Kashmir’s Killing Machine: Whom to Blame?
As militants killed one more cop down south; it reaffirmed our belief that Killers operate with motives. Commenting on such killings, Javaid Trali says that this method of madness should stop somewhere otherwise Kashmir will have a new lexicon: “Haunted Heaven”.
Death is contagious in Kashmir. Unlike elsewhere, here it is widespread because of the politics of the place. Players from different quarters continue to spread this contagion through the barrel of a gun. Be it mysterious unidentified gunmen, or militants, or the security forces’ personnel – those wielding the gun are here to kill. And this is what they do without fail.
Some unsuspecting political worker falling prey to unknown gunmen in the dead of the night or a policeman losing life and gun in a snatching bid, or a militant getting neutralized in an encounter, or an innocent civilian getting consumed after being caught in cross-fire or for not heeding the forces’ ‘signal to stop’- this dance of death has been going on here for decades and it continues even today, unabated! This constant violence has taken a heavy emotional and physical toll on people’s lives – the feeling of helplessness, fear, and futility is transforming into severe mental health crises.
No matter how optimistic one remains about things getting back to normal, the uneasiness in the air is distressing and painful. The society that would once boast of a rich and vibrant culture of empathy, coexistence, and love has unfortunately been reduced to a junkyard of frustration. Spring in Kashmir is known for lush environs and blooming of flowers and beautiful buds. Times have changed, so has the nature of the seasons in this withered Valley. There seems to be no respite from the narrative of tragedies playing out in the killing fields across Kashmir.
his haunting and starkly contrasting reality of Kashmir continues to be one of the toughest political riddles to solve. We continue to lose human lives. From shelling and skirmishes across the borders to encounters and direct attacks on the administrative and security machinery of the state, the loss of life has encompassed all stakeholders – security forces, civilians, and insurgents.
Any discussion on the way forward thus naturally requires an approach that would consider the plight and role of all the different parties.
The recent tragic terror incident in Handwara, in which a Commanding Officer, Major of Army, and Sub-inspector of J&K Police, among others, died, is yet another heartbreaking reminder of the devastating human costs of war in the region. These soldiers and officers were reportedly trying to save civilians who were held hostage by the holed-up terrorists. Around 17 additional security forces personnel have also lost their lives in the line of duty this year.
Security forces have been successful in eliminating roughly 50 insurgents this year. Even though the COVID-19 crisis prevented movement outdoors, there was no respite for the security forces as infiltration into the region continued through borders. Eighteen insurgents have been neutralized by the security forces during the COVID-19 lockdown so far.
Militant atrocities against civilians have shown an upward spike in recent years. Over the last four months alone, nine innocent lives were lost at the hands of the insurgents. As said, in the Handwara encounter, local civilians were held hostage and used as human shields by the insurgents in a bid to get more leverage against the government.
The security forces managed to successfully complete the tactical operation while rescuing the hostages. It is to be noted that from 5th August 2019 till January 2020, 10 ten such encounters have been reported in total, in which 20 militants have been eliminated. One of the most alarming trends is the steady flow of local youth recruits to these terror outfits. Though it has fluctuated over the last two years but has not fallen significantly enough so that the matter of radicalization could be taken as any less of a priority.
Reports say that in the last five months and despite the COVID-19 threat, 35 local youths joined terror outfits operating in the Valley. The total number of recruits in the year 2019 was 119, while it was 219 recruits in 2018.
The security imperatives should include preventive measures that stem radicalization trends, alongside targeted neutralization operations. This combination of tactics will allow the development of a strategy for steering the Valley towards a future that harnesses local support towards putting a stop to the endless cycle of violence.
The way forward
Reclaiming the lost peace in Kashmir seems a difficult task given the myriad of challenges that the region faces on a daily basis. These challenges stem from multiple forces that exploit Kashmir’s inbuilt weaknesses and the population’s innocence alike. What haunts the best of us are the questions that seemingly have no answers. Can our future be like this: full of cacophony, chaos, uncertainty, and bloodshed? Is there an end in sight? Can we jam this killing machine?
The cremation and burial of our young men who are led into harm’s way for the sake of divisive and self-serving politics have to stop somewhere immediately. Given the geopolitics in the region, it seems that the miseries of Kashmiris will not end anytime soon since the political players involved have interests in the nexus of the conflict.
The current pandemic has exposed Pakistan’s fragile economic systems, forcing Imran Khan to even appeal for debt relief to combat the pandemic. Yet interestingly, this has not hampered the establishment’s policy and investment towards fomenting unrest in Kashmir. Its self-defeating K-policy of using and sponsoring jihadis has only increased the number of graveyards in Kashmir.
Hostilities on the borders are the result of Pakistan’s efforts to increase the level of infiltration into Kashmir. The plight of border residents in Kashmir is heart-wrenching. Pakistan’s K-policy has not taken a back seat despite the COVID crisis clearly demanding more worthwhile focus on the public health imperatives and failing economy under the present political establishment in the neighborhood.
It is important that India prepares to bolster its preventive strategy through not just securing border areas but also by securing local support and pushing for trust-building efforts in and around the border settlements. Alongside the efforts to neutralize the existing terror strongholds, it is essential to figure out the probable locations for future bases for the terrorists. This would entail more robust trust-building exercises with locals to ensure that jihadis cannot use local support to create further tensions in the Valley.
The territory of the union is heading for a different course post-constitutional change. It has been nine months since J&K was stripped of its semi-autonomous status, and questions are being raised about what the state gained from the historic move. Was it just another experiment? Or, was it a serious effort to steer the newly carved Union Territory through the security, development, and governance crises that have continually plagued it?
The promise on which such a huge step was taken is “development and good governance”. Yet the government has yet to put forth a detailed roadmap for how it is going to accomplish this. Has the doable been done or is it just rhetoric – is a question concerning commons on Srinagar streets.
Aside from the promised 50,000 jobs, where is basic Internet connectivity? In this modern age, Internet access is not a luxury; it is a necessity. In times of pandemic, our scholars, doctors, businessmen are forced to suffer. Why? Restoring high-speed connectivity should have been the first step in the Valley as Narendra Modi announced the countrywide lockdown.
The recent unfortunate episode of fresh-faced Mehraj killed by forces in Budgam is a policy failure. These episodes do not support the ‘WHAM’ (winning hearts and minds) theory. It leads to trust-deficit. Instead of bridging the gap, incidents like this widen the gulf further.
The visible disconnect between the government and the people is not an encouraging sign. The LG administration has to do a lot to win over the lost trust and turf. The system of governance needs a complete overhaul to ensure the effective delivery of services. The resolution of people’s grievances needs empathetic consideration. Robust mechanisms should be put in place to fill the vacant government posts, and new meaningful means of employment are to be created for the youth.
The issues of the business community, farmers, and other stakeholders should be taken seriously. Leaving everything to bureaucrats will not address the issues. A serious political process should be started once the COVID-19 crisis is over and the affairs of the government should go back to the people. It will be through reassurance, partnership, and dialogue that we will be able to address the peoples’ issues and concerns.
The government’s proactive response to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 is being hailed. Yet, despite meager resources at their disposal, the frontline workers, while risking their lives, are the ones fighting the global pandemic bravely.
Experience feeds the instinct for a precautionary security strategy. So it would perhaps be wiser to consider trusting the J&K Police to lead where they clearly have an advantage as a local force. In a time of massive political transition, it is important to consider the fact that having the support and confidence of the J&K Police would be a valuable asset for ensuring that the larger systems of governance are smoothly integrated and implemented for the path ahead.
A lot needs to be done to break the socio-political dynamic that normalizes violence in Kashmir. The machinations of the mercenary intelligentsia are far more dangerous than somebody wielding a gun. The structures that have been created with the patronage of people in the system have been on the forefront to create an environment of hate and fear. By glamorizing violence, this class of people is exploiting hopelessness among our youth.