The Army chief’s weekend briefing for National
Security Advisor Ajit Doval over poll-related violence in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) suggests that the government is sufficiently worried about the unravelling law and order situation in a state in which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a junior partner in government. But it is worth wondering whether South Block has worked out viable options for dealing with the almost unbroken cycle of violence in J&K since the July 2016 killing of Burhan Wani, a young militant and propagandist associated with the Hizbul Mujahideen. The 7 per cent voter turnout in the by-election for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency, already postponed once, marks a 30-year low, and should give policymakers pause. If citizens are too intimidated to exercise a basic right in a democracy or are too disillusioned to participate, it surely signals the need for a fresh approach to the chronic problem.
It is axiomatic that peace does not come from the barrel of a gun, and clashes between the youth and the security forces have achieved little beyond creating a vicious momentum of escalating violence that helps neither side. The permanent heavy-handed bandobast of the regular military and other security force formations have created for ordinary Kashmiris the notion of a hostile occupation force. The latest atrocities are an example: Young Kashmiris assaulting CRPF forces and the gruesome retaliation involving an innocent bystander. The daily humiliations imposed on ordinary Kashmiris by security forces, especially on young men and women, and the impunity granted by the hated Armed Forces Special Powers Act have made this a dangerously asymmetrical confrontation. None of this is new, but it is possible that the government urgently needs new ideas and solutions rather than the tried and failed responses of increasingly violent crackdowns, curfews and other actions that disrupt normal life.
The possibility of introducing a more durable peace was within the government’s grasp given the relative calm between 2010 and 2015, when terrorist-related fatalities fell sharply, principally owing to a popular weariness with militancy. A revival in tourism and hospitality, the principal sources of income for local Kashmiris, raised hopes for a more lasting solution to a tragic historical problem. Instead of building on this and creating a workable development agenda, the Centre appears to be in trial-and-error mode. In the immediate aftermath of the Wani-related violence in 2015, a meeting with Opposition leaders yielded a stated need for dialogue but little happened after that. Rash statements thereafter from Mr Doval of retaliatory action in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan to Pakistan’s fomenting of insurgency in J&K can hardly be considered a mature, thought-through position. This, even as there is little attempt to contain the proliferation of Gulf-funded Salafist organisations that are radicalising the youth. Equally, the overt expression of Hindutva ideology sits poorly with the ideology of the People’s Democratic Party, the senior partner in the ruling state alliance. The fact that some young people can consider a failed state like Pakistan a viable option to the Indian Union suggests that the failure of imagination that has afflicted every past administration over J&K assails this one too.