Adrift in the Valley
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.