KASHMIR AT CROSSROADS
With the ongoing uprising threatening to engulf entire state, it is high time for New Delhi to acknowledge that peace in the Valley can be permanent only by addressing the political contours of the K-problem
|| ZAHOOR GULZAR
In April this year, officials of J&K tourism Department, while interacting with media persons explained that they were targeting record arrival of tourists to Kashmir this year. The signs were already there. More tourists had already chosen Kashmir as the destination to enjoy the spring in the Mughal gardens and scenic tourists resorts like Pahalgam and Gulmarg. By the time Kashmir stepped into June, the tourists’ arrivals had grown to thousands of persons per day. Both tourism department and tourist players were ecstatic. The queues of tourists on the banks of Dal Lake were growing longer with each passing day. But the things started to change on the evening of July 8. And by the time the sun rose the next day, Kashmir was staring at another summer of unrest.
The killing of Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the face of Kashmir militancy, brought entire Kashmir on the roads. The protests which started in Tral, Burhan’s native town soon spread to entire south Kashmir and by the time the government could react, the entire Valley was up in arms. “This uprising is taking dangerous turn and there are number of reason. There is no fear on the faces of youth protesting on the streets, this time around. The young boys are not ready to follow any program (of seperatists),” said a known political analyst of Kashmir.
This is the 4th uprising that Kashmir is witnessing in less than a decade. But according to the observers and analysts, the situation prevailing today is completely different from the three consecutive summers of unrest which begun in 2008. “People had then hit the roads to seek justice. Be it the Machil fake encounter of 2010, double rape and murder of two Shopian women in 2009 or the protests over transfer of land to Amarnath Board in south Kashmir,” said the political analysts. Today, he said, people are seeking “azadi” (freedom) from India and youth are ready to continue the uprising till their demand is met.
The anger on the streets is not something new. Its roots lie in decades-old broken promise of referendum guaranteed by the first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. But the latest rage has taken everybody, from the state government authorities to political pundits and security establishment by surprise. “Nobody knew it will grow so big,” a senior minister in the State Government admitted candidly. “We were certainly expecting reaction but the way it (protests) spread everybody was taken off guard.” Twenty-one year old, Burhan, had become a face of Kashmir militancy and a household name across Kashmir.
His daring strategy to take mask off his face to reveal himself to world through social media had helped him to attract young and educated boys into the militancy and for the first time the local militants had outnumbered the foreigners in the Valley after many years. “Where state government faulted was that they underestimated the use of social media that he (Burhan) had made to reach out into every nook and corner of Kashmir. He knew the power of social media and used it to his advantage,” said a senior police official.
If the militant commander’s killing was the trigger for the uprising dozens of killings and injuries to thousands of people have further aggravated the prevailing situation as the government has completely disappeared from the ground for the past two months. As per the figures at least 70 civilians have been shot dead by forces while over 6000 persons have got injured – over 600 of them hit in the eyes with many among them facing partial or complete blindness. In his maiden public appearance after July 8, the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti assured to look into excessive use of force by the security personnel, while speaking on the foundation day of her party, Peoples Democratic Party. But there has been no follow up action on the assurances given by the chief minister. Instead she has blamed the protesting youth for the action taken by the forces including firing bullets and pellets which has resulted in killings and thousands of injuries.
A major cause of the uprising is the resentment among Kashmiri youths who have come of age under the security apparatus that acts against civilians with impunity. They don’t see any possibility of securing their political rights through any peaceful means.
“A major cause of the uprising is the resentment among Kashmiri youths who have come of age under the security apparatus that acts against civilians with impunity. They don’t see any possibility of securing their political rights through any peaceful means. The killing of Burhan was the trigger, the lava was boiling for long,” said the political analysts. As the PDP-BJP government continues to grapple in the dark with Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, making conflicting statements on the crisis, the seperatists Leadership, on the other hand, is virtually losing control over defiant youth. With both state government and New Delhi clueless about handling situation on the ground an entire population has been drawn into this uprising as people now openly talk about being adherent of the ‘azadi’ cause.
This is evident in four-district based south Kashmir where people are in control of the situation on ground. Every day thousands of people come out of their houses in every district to participate in “pro-freedom” rallies which have been joined by militants as well. “At least five to six rallies are being organized across south Kashmir every day,” said a police official. A daylong trip through the interiors of south Kashmir gives a measure of situation in the districts. While young boys man the roads and streets, women as well elderly participate in the rallies to garner the support for “azadi”. Since Burhan’s killing, the situation in Kashmir has again grown out of control breaking the long lull and questioning the claims of “peace returning to the Valleys”, with tens of thousands of people now openly endorsing militancy.
“The worrying thins is that people are openly advocating militancy as only solution to Kashmir. This was the situation in 90’s. It seems we are back to 90s,” said a senior PDP leader who wished anonymity. What has led youth to hit the streets also is the failure of the state government to start political engagement for resolving Kashmir. In the past these uprisings have always been treated as law and order problem even as after every significant incident Kashmir erupts in protests. Burhan’s killing led to the rage that has now grown into a crisis, threatening to engulf entire state, thus re-affirming that peace in Kashmir can be permanent only by addressing the political contours of the K-problem.
But the rage latest has taken everybody, from the state government authorities to political pundits and security establishment by surprise.