lawyers’ agitation, and as a result, the deal that would have settled both the conflict in Kashmir and over Kashmir disappeared into oblivion.
Kashmir has never been the same again. Anti-India feelings were steadily on the rise after over 120 Kashmiris were killed at the hands of the J&K police and Central forces in 2010. The seeds of a new indigenous insurgency were sown by the hasty manner in which Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013 during the Congress-led UPA regime. Let’s remember that all this was happening during a decade when terrorist infiltration from Pakistan was lower than ever before thanks primarily to the border/Line of Control fence that was erected in J&K in 2004.
The combined result of this mishandling has been a sharp, and worrying, spike in the number of home-grown militants: educated, armed, religiously inclined and ideologically motivated, and not necessarily shepherded. Second, years since the violent insurgency of the 1990s was put down, there is today a disquieting rise in the legitimacy for armed militancy among civil society and the educated classes of the Valley — Burhan Wani’s father, who is convinced of the righteousness of his son’s mission, is symbolic of that radical change. Anti-Indianism has become fashionable once again. A society that was exhausted by violence and gun culture has suddenly started justifying it. Finally, a decade of mishandling Kashmir has fundamentally damaged the liberal political space that could have politically and ideologically countered the return of militancy. Even the moderate Hurriyat faction finds it difficult today to converse with the youngsters thronging Kashmir’s dark alleys and war-torn mofussil towns, shouting for azadi, throwing stones, and ready to die.
Still losing the plot
Its miserable history of mishandling Kashmir has hardly taught New Delhi how to deal with Kashmir, despite fighting the insurgency for close to three decades now. While it was the Congress’s greed for power that historically, since the 1950s, alienated Kashmiris from the Indian political mainstream, it’s now the BJP’s turn to emulate the Congress with, of course, far more chest-thumping and name-calling.
Having cleverly hemmed in the Muftis, BJP strategists seem to believe that they have finally won the battle of wits in Kashmir, which they may well have. Yet, by being ignorant of the big picture, by investing heavily in short-term strategies and being insensitive to both the disaffected Kashmiris and its beleaguered coalition partner, the PDP, the BJP government in New Delhi is miserably losing the bigger battle for Kashmir and its people.
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Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.