Modi Government Must Understand What Kashmiris Want Before Trying to Control The Valley

In this turbulent time, the Kashmiri society and the Indian state need to form a mutually interdependent and harmonising communion rather than a confronting polarity.

Demonstrators try to hurl stones at a police vehicle during a protest in Srinagar. Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail/File Photo

The discourse on insurgency and counter-insurgency in Kashmir has gotten entangled with multiple processes, the scale and concerns of which are local, national and global.

As the people of Kashmir prepare for whatever might come next after the recent killing of Lieutenant Umer Fayaz, militant leader Zakir Musa has threatened to cut off the heads of Hurriyat leaders and “hang them in Lal Chowk” if they interfere with the “struggle for Islam”.

Feeling trapped, the people of Kashmir must not fear marginalisation, but instead absorption into the seemingly inexorable expansion of the insurgents’ ranks. Although the Hizbul Mujahideen has distanced itself from Musa’s statement, the disturbing ground reality in Kashmir is clear: Radicalisation has been on the rise. If Hurriyat leaders go against Musa’s terms, they will have no choice but to face the fate of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone.

Beyond the academic debate about Hurriyat’s future, what they symbolise is more significant than the shifting boundaries of their political engagement with New Delhi.

Hurriyat has perfected the art of speaking the language of separatism within the limited political space that they found between the endless possibilities of autonomy as imagined within the ‘framework of Indian constitution’ and Pakistan’s insistence on self determination for Kashmir.

As masters of self-protective ambiguous speech, the Hurriyat leaders’ face and gestures have always had the most wonderfully misleading appearance of openness to engage in discussion. Musa and his followers’ merciless campaign will now generate irresistible pressure that the Hurriyat leaders would find difficult to stave off. Although Kashmir’s ‘inglorious grandees’ are expected to work hard to keep their political machine well-oiled, they would rather keep quiet than risk their soft necks in a struggle that is now as dangerous as it has been futile.

Since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani last year, the Hurriyat has been facing irrelevance in Kashmir’s fast-changing political landscape, where stone pelting has been converted into a mass ritual with girls and children, too young to be aware of what it means, as new participants. As attacks on Indian security forces have increased, the nature of insurgency has also undergone massive transformation. In the initial phase, locals were equal targets along with security forces as they were harassed and forced to provide support to terrorists and insurgents. The present is witness to a different phase. Open support by locals to trapped militants – particularly during encounters – enabling their escape, has entirely changed the relationship between the locals and insurgents. It must raise anxieties at all levels of Indian government about the social, cultural and political consequences of the monstrous growth of the idea of jihad.

As a young Kashmiri, Fayaz symbolised a life beyond insurgency and compulsive India-bashing. In all probability, he did not doubt that India, despite its many social imperfections and democratic frailties, offered the only realistic chance for Kashmiris to save themselves from becoming the helpless victim of Pakistan’s jihadist onslaught. The manner of Fayaz’s abduction and assassination, clearly designed to instil fear among those Kashmiris who still have faith in the ‘idea of India’ as a multicultural political project confident of encompassing several sub-nationalist tendencies, must be seen as signalling a turning point in the Valley. Now, Kashmiris have reason to guard their tongues. The local police has already been under intense pressure not to act against insurgents, and Musa has termed the police as ‘kafirs’, asking the youngsters to come out for stone pelting “not in the name of nationalism, but in the name of Islam”.

Though the element of unpredictability in human affairs that people call destiny can be very powerful, sometimes game-changing, Kashmiri stone pelters and their foreign backers overrate its powers and underrate the capacities of the Indian state to shape events. The Kashmiri youth, taking part in the senseless violence, have seen guns, encounters, injuries and curfews since their birth. They have been fed with the hype of the life-changing power of extreme violence and the glorified images of the dead ‘mujahideen’. Through religious sermons, which are nothing but self-serving rhetorical manipulations, they have been taught to consider the Kashmir Valley as an Islamic state. This distorted view is reinforced by the easy availability of Islamist channels from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, spewing venom against other faiths. Fayaz did not want his Kashmir to fall further under the sway of people who expect Kashmiris to succumb to incredible hopes of paradise after death. There are many in Kashmir, who, sharing Fayaz’s vision and aspirations, can help India shape the events in its favour.

Some leading Indian ‘nationalist’ voices are calling to press harder on Kashmir than ever. Amid all the uproar over the increasing lawlessness and chaos in Kashmir, the one thing hardliners agree on is that this drawn-out conflict must now be fought to the end, with whatever means are deemed necessary. Right-wing circles are reverberating with strong ‘nationalist’ speeches. Their arguments go: the time has come for rage; insaniyat can come later; the enemy will not be reduced unless India puts a thong around its neck.

An growing part of the Indian middle class has come to share the view that the time has come to conclude this seemingly un-winnable conflict. They want absolute clarity in the fight against terrorism, asking the central government to end the tantalising practice of communicating contradictory messages. But a unidimensional and muscular approach to national security has several inherent limitations.

All military tactics should adjust to the local people, who are at the centre of gravity of any successful counter-insurgency campaign. In present-day Kashmir, heavy reliance on military force would further alienate the local population and create more volunteers for the insurgency. Alienation often contributes to radicalisation. In this turbulent time, Kashmiri society and the Indian state need to form a mutually interdependent and harmonising communion rather than a confronting polarity.

A series of recent catastrophes in the Valley must persuade the establishment to reconsider their refusal to engage politically with different strands of Kashmiri opinion. The coalition experiment in the state has already turned into a fiasco, which seems to grow astonishingly with each self-inflicted crisis. With every ‘mainstream’ Kashmiri politician, from Farooq Abdullah to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, completely discredited, can Kashmir find a politician who can single-handedly purge the deepening rot, and bring the elusive trinity of Kashmiriyat, jamhooriyat [democracy] and insaniyat back into the Valley?

Machiavelli reminds us about three kinds of human intelligence: one that understands by itself, another that discerns what others understand and the third that understands neither by itself nor through others. The first is most excellent, the second excellent and the third useless. Although those smart enough to run the Modi government’s Kashmir policy have thus far demonstrated a lack of awareness of the government’s own limitations and the wisdom not to overreach them, there is still hope that the government would use whatever opportunities and resources it has in turning the tide and regaining control over the shape of events. Both India and Kashmir deserve at least the second category of intelligence from their governments.

Vinay Kaura writes about foreign affairs and security issues.

Liked the story? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.
  • alok asthana

    What is shocking is that India has shut out who they see as their enemies – whether Pak, China or Kashmiris, Actually, it is the enemies (as you see them) that you should keep closest to you. That is the only way to find out more about them. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Talking is not capitulation. When will Doval understand it, who is the de-facto Foreign and Defence minister of India?