Is the clock turning back in Jammu and Kashmir?

Militancy has propped up its ugly head yet again in the valley.

ByVarad Sharma
Is the clock turning back in Jammu and Kashmir?
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Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi is going to visit Jammu and Kashmir on November 7. He is expected to announce a development package of Rs one lakh crore which includes assistance for rehabilitation of 2014 flood victims. No doubt, the economic package is important for the state. But there are issues in the state such as the settlement of refugees of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir of 1947, 1965 and 1971, the issue of permanent residency to West Pakistan refugees, justice for and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Hindus, new delimitation commission in J&K etc, which cannot be resolved by doling out the money. Will Modi (and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) have the courage and foresight to move beyond the economic packages and initiate the process of resolving long-standing issues concerning the people of the state. Above all, will they pay attention and thwart attempts of the revival of militancy in J&K?

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) entered an alliance to form the government in Jammu and Kashmir in March this year. Though it is too early to judge the state government’s performance, unscrupulous radical elements, including the Hurriyat Conference, have come out of their burrows and made their presence felt since Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

On the morning of October 29, 2015, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant commander Abu Qasim was killed in an encounter with security forces at Khandipora village in Jammu & Kashmir’s Kulgam district. He was involved in several attacks in the state including the recent attack on a Border Security Force (BSF) convoy near Udhampur in Jammu region on August 5, 2015. The next day, after Friday prayers, there were violent protests in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir. Some areas of the South Kashmir observed shutdown in solidarity with the militant commander.

It was not the first time local Kashmiri Muslims have protested and observed shutdown in the support of militants. Apart from thousands of people attending the funeral of the militant, there was a gun salute for the militant commander. If my memory serves me right, the gun salute was the first after a long time.

Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed periods of chaos and calm in the last twenty-five years since the inception of armed insurgency against the Indian state. After the lifting of the Governor’s rule from J&K in 1996, every election – be it 1996, 2002, 2008 or 2014 – and subsequently every new government, is seen as harbinger of a new dawn in the state. Each political party – National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  – which comes to power in J&K promises peace and progress for the state. The promise is labelled as a roadmap for peace and development of Jammu and Kashmir.

In 1989-1990, thousands of young Kashmiri Muslims joined terror outfits like Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Hizb-ul Mujahideen etc, to wage war against the Indian state with the help of Pakistan. Then, in mid-1990s, foreign militants were actively involved in terror incidents in the state. After a pause of over a decade, militancy in Kashmir is quietly making a return, but this time with more local Kashmiris than foreigners. Young local Kashmiris, from well-educated and sound financial backgrounds, are joining the armed fight against the state. As per the recent police census, there are 142 militants active in Kashmir — 88 of them being local and 54 foreign nationals, mostly from Pakistan. This is an alarming signwhich can put peace and counter-insurgency efforts of the state machinery of all these years in jeopardy if the noose is not tightened soon.

Lt. General Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd.), former Corps Commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, argues that the new wave of militancy was inevitable. He says, “The proxy support from Pakistan has been effectively marginalised by the Army through some effective counter infiltration at the LoC and counter terrorist operations in the hinterland. The strength of terrorists is low and there are hardly any leaders left. The youth from South Kashmir have arisen but not yet in alarming proportions. They do not have faith in the old guard of Syed Salahuddin, chief of Hizb-ul Mujahideen, and wish to take on the mantel themselves. They are inspired less by Pakistan and more by transnational radical ideology brought home by the social media. This is the youth grown up under the shadow of the gun.”

In June, a picture of 11 young Kashmiri terrorists, reportedly belonging to terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, appeared on Facebook. Among the eleven terrorists, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, resident of South Kashmir’s town Tral, has emerged as the poster-boy of militancy in the valley. He is providing staffing solutions to terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen and believed to be involved in recruiting young Kashmiris for militancy. Also, one of the eleven terrorists was a constable of Jammu and Kashmir police who defected recently. Lately, the militants have been using social media to post photographs and videos for propagating their terror agenda.

The upsurge in militancy reflects that Kashmir has been deeply radicalised all these years. In fact, the basic premise for armed struggle against the Indian state was the creation of Islamic state of Jammu and Kashmir.

A couple of months ago, the entire valley erupted over the beef ban. On September 9, 2015, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, upholding the 150 year old law, called for strict enforcement of the sale of beef across the state. The ruling came after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed against bovine slaughter. Under section 298A of the Ranbir Penal Code, (criminal code applicable in J&K), intentionally killing or slaughtering a cow or like animal (including ox and buffalo) is a cognisable, non-bailable offence, punishable with 10 years of imprisonment and fine. Under section 298B, possessing the flesh of such an animal is a cognisable, non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment of one year and fine.

Separatists and fanatic forces protested against the beef ban by appealing for mass bovine slaughtering. The separatist leaders Asiya Andrabi and Shabir Shah presided over the slaughtering in Srinagar and Anantnag respectively. Pakistani and ISIS flags were waved to protest the J&K High court order. Bovine slaughtering in Kashmir lately has nothing to do with eating. It is rather an act of Islamic fanaticism and sedition against the Indian state.  Such acts of bovine slaughtering took place in late 1980s in Kashmir, just before insurgency, as a mark of protest. When my family and relatives lived in Kashmir before 1990, they were eyewitnesses to such incidents. It should be noted that beef has always been available in the state despite the official ban.

Further, the first-ever international half-marathon in Srinagar, organised by BIG 92.7 FM on September 13, 2015, turned violent due to clashes between Azadiwallas and security forces. The waving of Pakistani flags, and pro-freedom and anti-India sloganeering became the order of the marathon. While shouting slogans of Azadi and love for Pakistan, some youths reportedly molested women who had come to participate in the marathon.

Even on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha, celebrated as the festival of sacrifice by Muslims worldwide including India, separatists and radical elements couldn’t resist themselves from indulging in violence and the display of Pakistani flags. Eid-ul-Azha signifies the spirit of peace, compassion and sacrifice for others. However, Eid in Kashmir has become the complete opposite. In recent years, violence on Eid has become a ritual in Kashmir.

The Islamic fanatic groups which have made inroads in Kashmir have not been countered enough. Lt. General Hasnain argues, “Radicalisation has been going on for the better part of 20 years. However, the degree of threat has remained unrealised primarily because of a lack of understanding about radicalism. Not many professionals in India’s security agencies ever study Islam and connect issues of faith-based ideology. Hopefully, this is now changing. Yet, I cannot think of any agency, which can effectively counter this development. Ultimately the only organisation which has the capability of rising to the challenge is the Indian Army; that is if it treats this akin to an operational requirement.”

The recent events hint at a superficial peace and simmering tension in J&K, especially in the valley. Both the state and the central governments cannot afford to ignore the disquieting events.

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