The chocolate-boy face of militancy in Kashmir
Kashmir is burning once again. The immediate provocation came after security forces shot dead Hizbul Mujahideen’s 21-year-old poster boy Burhan Wani, alongwith two of his accomplices in Kokernag. The incident provoked mass mourning across the valley even as each new death is only fuelling further anger. Protesters, mostly young men, (more than 30) are reported dead and 1,400 injured. Whether the police intended to kill him or not, damage has been done, and the valley is simmering.
The situation reminds one of the 2010 unrest when 120 people were killed by security forces trying to suppress the youth. Most of them born after 1990, and hundreds of thousands of mourners who joined Wani’s funeral procession proved it.
The incident has brought out several facets. There is a local angle, there is a national angle, there is an international angle and also there is an India-Pakistan angle. Echo was heard in Pakistan as Wani’s photos were posted on social media. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for a plebiscite in what he called “occupied” Jammu & Kashmir to let its people decide if they want to be with India or align with Pakistan. Radio Pakistan quoted Sharif as saying that the “massacre of citizens by Indian forces and use of brutal force against Kashmir is regrettable.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, called on all parties to exercise “maximum restraint” to avoid further violence and hoped that all concerns would be addressed through peaceful means. Last September, Sharif had met him and jim urged for a plebiscite in Kashmir, stressing the need for implementation of the UN Security Council resolution in this regard.
As for local politics, former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has warned that Burhan dead is more deadly than Burhan alive. “Mark my words – Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” he tweeted.
Who is Burhan Wani, and why should his death invoke so much violence? He represents a dangerous home-grown militancy. The son of a headmaster, he took to guns reportedly to avenge the death of his brother. Wani joined the Hizbul Mujahideen and rose to become a commander. He was the first militant from Kashmir in recent years to reveal his identity. The eruption has been coming for long and it is not clear why the authorities did nothing to prevent it.
There is no cohesion between the ruling coalition partners – the Peoples Democratic Party and the BJP. Also, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has fallen between the two stools. In 2010, she supported the youth uprising. As Chief Minister, she has arrested the Hurriyat leaders and now is appealing to them to come to her rescue. On the other hand, the Centre does not have the same confidence in her as it had in her father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.
Second, the Centre seems to think that violence in the State can be tackled by deploying the Army to crush militancy. This has not paid dividend, as political commentator Dilip Padgaonkar has observed the face of the militancy itself has changed in the State. Home-grown militancy has overtaken foreign militancy from across the border. It is now the local youth, well-educated, well-versed in the social media and well indoctrinated who is now the face of the new militancy.
Third, is a lack of strategy on the part of the Centre and the State. Ever since former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a round table conference with the stakeholders, no fresh effort had been made to address their concerns. So, while home-grown militancy is growing, the moderates are becoming irrelevant.
Fourth, Kashmir needs is a political solution. The ball is in the court of the BJP, as it is not only ruling at the Centre, but is also a coalition partner in the State. It was a welcome step that the Modi Government reached out to the Congress and other Opposition parties. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s telephone calls to Congress president Sonia Gandhi was indeed part of that effort.
Fifth, as retired Army Chief Gen Ved Prakash Malik observed, whenever the dialogue process is suspended, infiltration and militancy raises its head. The two Prime Ministers must take forward the diplomacy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi practiced by dropping in at Sharif’s residence last December, and resume the dialogue process.
The road ahead is clear. The priority is to restore law and order and reach out to the people. Mehbooba Mufti should be given all support as her authority is getting weak day by day. There should be a healing touch, and all MLAs should fan out to their constituencies. The Centre too should address the concerns of the Kashmiris and build consensus by involving all stakeholders including the Hurriyat.