Views from Srinagar
THE month of June that coincided with the holy month of Ramzan left a trail of bloodletting across Kashmir as the militants upped their ante against the forces, particularly targeting the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The government forces also intensified their operations, resulting in many civilian killings in the “collateral damage”. Impact of this heightened tension was visible and it cast its shadow over Eid ul Fitr as well.
Notwithstanding the fact that all the killings bring a sense of helplessness, the way the people at large have continuously supported the militants and helped them to escape the cordon by thwarting the operations launched by the forces depicts an alarming situation. Political conflict has changed its dynamics and the way it is subsumed in the fresh wave of violence does convey something else.
When militancy started in 1987 it was the direct result of a situation of frustration that followed the continuous denial of political rights.
Violence cannot be justified in any society as a means to achieve the political objective. However, New Delhi’s betrayal with the people of Jammu and Kashmir created a space and allowed the new generation to embrace the arms.
Former police chief of Kashmir, A M Watali, who was at the helm in late 80s when the armed rebellion broke out, gives a graphic account of how the seeds were sown for pushing the youth to the wall. In his just out memoir “Kashmir Intifada” he discusses in detail as to how New Delhi’s consistent policy of disempowering Kashmiris led to something which perhaps Pakistan had failed to achieve in 1947 and 1965.
Though Kashmir witnessed a transition from violence to non-violence in mid 90s when the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) announced a unilateral ceasefire, it was not allowed to become an opportunity to lay foundation for a meaningful dialogue. Rather it was used to weaken the urge of people for peace. Despite the ceasefire, the JKLF leaders are on record of saying that more than 600 members of the organisation were killed, thus negating the spirit of reconciliation. The period between 2003 to 2007 threw another opportunity of bonhomie between India and Pakistan and the issue of Jammu and Kashmir remained in focus, but that was sadly followed by complete denial, thus again pushing the boys to militancy.
Hanging of Afzal Guru was a turning point in this situation that opened the doors for locals to go back to what they had left. This not only turned the clock back in political terms but it created a space for social sanction to militancy thereby bringing Hizbul Mujahideen back to the centre stage. The credit for Hizb’s comeback also goes to its poster boy Burhan Wani who was killed a year ago.
Though security officials disagree that the situation is akin to 1990s, whatever is happening especially in South Kashmir is certainly significant. Involvement of general public in the armed resistance is something that makes it more critical than in 1990. Figures suggest that June was a bloody month that saw a spike in militancy related incidents with a much greater impact. In 13 incidents, 27 militants, 8 policemen, 6 civilians and an army soldier were killed thus making it an engaging month vis-a-vis militancy.
The numbers may not be on the higher side but the way some top militants lost their lives and the killing of a Station House Officer in Achabal along with his five colleagues and lynching of a Deputy Superintendent of Police, it took the lid off the unknown layer of the impending trouble.
Going back to the figures about the violence from January 2016 to June 2016 and comparing it with corresponding period in 2017 (January 2017 to June 2017) there is not much difference but the number of civilian killings has gone up with 21 deaths in 2017 as compared to seven in 2016. In the same period last year, 29 security force personnel were killed as compared to 38 in 2017. Similarly, the number of militants killed has slightly gone up with 90 in 2017 against 79 in 2016. This also makes it clear that the involvement of civilians in resisting the operations has led to almost four-time increase in their killings in comparison to 2016.
As the graph of militancy has been on rise, a related development brings it into a new focus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to United States had a “gift” in store for him.
A day before he arrived in US, the state department declared the Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Salahuddin as globally designated terrorist. Salahuddin who used to be Mohammad Yousuf Shah when he fought the assembly election in 1987 is the first militant to have been tagged like this. On the face of it, this declaration is symbolic as it will only restrict him from visiting US and owning assets in that country, which he otherwise would not do. However, it comes as a moral boost for New Delhi in its fight against “terrorism” and joining the league at international level.
Pakistan has rejected this declaration and China has gone a step ahead in calling him a freedom fighter. That makes it amply clear that Kashmir is not just a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan but it is part of a great game being played in the region in which the equations have gone through a new shift after the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) became a reality and Russia too fell in line. China has been blocking India’s bid in United Nations Security Council as well when it comes to Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar being given the same title. It does not need much effort to understand whether China really supports violence by doing so. It certainly does it as a matter of policy to counter and in that case Kashmir already is in international attention.
Pakistan’s noted journalist Hamid Mir had rightly concluded in an article in Indian Express that US’s action against Salahuddin very much indicated mediation on Kashmir. By declaring him global terrorist, Washington has gone against its long time policy of pushing both India and Pakistan to table considering that Kashmir’s was a genuine political movement. Delhi also cannot shrug off the reality that it has in past engaged with Hizbul Mujahideen.
Today’s BJP government may say they don’t believe in engaging with those who challenge India’s rule in Kashmir but the fact is that governments are governments and with the change in incumbents the reality cannot be altered.
Whatever the consequence of this declaration, it is hardly going to make an impact on ground in Kashmir. Local support to militancy has increased. Unless a political approach is adopted by the government, violence will continue to make headlines. And with provocations from the government in Delhi which are further supplemented by TV channels, there is hardly any chance and hope to see a change. Armed forces may go against the militants and kill them but recent trends have shown that more youth are joining the ranks. Apart from the political effort, improved governance, end to atrocities and random arrests are important issues that need to be looked at.