Unlike the early nineties, when around 10,000 militants roamed Kashmir, the number of the militants in Valley now is not more than 250. But despite this important difference, the current situation is easily compared to nineties. And not only by the journalists and the politicians but also by the former National Security Advisor RK Narayanan and the former RAW chief A S Dullat. In fact, Dulat has described the situation as worse than the nineties. But even on objective parameters, the assessment of the situation is largely correct.
The small number of the militants is now more than compensated by the endemic public support for them. In the nineties, the funerals for the militants were hardly a massive affair — several villages didn’t compete for the honour of burying the “martyr” in their respective graveyards. Similarly, people strictly stayed away from the encounter sites. But now they not only march towards such sites in protest but even try to help the trapped militants escape. So far, around 15 people have lost their lives in such attempts over the past year.
There are more differences. The nineties struggle was largely urban centric with downtown Srinagar and the towns like Sopore, Baramulla, Anantnag etc as its hub. Both, the militancy and the protests were confined to these areas. But now both the militancy and the civilian resistance have radiated out of the urban centres into the countryside, reaching even its deepest interiors. What is more, an all-out fearlessness has gripped people. The youth are not afraid to disrupt the encounter sites, nor flinch from stoning the Army convoys. In now routine street confrontations with the police and the paramilitaries equipped with rifles and pellet guns, the protesters don’t run for their lives but stand their ground and at times advance towards the forces with little more than a stone in hand, daring them to kill them.
Besides, in a throwback to militancy, the support for the militancy is uncritical and uninhibited. A fresh glimpse of this was provided by a viral video from Qaimoh, South Kashmir of the funeral of the militant Fayaz Ahmad Aishwar. Thousands of people cathartically applauded and shouted slogans as militants appeared and offered gun salute to their fallen colleague. And in a telling contrast, 10km away, the police man Azhar Mahmood killed by Aishwar was mourned only by his family and a few friends.
Aishwar died when he along with his three associates carried out an attack on the policemen regulating traffic after a road accident. The militants had allegedly tried to snatch away the guns from the policemen. Mahmood, who had caught hold of one of the militants, died when other militants fired at him. In the nineties too, the police men and the alleged informers killed by the militants went largely unmourned.
So, is it back to square one in Kashmir? It is, albeit there is a qualitative dissimilarity. One difference is the disproportionate disparity in the number of the militants operating in the state in the nineties and now. And second is that the movement now is concentrated in rural Kashmir.
However, what should deeply worry New Delhi is what the current grim state of affairs could metamorphose into. The overwhelming mass support for the gun in early nineties had led to hordes of youth joining the militant ranks. Soon the entire Kashmir Valley was crawling with militants and awash in weapons. Thousands died in the violence in subsequent years. It was only after 9/11 that there was a progressive decline in the militancy, a turn of events which was largely the outcome of Pakistan’s rethink of the support to militants under pressure from the US. As a result, until by a few years ago, the militancy in Valley had reduced to a trickle.
That is, until Burhan Wani led social media campaign invested the militancy with a fresh moral glamour and drew local youth again to militant ranks. South Kashmir which had just 15 militants left by 2014 has now 104 militants. And if Aishwar’s funeral at Qaimoh is anything to go, there is every chance of a new phase of a full scale militancy in the state. That is unless New Delhi doesn’t wake up to the gravity of the situation. One can only hope, it doesn’t go down the familiar route of using disproportionate force to put the current revolt down. As the past thirty years have proved, it might help in the ad hoc management of the situation, it will resolve nothing.