Valley of unrest: Is Indian-held Kashmir poised for another implosion this summer?
Faheem Abdul Muneeb
It is no secret that India-held Kashmir (IHK) is one of the world’s most enduring flashpoints. Last year, it witnessed a massive anti-India uprising.
The Indian state’s brutal crackdown resulted in what was described as the world’s first mass blinding — an epidemic of ‘dead eyes’. More than 100 people were killed and 15,000 injured, more than 10,000 were detained, and thousands were hit with pellets. There was a massive clampdown of communication services, and the economic losses suffered were the highest they’ve been in the recent history of this disputed region. The situation affected India and Pakistan at both the diplomatic and military levels.
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This crisis has not yet settled. Forecasts made by various quarters for 2017 portend more danger and heartbreak. The chief minister of IHK has been informed by the police of a “more dangerous repetition of 2016”, admitting to a “lack of preparedness” to handle such a crisis. The crisis can be gauged from the large-scale participation of civilians in the funeral processions of anti-India gunmen and the fearless, pitched battles between the youth and Indian state forces.
The situation has also affected the modus operandi of the Indian army. Last year, the then head of the Northern Command, Lt Gen D.S. Hooda, now retired, stated, “I’m not comfortable anymore conducting operations if large crowds are around. Militarily, there’s not much more to do than we already have done ... We’re losing the battle for a narrative.” Changing this stance, Indian COAS Bipin Rawat made an aggressive statement threatening the use of “tough action” on civilians obstructing military operations against the rebels and those who are not supportive of the army, pledging to treat them as “anti-national elements”.
This neo-morphed military narrative demonstrates the failure of political means. Fearing another brutal summer this year, the Central Reserve Police Force has bought 20,000 full-body protectors, 3,000 polycarbonate shields, improved helmets, tear-smoke protectors, and 6,000 pellet guns. India’s home affairs ministry is attempting to use perception management, the revival of the Special Operations Group and repressive laws to curb an uprising in 2017. The ground reality speaks of a state of war.
At the other end, the confrontations between the young boys and the Indian forces, the unending distrust of the system’s elders, the lack of political will of the governments, and the failure of the international community compelled the Concerned Citizens Group to voice their anxieties. Former union minister Yashwant Sinha said, “We are deeply concerned at the deteriorating situation in the Kashmir Valley,” and asked the centre to “begin the process of dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir by involving all the stakeholders”.
Elsewhere, Congress politician P. Chidambaram said, “Kashmir is nearly lost for India because the central government used brute force to quell dissent there.” In a letter to the governor of IHK, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani wrote that, “Kashmir is a political problem ... No amount of military might will resolve it.” The latest scenes of protests at Kashmir University and people’s marches towards the encounter sites reflect a popular rejection of military engagement.
If the next couple of weeks see no political breakthrough, what is feared is a disaster of great magnitude. The disgruntled people may rise again, and IHK may face yet another civilian surge. The pro-freedom leadership — which is being questioned on its strategy and meagre achievements — may be unable to control the youth. The growing feeling is that taking up arms is the only solution, evident in the fact that the boys with the guns are the most glamourised in the vale.
The political conversation in IHK is growing angrier, and the Indian state is becoming weaker against the people — a dangerous trend that may shake it in the bloodiest of ways. We may see stones and metal emerge as the dominant political statement. The Indian state may continue to blot its history, and human rights violations may reach new heights.
Before this new dance of death begins, India’s civil society and its citizenry must rise up, and the leaders of India and elsewhere must ensure a new political beginning. Otherwise, in the absence of solution-oriented dialogue providing a respite to IHK’s citizens, we may witness another mad summer. Alarm bells are ringing, it is growing noisier day by day, and it is high time for international players to engage with India and Pakistan and ensure that the Kashmir dispute creates no more humanitarian crises.
We in IHK believe that there can be no alternative to diplomacy and political engagement. A productive dialogue for the resolution of this conflict, therefore, must begin.
The writer hails from IHK and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in political science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.