Adrift in the Val­ley

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - M. K. Narayanan

From the be­gin­ning of the year, Kash­mir has been fac­ing its gravest cri­sis since 2008 and 2010. Nei­ther Delhi nor Srinagar ap­pears to be equipped to ef­fec­tively deal with it

News em­a­nat­ing out of Kash­mir over the past few months should be a mat­ter of ut­most con­cern. Delhi and Srinagar, but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, seem to be un­will­ing to ad­mit to the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion that is de­vel­op­ing in the Val­ley. How­ever, if those in power at the Centre and in the State fail to heed the lessons of history, merely hop­ing against hope that things will set­tle down, it could be a costly mis­take.

Those fa­mil­iar with Kash­mir's history would be aware that vi­o­lence in Jammu and Kash­mir gen­er­ally tends to come in "waves". Since the late 1980s, there have been at least four such dis­tinct "waves". Each wave had its own char­ac­ter­is­tics, but the com­mon thread was op­po­si­tion to "rule" from Delhi. The metaphors may change - some­times the de­mand is for "azadi", at other times it is for "greater au­ton­omy". The tac­tics might dif­fer, but alien­ation has been a semi-per­ma­nent theme. The de­gree of alien­ation tends to vary, de­pend­ing on the ex­tent of the dis­tance be­tween Srinagar and Delhi.

Ac­cus­tomed to pe­ri­odic out­bursts of "an­tiIn­dia sen­ti­ment" in the Val­ley, the ten­dency in Delhi has gen­er­ally been to see all these ag­i­ta­tions as sim­i­lar in na­ture. This ig­nores both ground re­al­i­ties and the re­gion's history of vi­o­lence and tur­bu­lence. There have been pe­ri­ods in Kash­mir's re­cent history when the State ap­peared to be on the brink, and only deft han­dling helped re­trieve the sit­u­a­tion.

To­day, the main is­sue in Kash­mir's dia­lec­tics is not so much ac­ces­sion to In­dia, as the ero­sion of Jammu and Kash­mir's "spe­cial sta­tus" as well as the cen­tral­ity of Ar­ti­cle 370, given that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the past had given the im­pres­sion that Ar­ti­cle 370 was an anachro­nism. Con­se­quently, when ag­i­ta­tors to­day talk of "azadi" - and de­mand an end to Delhi's rule - there are sub­tle dif­fer­ences in the tone and tenor of the slo­gans, which has to be fac­tored into any cal­cu­la­tion of what the present un­rest in the Val­ley sig­ni­fies.

We must re­main pre­pared for a pos­si­ble fifth wave of un­rest and vi­o­lence in the Val­ley. Let­ting things slide can­not ob­scure the re­al­ity that since the be­gin­ning of 2016, the Val­ley has been fac­ing its gravest cri­sis since 2008 and 2010. The num­ber of fa­tal ca­su­al­ties may be far fewer, but the in­trin­sic na­ture of the protests and, more im­por­tantly, the at­mo­spher­ics sur­round­ing them, make the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion highly in­cen­di­ary.

Kash­mir is bracing it­self for a long hot sum­mer of in­cur­sions of Pak­istan-based mil­i­tants from across the border. As it is, in­fil­tra­tion of Pak­istan-based ter­ror­ists has gone up sub­stan­tially since the be­gin­ning of this year. More at­tacks are tak­ing place, and sev­eral of them have oc­cured in ar­eas far from the border, in­clud­ing in Srinagar it­self. Gun bat­tles are last­ing for much longer - for days rather than hours.

Hardly any of the at­tack­ers have been taken alive. What is most dis­turb­ing is that many of the in­fil­tra­tors are find­ing shel­ter and refuge with Kash­miri fam­i­lies, rem­i­nis­cent of and re­vert­ing to the sit­u­a­tion that ex­isted in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Army's counter ter­ror­ism grid has, no doubt, been suc­cess­ful in thwart­ing sev­eral at­tacks. How­ever, this begs the ques­tion of how best to blunt or limit the im­pact of the ex­ter­nally in­spired and tar­geted mil­i­tancy in Jammu and Kash­mir. Un­for­tu­nately, di­ver­sions such as the Pak­istan-di­rected at­tacks in Gur­daspur and Pathankot are caus­ing Delhi to take its "eye off the ball", for the main battle is in Kash­mir and not else­where.

North Kash­mir, which had re­mained qui­es­cent for quite some time has, of late, be­come the main lo­cus of vi­o­lent ac­tiv­ity. The March 31 in­ci­dent in the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (NIT), Srinagar, lead­ing to a se­ri­ous clash be­tween "lo­cals" and "out­siders" over a non­event viz. In­dia's de­feat by the West Indies in the ICC World Twenty20 Cham­pi­onship, should have been an eye-opener, for it re­vealed how deep the di­vide was and the de­gree of po­lar­i­sa­tion that it sig­ni­fied. Sub­se­quent un­rav­el­ling of the sit­u­a­tion, once the se­cu­rity forces in­ter­vened saw slo­gans such as "Pak­istan Zind­abad" and "den­i­grat­ing" In­dia be­ing raised. By then it should have be­come ev­i­dent that un­der­ground mil­i­tants, mainly the Hizbul Mujahideen, had be­gun to take con­trol. This was proved beyond doubt once stu­dents be­long­ing to other univer­si­ties in Kash­mir joined the vi­o­lent protests and be­gan rais­ing sim­i­lar anti-na­tional slo­gans.

The months of April and May this year have been par­tic­u­larly bad for Kash­mir. Sev­eral in­ci­dents of a dis­parate na­ture have tended to co­a­lesce and cre­ate a mighty river of dis­con­tent. In the aftermath of the NIT in­ci­dent, un­sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions of a young girl having been mo­lested by an armed forces per­son­nel pro­duced a vis­ceral re­ac­tion.

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