What is mysterious about ‘burning of schools’ in Kashmir?
Educational institutions in Kashmir valley are being torched on almost regular basis in a meticulously planned and neatly executed operation. As I pen these lines more than thirty school buildings have been set on fire across the Kashmir valley. The Kashmir civil society has reacted with understandable anger and indignation. Those who could afford, have already moved their wards to the secure environment of Jammu and elsewhere in the country. The very size of the problem, is, however huge and too daunting to admit of such simplistic solution. Almost every body who is any body has condemned the burning of schools. Surprisingly, even separatist big wigs under whose flag the ongoing violence is being perpetrated in Kashmir have joined the chorus of condemnation.
The phenomenon has been described as ‘mysterious’ and baffling’ not only by the governments in Delhi and Srinagar, the civil society and political class but also hallowed institutions. This reaction on their part is indeed baffling. Is it possible to believe that ‘the earthshaking happenings in our very neighbourhood quite recent, widely publicised, hotly debated world wide and researched have escaped their notice? May be each one of these entities lack the courage or have their own compelling reasons not to utter or spell words like “Whabis”, Salafian, Ahil-i-Hades extremist Sunni cult and “Taliban- all interchangeable and publically admit the “creeping nay galloping radicalisation of Kashmir society? Or is there a method in this madness?
On an other level the political class and establishment appear to have shut their eyes and closed their minds to the fast changing socio-political scenario in Kashmir. They refuse to confront the harsh reality of the emergence of the Wahabi (Ahil-i Hadees)- Hafiz Syed led terrorist combine and Pak ISI that masterminds and executes the on-going anti-India upsurge in Kashmir. Their inability or unwillingness to open their eyes and unshackle their minds frozen at the end of the last decade politico-terrorist scenario lay at the root of prevailing strategic confusion and governance waywardness. Once two vital factors-Whabi/ Ahil-i-Hadees dominance of the ideological push and significant radicalization of Kashmir society-are admitted and factored into the analysis and assessment of the on going anti-nation upsurge in Kashmir, the harsh realities will emerge in all their hideous enormity and grave implications. This would enable crafting of a realistic and effective strategic response to get a firm grip on state of affairs presently characterised by confusion, hesitancy and retreat.
The International Crisis Group of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), a coalition of organisations including Human Rights Watch, Save the Children and UNICEF concluded that Taliban considered educational institutions “As symbols of government authority” and instruments of “promoting western decadence and un-Islamic teachings” Therefore, the Afghan Taliban, completely banned secular education. A world Bank study on Afghanistan reported that between January 2006 and December 2008, 1,153 attacks on education targets were reported, including the damaging or destruction of schools by arson, grenades, mines and rockets; threats to teachers and officials delivered by “night letters” or verbally; the killing of students, teachers and other education staff; and looting. The number of incidents stayed stable at 241 and 242 respectively in 2006 and 2007, but then almost tripled to 670 in 2008. In 2006 and 2007, 230 people died from attacks on schools, students and education personnel, according to Ministry of Education.
The GCPEA, also reported that many schools in Pakistan , particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the so-called federally administered tribal areas were attacked at night, blown up or razed to the ground with small, improvised bombs set with timers.” Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission reported more than 500 schools damaged or destroyed in this way in 2009 The daytime attacks on schools and school buses including with grenades, rockets, rifles and machine guns were also executed. In one such incident, in September 2011, Taliban fighters “fired a rocket at a school bus transporting students home from Khyber Model school near Peshawar”, the GCPEA says. “When the rocket missed, they opened fire with guns on the other side of the vehicle.” Twelve schoolchildren were injured in that attack, while four more, and their driver, died. It may therefore be seen that destruction of secular schooling system was thus not only integral to Talbinasation, Radicalisation, whabization or Slafisation, call it what ever you will with the top priority tag. This frightening scenario has the potential of being duplicated in Kashmir unless the Governments and the people wake up to the grave challenge and turn this into an opportunity. The current ostrich like policy could be relied upon to produce a disaster of unimaginable dimension.
The operation in Kashmir is the extension of this global phenomenon infected with Wahabi-Salafi mindset. The attack on education therefore had to come. Its timing, however is somewhat surprising. The radicalisation in government education system from Primary stage to University level largely facilitated by the state government machinery and “tolerated” by the State and Central Governments through acts of omission has been a huge success. It was considered strategically sound to let the process play out. In my estimation, ‘the School intervention’ was slated for sometime in 2018 in the next phase. Only perception of a grave challenge and unexpected hazard could compel altering of the settled schedule. It appears the huge public outrage at the prolonged closure of educational institutions and postponement after postponement of examination placing the future of students in severe jeopardy surprised the manipulators. Panicked by the public support to the opening of educational institutions and conduct of examination, the Master puppeteers in Rawalpindi decided to pre-pone the programme and authorised the burning of School building to preserve the recruitment kitty for Street action / Stone pelting. They apparently were unaware of the fact that the forward looking and fast developing Kashmir Society accorded top most priory to health and education of boys and girls and would not only disapprove its interruption but also resist.
The people have spoken. It is now up to the government and the state administeron to build on this positive sentiment, reach out to the civil society and devise ways and means in consultation with them to achieve the desired results. The meeting of Panchayat representations with the Prime Minister in Delhi in which the issue of “School burning” was reportedly discussed opens up another avenue.
A calculated and comprehensive government response has to be spear headed by District level officers-Education Officer, SSP and D CTheir ability to succeed will critically depend on their public relation quotient, apolitical character and determination to make a go for it. The State government which has recently been running what is being derisively described as “the Transfer Industry” would do well to ensure that officers holding these posts do meet the specified requirements and enjoy the full support of the security grid and rest of the administration. The Security Forces should go hunting for the terrorist and ensure that the Foot Soldiers of the are kept at bay and School Burning Groups on the run, Display of force through strategic deployment in this particular context and massive round the clock joint Police-Paramilitary – patrolling mandated to maintain regular contact with the Civil Society Groups. Such Groups that will need to be constituted for the protection of School buildings, undisturbed conduct of examination and uninterrupted working of schools. Problems and difficulties encountered by them should be quickly, positively and effectively responded. The success in protecting Educational Institution, conduct of examination as per schedule and resumption of regular schooling will undoubtedly bring normalcy back. Once Schools open, Shopkeepers will be in busnes so will be daily wagers, Shikara wallas, street vendors and the like. There is bound to be a cascade effect heralding peace and normalcy for people of Kashmir yearn. Other processes can and should take off from that point.