Geopolitics

Embrace the Future of Kashmir
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Issue Vol. 32.3 Jul-Sep 2017 | Date : 31 Oct , 2017

In the present circumstances, where vicious propaganda is clouding and vitiating young minds, the nation, as the Prime Minister says, needs to embrace the people, help the youth to get their lives back on track. An effective outreach with the 4Es of Engagement, Education, Empowerment and Employment, is the key. And it has to be sustaining. The effort has to be collaborative, providing opportunities for both local talent and local leadership to flourish. This requires imagination, innovation, perseverance and mutual accommodation.

In Kashmir, the third-quarter of the year, i.e. from July to September, is typically characterised by a ‘back to business’ mood. The euphoria of the spring after the harsh winter comes down, the summer vacation tourism tapers off giving way to work in the fields, preparations for the apple harvest, examination in schools and colleges and so on. For the security forces with the snow having melted, the entire length of the Line of Control is open for the contest between the terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan and the counter-infiltration forces. The Valley is lush green with scenic views, ironically though for the security forces the dense foliage adds a tactical challenge as it mars visibility. The Amarnath yatra brings in good revenue even if it is a major administrative and security challenge. On these more or less constant fundamentals, a different set of variables play out each year depending on the political and other circumstances.

This year the second quarter from April to June was bad with protests, stone pelting, appalling low voter turnout in the by-elections and several attempts within and without, to destabilise the situation. The third quarter commenced on a sombre note with a dastardly terrorist attack on July 08 this year on a bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims from Gujarat on their way back home, leaving eight people dead and several others injured. The horrific attack was condemned the world over, but more significant was the outrage from virtually all quarters in Kashmir. Efforts of the Hurriyat and terrorist leadership, to give the attack a conspiracy spin, did not succeed. On the contrary, there was strong outrage over the killing and disfiguring of SHO Feroz Ahmad Dar along with five policemen of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) at Achabal, lynching of Deputy Superintendent of Police Mohammed Ayub Pandit and the killing of Lt Umar Fayaz.

The security situation appears to be getting stable enough for the other dimensions i.e. political, economic, social to do their share of due deliverance…

Despite all the domestic media hype and Pakistani propaganda to make an event out of ‘One Year after Burhan Wani’, it did not evoke a worthwhile response as the situation remained well within control. For the first time, there are visible efforts directed against terrorist and separatist activity funding. This is complementing the relentless operations of the security forces. The positive results are evident as the number of terrorists eliminated this year crossed the 130 mark, including over 90 from across the border. The security situation appears to be getting stable enough for the other dimensions i.e. political, economic, social to do their share of due deliverance.

On the eve of the Independence Day, Home Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated that the Government is working on a permanent solution to Kashmir issue. That is exactly where the challenge and vexation lies. The security situation has been stabilised several times in the past but unfortunately, the security stability does not transition to political stability, economic growth and development. The gap between this phase and the next, never gets bridged as spoilers jump in and the cycle of stability – instability is witnessed over and over again.

Right now there are two potential spoilers threatening to vitiate the environment, one internal and the other, external namely, Article 35A and the Call for a Caliphate. There is a third factor too that must not be lost sight of, some thoughts expressed in the Chinese state-sponsored media trying to draw Jammu and Kashmir as a parallel in the Doklam discourse.

Article 35A

The politics surrounding the legality of Article 35A is threatening to disrupt public order with threats of a potential “public uprising”. Many mainstream political parties are openly indulging in separatist rhetoric and the distinction between separatist and mainstream is getting blurred. This issue has vested economic imperatives, as it hurts the ‘haves’ of the state more than the ‘have-nots’. No surprise that the Kashmir Traders and Manufactures Federation, All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee and many others are throwing their hats in the ring.

Recently, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti laid the foundation stone of the Wuyan Industrial Area in Pampore on August 09, 2017. The other industrial areas in Kashmir such as Lassipora near Shopian and others are lying virtually unused as they fail to attract investment and industry to the state. Despite all the abundant resources of water, agro, forests, herbal and minerals besides the unparalleled natural beauty, industry in J&K remains an unattractive proposition due to such constitutional provisions that benefit only a few. Unless pre-empted, the politics of Article 35A will be manipulated politically to manifest as bandhs and street protests clamouring for Azadi without understanding what the issue is.

The appeal of the ISIS to the youth in particular and their deft manipulation of the internet and social media outwitted and outpaced established powers for long…

The majority of the people assume that ‘Azadi’ as the word literally suggests means ‘freedom (from India)’. It may be instructive to recapitulate the understanding of Azadi articulated by the Group of Interlocutors that was appointed in 2010 by the Government of India. Their charter was to undertake wide ranging discussions with all sections of the population in J&K and propose the contours of a political solution. This is how the Group of Interlocutors defined Azadi:

  • Freedom from all forces of religious extremism, ethnic or regional chauvinism and majoritarian conceits that disturb communal and inter-regional harmony.
  • Freedom from an opaque and unaccountable administration.
  • Freedom from economic structures, policies and programmes that frustrate efforts to promote inclusive economic growth and balanced development of all parts of the state.
  • Freedom from social structures and policies that are detrimental to disadvantaged social groups, minorities and women.
  • Freedom from harsh laws or laws harshly applied and judicial delays that curb the space for legitimate dissent.
  • Freedom from the kind of intimidation and violence that compel people to flee their habitat.
  • Freedom from threats to the religious, linguistic and cultural identity of all communities.
  • Freedom from pressures on the media and on media persons, RTI activists, civil rights group and cultural organisations.

It is not uncommon to find protests against erratic power supply, corruption, medical negligence, road accidents and termination of services – all ultimately ending up with slogans of Azadi. Relatively speaking, Article 35A is a lot easier to give an emotive spin and provoke protests. With so many powerful individual stakes converging with politics, it’s a potentially explosive mixture.

Caliphate Inspired Militancy

The Caliphate-inspired militancy is like a venomous cobra spreading its hood, striving hard to capture the imagination of the people and gain legitimacy. To put things in perspective, it may be recalled that the ISIS came into being ostensibly as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and his ilk were frustrated with the force and speed of the Al Qaeda, indeed some called them moderate. The appeal of the ISIS to the youth in particular and their deft manipulation of the internet and social media outwitted and outpaced established powers for long. In Kashmir, the first signs of the ISIS flag were seen in 2014, when perhaps in haste it was described as the handiwork of “some idiots” and the tailor who stitched the flag was claimed to have been arrested. Even as the establishment’s preferred stance was ‘ISIS – not in Kashmir’, the appeal of the Caliphate did spread its tentacles more so with the internet-savvy youth. The ISIS flag started appearing more frequently through 2016 and during the current year.

Most recently, one of the terrorists eliminated was draped in the ISIS flag for his funeral. Incidentally, he was one of those pro-Al Qaeda terrorists accused of lynching Dy SP Mohd Ayub Pandit, deputed to provide security to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s sermon on Shab-e-Qadr, the holiest night during Ramzan, in the Jama Masjid in downtown Srinagar. On August 08, three terrorists, all local, belonging to the Ansar Gazwatul Hind were eliminated in Tral, South Kashmir. This is Zakir Musa’s group that has proclaimed Islam over Azadi as the motive and ideology. As per media reports, a couple of days later, Zakir Musa too was trapped by security forces in Tral but managed to escape with the help of some local supporters.

The appeal of the Caliphate-inspired militancy is divided as Hurriyat and Hijbul Mujahideen are both quick to criticise the acts of these Caliphate-driven groups…

As of now, the appeal of the Caliphate-inspired militancy is divided as Hurriyat and Hijbul Mujahideen are both quick to criticise the acts of these Caliphate-driven groups and distance themselves. This is not for any altruistic reason but because of the fear of losing relevance and consequently, the power and funds. This situation could change, with such a large idling young population spending hours on the internet. Even if there is an overall weakening of ISIS in West Asia, its mutants pushing for the Caliphate need immediate focus.

Who Pays the Price?….The Youth!

So whether it is the public uprising that some mainstream leaders are threatening or the stone pelting that is the forte of the separatist leaders or the terrorists being recruited by the religious-terrorist-separatist-ISI nexus, the price ultimately is paid by the youth. Like always, the manipulative leaders will light the fire, sit back and watch destruction and death as well as add fuel to the fire with their rhetoric. Ironically, the leadership that is exploiting the situation has its progeny progressing in life securely in other parts of the country and abroad.

Securing the Future of Kashmir

On August 15, 2017, the 71st Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address from the Red Fort said, “On Kashmir there is rhetoric and politics. But I am clear in my belief on how to win the war against separatism, which is spread by a handful of people. The problem will be solved neither by abuse nor bullets (Na Gaali se Na Goli Se) – it will be solved by embracing all Kashmiris (Gale Lagaane Se). Such is the legacy of 125 crore Indians. Hence, neither by abuse nor by bullets, the change will come only by embracing all. And we are moving forward with this resolve. We shall take strict steps against terrorism. There is no question of being soft on terrorism or terrorists. We have been asking the extremists to join the mainstream. Democracy provides for all, an equal opportunity and rights to be heard. The process of engagement can take place only by their joining the mainstream.”

In order to secure the future of Kashmir, the topmost priority has to be to wean away the youth from these ‘icons of violence’ and ‘manipulators of violence’ who have misguided them for long and whom the Prime Minister alludes to as a “handful of people” spreading separatism. They are driven either by narrow vested interests or they are acting on behalf of Pakistan to ‘bleed India by a thousand cuts,’ by damaging the psyche and prospects of the future generation.

It is possible to turn the situation around by focussing attention towards the positives of the youth of Kashmir. Like anywhere else, they are impressionable, risk-taking, seeking challenges and opportunities. They have proven their worth in fields ranging from frontline soldiering, sports, music, films, art, photography and so many more.

Some Vignettes about the Youth in Kashmir

Next month it will be three years since the devastating floods struck Kashmir. On September 06, 2014, an Army boat on a rescue mission in the vicinity of Pampore, capsized as it got entangled in electric cables and poles that had fallen in the Jhelum torrent. Unfortunately two soldiers, one from Kashmir and the other from Uttarakhand lost their lives in the accident. There were several others in that boat who were rescued in time, thanks to the prompt action of some gutsy youngsters at the scene. Incidentally, it is not uncommon to see the same youngster who is at the forefront of a rescue mission, also leading stone pelting. Fundamentally, this character-type enjoys daring, more often than not, he is a natural leader too. If they joined the Indian Army, with such traits, they would perhaps be volunteers for the Ghatak platoon (Commando) and be at the forefront of operations. Ultimately for the daring to manifest positively, it is about circumstances and opportunities.

In January 2015, a youth cycle expedition was launched from Srinagar to Delhi, ‘Sailaab se Salaamati’, from ‘Floods to Wellbeing’. Their mission was to encourage the people to visit the Valley again through the ensuing winter and summer. En-route they were hosted by the Governor in Jammu, Army Commander in Udhampur, Corps Commanders in Punjab and Haryana and the Army Chief in Delhi. In Delhi, the Hindu College hosted the group in their Annual fest ‘Mecca’ with a special evening called ‘Mushaira’. These messengers of ‘wellbeing’ of Kashmir showcased their talent, spread their message, received huge applause and returned overwhelmed with the goodwill they received everywhere.

Some months later, a group of twenty young men from different engineering institutes of Kashmir, went on a tour to IIM, IIT and MCTE at Indore/Mhow. In the feedback session of the tour in SSM College of Engineering and Technology Pattan, while the boys were all excited, the girls appeared rather glum. The reason was not difficult to find – the tour was for boys only. Within a month, a tour exclusively for girls was launched to the same institutions in Indore plus Delhi. This tour was led by a Lady Officer and accompanied by another officer with his wife. At the feedback session of the girls’ tour one participant said, “You know what? My Dad wants me to join the Indian Army!” Her next question and answer was more interesting. You know where I belong to? Habba Kadal, (in downtown Srinagar), once the forte of artisans and traders, now unfortunately decried by many out of ignorance and fear of unknown! Two observations, first she was both surprised and excited that her father was asking her to join the Indian Army, which is exactly what she wanted to do after what she saw in the trip. Second, she was making a larger point, Habba Kadal in downtown Srinagar has aspirations like anywhere else. And like her, there were several others who had made great career choices based on their experience of the tour.

Embracing the Youth has to be a National Priority

In the present circumstances, where vicious propaganda is clouding and vitiating young minds, the nation, as the Prime Minister says, needs to embrace the people, help the youth to get their lives back on track. An effective outreach with the 4Es of Engagement, Education, Empowerment and Employment is the key. And it has to be sustaining. The effort has to be collaborative, providing opportunities for both local talent and local leadership to flourish. This requires imagination, innovation, perseverance and mutual accommodation.

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Some cues can be found in events from the past such as ‘Bandipur has Talent,’ ‘Kupwara Municipal Football,’ ‘Sukoon the Pahalgam Fest,’ ‘Zahanat – Ganderbal’, ‘Seminar on Inclusive Education at Kashmir University’ and so many others. Renowned artists such as Sudip Roy, sportspersons such as Mihir Ranjan Negi, actors such as Rani Mukherjee and singers such as Anand Raj Anand, to name a few have happily joined efforts in the past to promote talent.

Getting the youth in J&K to follow their talent has to be a national priority. Everyone has a stake in this pursuit. It is a social responsibility where everyone can make a difference whether one is a sports person, film personality, artist, industrialist, politician, administrator or part of the security forces. The bottom line is that ‘icons of violence’ have to be replaced by ‘icons of talent’ that abound albeit untapped.

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Embrace the Future of Kashmir, 3.6 out of 5 based on 5 ratings
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Subrata Saha

Former Corps Commander Kashmir 2014-15 and Deputy Chief of Army Staff 2015-17.

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