The Modi government may not have begun the current slide towards chaos in the Valley, but by ignoring the many signals of growing anger that emanate from the region, it has opened the doorway to hell.
Twenty days have passed since Burhan Wani was killed and every foreboding I felt when I heard of his death has been fulfilled. The Indian state has deployed every instrument of control in its armoury. Kashmir has been under curfew for 15 days. Newspapers were banned for four days, social media on the internet blocked, and the SMS facility on mobile phones remains cut off. Crowds have been dispersed with batons, pellets and bullets. Hospital records show that as of July 23, 47 people had been killed, 125 injured by police bullets and 595 injured by pellets – 70% with these injuries are above the waist, with a thousand or more injured in less grievous ways.
But far from being contained, the flames are continuing to spread. Paharis from the border area of Gurez, who had stayed aloof from the insurgency of the 1990s, have voiced their anger at being described by Zee TV as being unaffected by the rage this time. So great is the upwelling of anger that the middle ground that has always existed in Kashmiri politics – which revealed its strength with a 70% turnout in the Valley in the December 2014 assembly elections – has begun to crumble away.
Kashmir’s first-ever IAS topper has voiced his anguish and disillusionment on Facebook. The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and both wings of the Hurriyat have condemned the crackdown after Wani’s killing as a bloodbath. This was only to be expected, as Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah and a host of its other leaders are in police custody, while Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani are under house arrest.
Discord in the PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has begun to crumble too. None other than Muzaffar Baig, the party’s senior-most leader since Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death and its most Delhi-friendly member, has voiced his suspicion that Wani was killed after he had surrendered to the police. Wani’s father, Muzaffar had made the same accusation when his elder son Khalid had been killed by the police in another ‘encounter’ while going to meet his brother in the forest last year. Whether these allegations are true or not no longer matters. Given the foul reputation of being executioners that virtually all the police forces of India have now acquired, this accusation has been believed not only in Kashmir but also all over the country, albeit to varying degrees.
Roohi Nazki, a former Tata Group executive who now runs a tea house in Srinagar and is the wife of Haseeb Drabu, Mehboba Mufti’s extremely able finance minister, has sharply criticised the chief minister for not resigning and thereby allowing the BJP to make the PDP an accomplice in the reign of terror that it has let loose on Kashmir.
But the most telling evidence is the quiet anger of four-time CPI-M MLA Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, perhaps the most respected politician in the Valley. Tarigami has confirmed on television what many of us knew from anonymous sources – that the Centre approved Wani’s killing without even informing the chief minister of J&K, in the full knowledge that this would destroy the peoples’ trust in her and her party. In a recent interview to The Wire, he said, “at least the previous arguments of the Kashmir issue were addressed within a secular framework. Many in the Valley preferred India because of its secular nature. Now, that very secular India is under tremendous pressure… last year, the then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed… talked about the importance of engaging with Pakistan. He said ‘Aap humsaayon ko badal nahin sakte (You can not change our neighbours) and cited insaniyat as a measure of conflict resolution, as proposed by Vajpayee. However, Modi categorically said that he doesn’t need any advice from anybody as far as Kashmir is concerned, On the same platform he … snubbed the elected chief minister, his ally.. Such humiliation is one of the most important causes of protests in Kashmir. Modi gave a message that he is dealing with an enemy people.” (emphasis added)
These are not terrorists, let alone ‘separatists’. Mehbooba survived three attacks on her life and home in the 1990s for daring to raise another political party that supports Kashmir’s accession to India. Tarigami has been shot and nearly killed for staunchly maintaining through the insurgency years that Kashmir is better off with India. The Mirwaiz has lost his father and uncle to ISI-directed assassins for ignoring warnings from across the border not to enter into a dialogue with Delhi.
Fazal Qureshi, another iconic nationalist leader of the Maqbool Butt vintage who was responsible for the Hizbul Mujahideen’s ceasefire offer in July 2000 and went on to become a member of the Hurriyat’s executive committee, was shot in the head in December 2009 and nearly died, a mere six weeks after he formally declared Hurriyat’s acceptance of the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf formula on behalf of the council. He now survives deeply mentally impaired.
These leaders are the Kashmiri nationalist mainstream itself. Not one of them has ever wanted Kashmir to become part of Pakistan. So it is not surprising that Delhi’s intelligentsia has suddenly thrown off its torpor and begun to thrash about looking for solutions.
The air in the capital is suddenly full of instant diagnoses and coffee-table remedies.
There is, of course, the great mindless majority that says, ‘Let the army take care of the Kashmiris. That is what armies are for’. The Modi government has not endorsed this explicitly, but neither has it said or done anything to show it has anything else in mind.
As expected, it is laying the blame on Pakistan for instigation. Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has warned Islamabad that its dream of acquiring Kashmir will not be realised “even till the end of eternity”.
But her boast is hollow and her draftsperson’s less-than-perfect command of English must have the Pakistan foreign office chortling with glee. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and specifically his home minister Rajnath Singh and invisible security establishment – India’s increasingly lawless Deep State – have done everything they can to help Pakistan achieve in a matter months what it could not do in 27 years: convince a large section of the Kashmiri middle ground that life under the heel of Pakistan could not possibly be worse than it is under India. Pakistan has to do absolutely nothing but sit back and enjoy India’s discomfiture.
The most inane response to the crisis has come from Rajnath Singh, who visited Kashmir over the weekend “to consult with different groups on how the violence can be checked”. All he received was a well deserved slap in the face, for not a single Kashmiri organisation agreed to meet him, and the few individuals who did, covered their faces in order not to be identified. The fact that no one in the home ministry advised him not to visit Kashmir at this time because all he would do was fan the anger roiling the Valley, shows that no one in the entire ministry has the faintest clue about what has been happening in the state in recent years. Few governments anywhere in the world have experienced such a monumental failure of intelligence, or shown so little capacity to analyse the information they have.
Others have been more circumspect and constructive. Former home minister P. Chidambaram has candidly, and correctly, put the blame for the alienation of Kashmiris on India’s failure to live up to the promises it made to the people in 1947. The road to peace even today, he believes, lies in doing so to the greatest extent possible. This, in effect means going back to the full Article 370 and scraping off the parasitical encroachments upon the autonomy it had given to the state that have taken place since then.
Mehbooba has urged Delhi to pick up the threads of the five round-table conferences that Singh organised on Kashmir during the first UPA administration and also suggested reopening the dialogue with Pakistan over Kashmir.
But the time when these panaceas might have worked is long gone, for all such solutions have to be negotiated. Negotiations succeed only when the negotiators enjoy the trust of their people. Today there is no leader in Delhi or Kashmir who enjoys the trust of the Kashmiris.
Over the past 27 years, Pakistan and India have tacitly collaborated to prevent any leader from emerging who can spearhead an authentic Kashmiri nationalism. Pakistan has done this by systematically assassinating anyone in the Hurriyat who has been prepared to accept autonomy within the Indian union; India has done it by engaging Hurriyat leaders in fruitless rounds of dialogue, giving them nothing and thereby discrediting them, and finally exposing them as puppets who take money from the “agencies”.
Kashmiri youth: leaderless but enraged
Today all that is left for the leaderless youth of Kashmir is rage. This rage will not die out; nine out of ten persons hurling rocks at police vans and trying to break through its cordons are in their teens. Many are too young even to have sprouted beards.
These young people, who make up more than half of its population, have known India only as an oppressor. They have lived their entire lives in a world of curfews and crackdowns, surrounded by police informers, in which the faintest murmur of political dissent invites a visit from the police.
Theirs is a political disempowerment that the poorest adivasi in Bastar would find hard to imagine. The only sanctuaries in which they feel free to voice their dissent, their protest or their anger are the mosques and madrassas. But these are not the old, decrepit, poorly maintained mosques of the Sufi-Hanafi-Reshi Islam of the Valley, but the spanking new, well built, glitteringly clean mosques of the Ahl-e Hadis built with Saudi money, stocked with contemporary books on religion and world politics, and staffed by young preachers who are fully up to date with world politics and can discuss endlessly the Islamic resurgence and its challenge to the west.
This generation of the youth holds its elders in contempt for having knuckled down to “Indian rule”. It feels betrayed by the 1990s generation of militants who were naïve enough to have trusted New Delhi, laid down their arms, and tried to negotiate with a government that has only abused their trust in order to destroy them.
Since 2008, when the peace process initiated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Islamabad failed, this new generation of youth has been without a leader whom they can trust, lionise and emulate. Afzal Guru could have filled this role if the president had granted his appeal for clemency instead of hanging him, because his long incarceration and numerous appearances on TV programmes had bestowed some of the stature that Butt had acquired in the years before the Indira Gandhi government hanged him in February 1984.
Masarat Alam aspired to this position and Mufti released him in the hope that he would do so soon after he was sworn in in February 2015. But Alam broke his promises to Mufti within days of being released and unfurled the Pakistani flag at the welcome ceremony for Geelani after his treatment in a Delhi hospital. In any case, as a ‘Jamaati’ committed to making Kashmir a part of Pakistan, his appeal was limited.
Over the past two years, Burhan Wani had begun to fill the void. He was as young as JKLF leaders Yasin Malik and Javed Mir when they were captured in the 1990s, and allowed to leave jail to turn the JKLF into a nonviolent movement for azadi, with whom the government could negotiate. Wani had the added advantage of not having killed anyone, making him an ideal person to negotiate with, when the occasion arose.
Access to him was also far easier than it had been to the leaders of the 1990s insurgency, as his father was the respected headmaster of a school and his brother a Ph.D student. The Wani family was educated, influential and, best of all, capable of understanding, and therefore cooperating in, an endeavour that would not only save his life but bring peace to the Valley.
Delhi’s goal from the outset should have been to capture Burhan and his associates, not kill them. But from the very beginning the hunt for Wani had only one goal – to eliminate him. This difference in the administration’s strategy in the 1990s and today highlights how rapidly the capacity for strategic thinking has disappeared within the Indian government.
By killing Burhan, Delhi has not only closed the door to negotiations in the immediate future, it has also left itself with no alternative but to continue with the ruthless suppression that it is engaged in today. There is every likelihood that the only remaining alternatives – to make concessions like a Vajpayee-type ceasefire, a publicised order to the police not to open fire under any circumstances, or a promise to limit, if not repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, as soon as peace returns – will be seen as a sign of weakening and fan the fires of insurgency instead of dowsing them. This likelihood will become a certainty if Delhi extends an olive branch after human rights organisations and western governments have publicly criticised the government’s actions in Kashmir.
Time to stop the chaos
The tragic, inescapable truth is that by dubbing the tiny and, in political terms, insignificant remnants of insurgency in Kashmir after 2008 as ‘terrorism’, and using only force, George Bush-style, to eradicate it, Delhi has turned the use of force into its own vindication.
Can killing militants and opening fire repeatedly upon protestors restore calm if not peace? If the government is ruthless enough, it can. The Kashmir Valley is only 0.13% of the land area of India and its entire population amounts for less than half a percent of India’s population. Kashmiris cannot keep fighting and protesting forever. Ultimately they will have to choose between the loss of work, the loss of education for their children, the loss of sales, mounting debt and interest burdens, and increasing shortages of fuel, medicines, and other things in life that make peace so precious.
But that will only bottle up the rage that is consuming the youth of the Valley. If the government does not open an valve for it to escape through, an increasing number of youth will take Burhan’s way out – snatch a rifle or kill a government functionary and become a militant.
If the government still does not give ground and continues to hunt them down, sooner or later some of them will resort to the only form of protest that the government cannot prevent – committing suicide. They will not exercise this right quietly in the solitude of their homes or forests. They will do so in crowded market places, bus stops, malls, cinema houses, buses and aircrafts. They will not do it in Kashmir alone, but anywhere and at any time, across the length and breadth of India. And they will not remain alone for long, for ISIS will soon come to their aid.
One has only to consider the wave of Islamophobia that half-a-dozen terrorist attacks have released in Europe since the Paris attack in November to appreciate what a sustained ISIS-backed campaign can do to the social harmony in India. Muslims number less than 21 million in the EU and account for less than 5% of its population. But one in seven Indians is a Muslim. Should a similar wave seize India’s mainly Hindu population, it will tear the country apart.
I do not wish to speculate on the many ways in which continuing to rely solely on force to “solve” the Kashmir problem can trigger a chain reaction that could culminate in civil war within Kashmir, war with Pakistan and the arrival of ISIS in the Valley. Suffice it to say that all scenarios have the same end: suicide bombings spreading through the country, a flight of capital from India, the end of economic growth and a blight on the future of our youth.
The Modi government did not begin this slide towards chaos. But by ignoring the many signals of growing anger that were emanating from South Kashmir for the last two years, doing next to nothing to help Kashmiris after the Srinagar floods, casually dismissing all the commitments it made to Mufti while forming the government, and finally bypassing the Kashmir government and ordering the killing of Burhan Wani, the Modi sarkar has opened the doorway to hell.
There may still be ways to close it, but none can be implemented without first restoring order with the absolute minimum resort to lethal force in the Valley.