Kashmir Déjà vu: Elusive Peace?

The travails of picturesque Kashmir continue. Last fortnight’s macabre killing of 11 members of non-Kashmiris, Hindu-Sikh minority communities and migrant workers by hit-and-run groups has generated widespread panic in Kashmir. Srinagar has been overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu and opened old wounds — frightening reminder of the brutal 1990s when select killings and overwhelming panic had led to exodus for survival of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley

Moreover, it has revived and sharpened communal fears among victims while the Poonch terrorists-army encounter in which 13 militants and 9 security personnel died reveals how deep  terrorists have dug in without getting noticed in the porous border area. The Resistance Front (Lashkar-e-Taiba- Hizbul Mujahideen face post 2019) has claimed responsibility for killing “RSS agents” and police informers. The police have detained 900 people and killed two terrorists linked to banned religious outfit Jamaat-e-Islami.

Certainly, the selective killings betray its evil intention: Creating a fresh scare among Kashmiri Pandits intending to return home after three decades and to deter ordinary migrant workers mainly from UP and Bihar, comprising Hindus and Muslims from working here. Rupturing the   semblance of peace and vitiating the overall environment, underscoring the invalidation of Article 370 does not automatically translate into neutralisation of Islamist terrorism in J&K amidst increasing radicalization.

Worse, the fear psychosis is getting aggravated ominously and becoming politically sensitive with regional leaders questioning the Centre’s one-step-forward-two-step-back policies. “It is a resounding ‘reply’ to a retinue of Union Ministers visit here recently. Except hollow condolences and banal assurances, there is deafening silence by the Centre, thereby, exposing the hollowness of misconceived political ‘messages’ of development, normality and end of terrorism,” said a mainstream leader.

More. These incidents have exposed the fallacy by the Government that militancy had been ‘nearly wiped out’ from the Valley, security strengthened and there is a sense of safety among different sections of people as a result of which development works were gaining momentum. If anything, the killings have exposed the ominous vulnerability of the post-2019 volatile political vacuum on the ground coupled with militancy feeling bold enough to resurface with a bang.

Diversion of attention and manpower of the security grid necessitated by these ill-advised visits offered an opportunity to elusive groups of militants to go for their targets and put their communally motivated design into action. Resulting in Kashmiri Pandit families living in guarded colonies started to rush back to Jammu.

Clearly, fear is ominously more manifest post killings. The lingering psycho-emotional impact of ‘shock-and-awe’ created by ‘cutting to size’ the country’s only Muslim majority State is now getting accentuated. Recall, Modi had justified Article 370 scrapping and Kashmir’s unification would end terrorism.

Said separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq “When militarisation is pursued as a State policy to handle a live and lingering conflict rather than seeking conflict resolution, bloodshed and loss of precious human lives is the consequence.”Adding, “No victim is seen through the religious prism as 50 families have left so far”.

Besides, Kashmir’s mainstream is at odds with measures taken by the Centre. Especially, being favourable towards Pandits which has displeased Muslims as they see Pandits as Hindus and  symbol of India in Muslim-majority Kashmir. Accentuated by avoidable recent administrative orders, like reopening land sale by Kashmiri Pandit migrants has compounded fears among those who have genuine legal documents but dread its retrospective annulment if the seller chooses to question its validity.

Significantly, signs of disillusionment are beginning to manifest in Jammu and Ladakh too. Jammu traders recently observed a hartal against Central and State Administration policies and actions. Buddhist-majority Ladakh has also been voicing grievances of being neglected. It now demands full Statehood. In the Valley many sarpanchs have resigned even as the Government continues to project the civic polls as evidence of Kashmir’s return to normalcy

These signs of disquiet across the three regions indicate the diminishing returns of the NDA Government’s deleting Article 370 in August 2019, whereby there is yet no perceptible qualitative dividends on the ground, notwithstanding feasting on the denudation of regional NC and PDP.

The longer the delay in normalising ground conditions, winding up the Delimitation Commission, holding Assembly polls and restoration of the full Statehood greater the danger of its consequences on security and political fronts. Post-poll manipulation to put together alternative contraptions and puppets have revealed its undesirable consequences of sinister magnitude. Asserted a security expert, “This glitch is bound to boomerang.”

Government sources discount a repeat of 1990s Kashmir. As despite Kashmiri Muslims angst over Government policies, they see beginning of a new sliver of hope: At least 3,800 Pandit migrants have returned and many have taken up Government jobs. There are also possibilities of reconciliation between Pandits-Muslims and a new window of economic and business opportunity.

But, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti disregards this. In the 1990s 70,000 Pandit families fled and nearly 500 Kashmiri Pandits were killed. Their ghosts have not only drawn a massive wedge between Pandits-Muslims but the divide has gotten worse, as Muslims largely believe they are being made a scapegoat by media and blamed for helping militant groups in targeting Pandits.

Many pro-India Kashmiri leaders fear that targeting of minorities is making Muslims lives miserable. The presence of 700,000 soldiers has set alarm bells ringing as they anticipate an iron-fisted response from the Centre. Till date, the conflict has claimed over 47,000 lives since 1989 even as human rights groups criticise the Government over its worsening human rights record which includes extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Be it 1990s or 2021. Let’s not forget there is still tacit support to jihad in Kashmir from several sections of the population. Even after losing scores of their own men and women, there is somehow social sanction to participation in the so-called ‘holy war.’ Certainly, Pakistan is to blame for sponsoring jihad, but part of it is homegrown militants too, fuelled by radicalised ‘misguided’ Kashmiris leading to a growing gulf between people and the political dispensation. Consequently, these radical elements are better positioned to fight and kill innocents than political entities.

Over the decades Kashmir has been a favourite playground for our politicians to carry out experiments, weave magical myths about their political dexterity and innovations, success in nipping Pakistan’s devious designs, tales of heroic valour in annihilating cross border terrorism notwithstanding the simmering cauldron of discordant voices of Opposition and regional players mingled with discontent among Kashmiris.

The bloodshed should serve as a wake-up call to the Centre. Until the Government addresses radicalisation jihad won’t go away. Alongside persistent divide on religious and regional lines continues. Undoubtedly, a coherent strategy on conflict resolution is required. New Delhi needs to reduce the sources of extremism and separatism, undermine Pakistani influence in the Valley and make Kashmiris feel closer to India.

Modi has to leave no ‘stone’ unturned to further India’s national interests. A slow and steady work in progress, Modi must take the lead as deepening the trust between Jammu and Kashmir and between Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi must be the core goals for ‘Naya Jammu Kashmir.’ Ultimately, he needs to win minds and hearts of Kashmiris since wars begin in the minds of men and it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed.


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Poonam I Kaushish

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