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Kashmir crisis: India must be ruthless in restoring law and order, enough of futile 'healing touch'

A new wave of fatalism on Kashmir is upon us. This fatalism isn’t the one that a CRPF jawan or a Kashmiri youth faces in the Valley on a daily basis. The fatalism I'm referring to is shaped hundreds of kilometers away in Delhi where romantic notions still abound of aman ki aasha with Pakistan and Kashmir violence is attributed solely to India's political failure.

These fatalists give the governments in Centre and state far more power and agency than they really wield in Kashmir.

Representational photo. Image Courtesy: Sameer Yasir.

Representational photo. Image Courtesy: Sameer Yasir.

This fresh fatalism has as its touchstone two recent circumstances. One, abysmal polling percentage and violence during recent Srinagar bypoll which has been interpreted as Kashmir's formal rejection of Indian democracy.

Two, the brutal war being lodged through viral video clips over the control of Kashmir narrative.

Amid this cauldron of violence, death, brutal excesses and competitive acts of outrage, the media finds TS Eliot's The Waste Land in Kashmir where no hope is left to bloom. And crucially, the responsibility for this is laid solely at India's door.

To think that a video of Kashmiri youth being strapped to an army jeep would "lose us Kashmir forever" carries an implicit assumption that the State still enjoys some writ in the Valley and is risking losing that writ because our security forces are committing excesses and our media and larger polity are alienating Kashmiris through hate-mongering.

In short, this fatalism assumes that India is losing Kashmir because of its own fault, and not due to any other extraneous circumstances. This is a gross overestimation of India's control over Kashmir.

We find variations of this charge in countless media edits in The Hindu, The Times of India, and The Indian Express.

Public intellectuals and senior politicians are also leveling similar charges against the government.

In his column for The Indian Express, president of CPR Delhi Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts the onus on the PM, writing that "Kashmir has been lost on Modi’s watch."

Writing for the same newspaper, Congress heavyweight P Chidambaram says "Kashmir is sliding into disaster" and holds that "alienation of the people of the Valley is nearly complete. We are on the brink of losing Kashmir. We cannot retrieve the situation through a ‘muscular’ policy — tough talk by ministers, dire warnings from the Army Chief, deploying more troops or killing more protesters."

The former Union home minister advocates talks with "all the stakeholders" including civil society groups, student leaders and separatists.
It sounds nice, even hopeful. Yet two anomalies must be highlighted in this fallacious and delusional narrative. To lay the onus of recent deterioration of situation in Kashmir entirely at Modi's door is to forget the weight of history and deny the manipulations of present.

And to suggest that we need to "talk to separatists" is the height of naiveté. Unless he is trying to bake political bread in the oven of Kashmir's anger, Chidambaram should expand on the subject of talks when one side wants nothing less than azaadi and Islamist rule. The ship for 'autonomy' sailed a long time ago. Shariah Bolsheviks in Kashmir want nothing less than complete secession and a merger with Pakistan. Insisting on "talks" is pointless and delusional.

We have traveled this road before. Except swelling the bank balance of Hurriyat leaders and legitimising their subversive acts in Valley, talks have achieved precious little. More than mitigate the situation, any offer — official or unofficial — for talks is likely to be interpreted as a sign of weakness and will be met with disdain and even more bloodshed. The separatists will gain confidence from the notion that if some violence can force India to the negotiating table, then more violence will eventually force its hand.

So we come to the central question: What must India do to restore some sort of normalcy in Kashmir? The answer is not as difficult as it seems at this point. The very first thing to do is to accept that Delhi no longer enjoys writ in large parts of Kashmir. There has been a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of the PDP government and there is currently no rule of law in the rural areas of south. Worryingly for India, this fire is now spreading to the north, which has so far been relatively peaceful.

It is tempting to apportion the blame for this collapse of law and order on the Centre, simply because the worsening of situation has coincided with BJP's reign. Narendra Modi leads an exceptionally powerful government with a huge mandate, possesses deep acumen and has gathered immense political capital in the course of his three-year rule in office. However, this view completely misreads the Kashmir problem.

Delhi's political failure has obviously played a part but by no means has it been the deciding factor in deepening of crisis in Kashmir. This deep-rooted delusion continues to affect our intellectuals as they search for and find newer and newer grievance narratives. The emergence of the Islamic State and its power to draw radicalised youth from some of the richest and most developed countries in the world should dismiss once and for all the dubious link between Islamism and grievance narrative.

The narrative that the State has alienated Kashmir by being "ruthless" must be challenged. No government, be it the NDA, UPA or any of the other regimes, have been ruthless in its dealing with Kashmir issue. Had they been, Kashmir wouldn't have been a festering wound.

What the predominant narrative in India on Kashmir has badly missed is that if the Valley is slipping from our fingers, it is happening not because — as Chidambaram suggests — India has been applying a "muscular" policy, but the exact opposite. India has been too soft.

We have shown a lack of courage in tackling the crisis and have been weak-kneed in the face of provocation. In this, the Modi government at Centre and BJP-PDP coalition in the state cannot escape blame. Had the Indian state been "ruthless", it would have quietly buried Burhan Wani's body instead of handing it over to his family members who turned the terrorist into a martyr and a totem of Kashmiri resistance.

The US dumped Osama bin Laden's body into the deep sea instead of letting Pakistan turn it into another site of pilgrimage. What did we do?

What 'healing touch' do we extend to Kashmiri terrorists who attack the residences of Jammu and Kashmir police, kill their family members and kidnap their children so that they may resign? What talks do we hold with separatists who force political leaders at gunpoint to shout anti-Indian slogans?

What further accommodation must the government make for terrorists who set government schools on fire so that voting may not be held, kill candidates and threaten the populace?

The State has been guilty. But its guilt is not that it acted too tough, rather it didn't act tough when it needed to. It has completely failed to provide security to the vast majority of Kashmiris who want nothing more than to end the violence and get on with their lives.

On Saturday, militants gunned down a PDP worker after storming his residence in Pulwama district while injuring his cousin. In the last 36 hours, they have killed three more, including a lawyer associated with National Conference in south Kashmir’s Shopian, and a counter-insurgent in north Kashmir.

Rashid Billa's death is especially worrisome. Not only does it signify that militants are now stirring up trouble in relatively peaceful north, it also implies that it is now targeting India's security assets. Billa was appointed by Indian government in the 1990s to counter the wave of insurgency.

These are not random acts of violence but a calculated move to intimidate the law and order machinery, threaten ordinary citizens and dismantle India's security structure. Little by little, these terrorists are completely wiping out India's resistance.

As Rahul Pandita sums it up in Open magazine: "The truth is that there is a complete law-and-order breakdown in several parts in Kashmir, especially the southern region. The situation has gotten so bad for the first time since the peak of militancy in the early 90s. There is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, which has forced many people to stay indoors on polling day. Participating in the electoral process could have consequences that include having one’s property burnt or even life taken. The miasma of azaadi is also gone. It was a veneer that has now worn off. Young militants have made it clear that their fight in Kashmir is not for an independent state, but for establishing Islamic rule."

India must, at once, restore its writ in Kashmir. And it must do so with ruthlessness. Enough of 'healing touch' that has brought us to this precipice.

Updated Date: Apr 17, 2017 17:09 PM

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