Political disengagement may push Kashmir over the edge

kashmir violence
Conflict zone:  Three months of stone-throwing by Kashmiri youth and crackdowns by security forces have settled into a pattern

On 17 October, J&K Government launched a massive crackdown in old town Baramulla and arrested more than 30 people. There were house-to-house searches in a throwback to early nineties. The crackdown began at dawn and ended in the afternoon. Unlike the past, however, the people were not assembled at an open ground and put through an identification parade before a masked informer in a security vehicle. The crackdown followed shortly after a Chinese flag was hoisted at a protest march, first such development in Kashmir Valley ever. Incidentally, the waving of the flag coincided with the start of the BRICS summit in Goa. The joined Pakistani and Chinese flag was emblazoned with the message: “Long Live Pakistan-China friendship. Kashmiris are waiting for your help China”.

The surfacing of the Chinese flag has surprised many a people in Kashmir. Though Pakistani flags are a common sight in the protests in Kashmir, Chinese flag has never been a part of any Kashmir rally before. The authorities responded with a swift ‘90’s-style crackdown to arrest the people allegedly responsible for hoisting the flag and prevent the prospect of more such flags cropping up in future protests. Though, there has been no fresh hoisting of the Chinese flag, the protests across Valley have continued, so have the arrests. Across Kashmir, police has arrested more than 7,000 people, around 4,000 of whom are from the four districts of South Kashmir — Kulgam, Pulwama, Anantnag and Shopian. Around 483 have been booked under Public Safety Act. Besides, more than 300 employees have been identified for their alleged participation in the protest rallies or found allegedly instigating the people. Five of the booked employees are of gazetted cadre, one of them from the University of Kashmir.

Forty employees alone are from the Department of Education and the others from Department of Agriculture, Srinagar Municipality, Urban Local bodies etc. The Government has also sacked 12 employees.

Across the state, police has arrested over 7,000 people, around 4,000 of whom are from the four districts of South Kashmir

As the magnitude of the crackdown reveals, it is of an unprecedented nature. Hardly ever before have the arrests been made on such a scale or so many PSAs slapped in such a short duration of time. Not even during the three successive unrests until 2010. Or for that matter in the nineties when Valley teemed with around 20,000 militants. “This has never happened before,” says Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist. “If anything, this shows how government has resolved to address the situation through force only”.

Foreign flags: A joint flag of China and Pakistan was waved during the protests (Photo: Mohammad Abu Bakar)

So far, the disproportionate use of force has taken an unconscionable toll: 93 deaths, around 500 blindings and 14000 injured. After the visit of the All Party Delegation in September, which ended up in a damp squib with separatist and civil society groups boycotting it, the centre has shown itself loath to start a new political outreach.

According to observers, the harshness of the security response betrays New Delhi’s
“obsessive preoccupation” with the military approach to the situation in the state. “Truth is that Kashmir is at the cusp of a fateful transition and considering the ferocity of the protests, the future looks ominous,” says Gull Wani, a political scientist at Kashmir University, “The situation calls for a sustained political process rather than an exclusively military one. This approach is the bane of post-colonial South Asian states: dealing with insurgencies through military might and economic development rather than political engagement. This only protracts the problems rather than resolve them.”

Though earlier on in the current strife, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised a “permanent resolution of Kashmir within the framework of the constitution”, the subsequent developments have lent little credence to his words. In fact, there have been noises to the contrary. Soon after, BJP leader and the party’s Kashmir point man Ram Madhav favoured tough action to control the upsurge. At the same time, he made it clear that the centre doesn’t seek a political solution to Kashmir, unwilling even to consider autonomy. According to him, there was enough freedom and enough laws to help J&K. Madhav also termed the talk of a political solution to Kashmir “romantic in nature”.

However, as the unprecedented outpouring of the anger over the past three and a half months shows, a Kashmir left politically unattended by New Delhi and at the mercy of its security establishment, could very well be beyond repair. Though considering the depth of alienation now, centre was expected to extend any political hand, it has done anything but that.