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25 October, 2016

Clueless in Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Fifteen weeks after restive youth threw life in Kashmir out of gear in a wave of unprecedented protest parts of the valley are still under curfew. Where the curfew has been lifted, orders prohibiting assembly of people are in force. Schools and colleges are closed and shops shut. Some government offices are not functioning. 

In some places, policemen abandoned their posts. A few instances of snatching of weapons by protesters were reported, and 10 policemen were sacked for giving up their weapons without offering resistance.

The wave of unrest was touched off by Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter with the police on July 8. Young people, many of them in their teens, poured into the streets and stoned security personnel who replied with pellets. 

The supposedly non-lethal pellets have taken about 90 lives and injured more than 14,000 people. Pellets have blinded at least 100 youths. Two policemen have also been killed.

About 7,000 people are said to be in custody. They include several hundred detained under the Public Safety Act which allows the authorities to hold persons considered security risks without trial for up to two years.

Even as Central and state police were coping with the disturbance, cross-border terrorism flared up. In response to the attack on the Uri base, which resulted in the death of 19 soldiers, the army struck at terrorist launch pads across the LOC, killing two Pakistani soldiers and an unspecified number of terrorists.

Hardly a day has passed since then without firings across the LOC. Most of the exchange of fire caused only low casualties but last week retaliatory Indian fire killed seven Pakistani security personnel. 

The deterioration in India-Pakistan relations led to shelving of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Islamabad and mutual recrimination at the UN. Also, both the countries launched diplomatic campaigns to garner international support.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s bid to internationalise the Kashmir issue once again failed. So did Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to isolate Pakistan. The US backed India’s call to dismantle terror camps in Pakistan but was not willing to brand it a terrorist state. China was even more protective of Pakistan. It would not even let the UN dub Pakistan-based Masood Azhar, whom India has identified as the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks, as a terrorist.

In the recent past, prompted by India’s growing economic clout, the West was getting out of the habit of equating it with Pakistan. By juxtaposing Kashmir with Baluchistan and human rights violations on this side of the border with those on the other side, Modi has unwittingly put the two on the same level. 

As the unrest in the valley drags on and its shadow on India-Pakistan relations persists, a question arises: what next? The protagonists have no answer. 

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti cuts a forlorn figure as she urges protesters to go back, advises the police to hand-hold the misguided youth and pleads with Modi to walk the talk as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee, did. 

She heads a coalition comprising her People’s Democratic Party and Modi’s BJP. Under the agenda of governance drawn up by the two parties they are committed to “start a dialogue process with all shades of political opinion, including the separatists.” 

While Modi is vociferous on cross-border terrorism, he maintains studious silence on the youth unrest which has virtually eclipsed the Hurriyat Conference, the umbrella organisation of pro-Pakistan and pro-independence groups, which held the ground for several years. 

The youth movement is home-grown and leaderless. Alluding to the dangers inherent in the emergence of such a force, a Kashmiri commentator wrote last week: “Resist we will, resist we must, but if that resistance means turning men against men, denying people their livelihood, pushing society into an irrevocable chaos where anyone can attack anyone else, then our doom is sealed.” 

Not just the Kashmiris, but all concerned with the issue, which has been festering since the birth of India and Pakistan as free nations, are trapped in a no-win situation. The three wars the two countries fought did not yield a solution and it is foolish to imagine a fourth one will. The situation calls for out-of-the box thinking but there is no sign of it.
India has demonstrated its willingness and ability to hold territory. It needs to show it also has the ability to win the affection of the people who, by constitutional definition, are full and equal citizens of the secular, democratic republic of India. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 25, 2016

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