Conflict in Kashmir has reached a stage where it is becoming indigenous and is being taken over by homegrown jihadis. In spite of ‘Operation All Out’ launched by the Army, the conflict appears to have spread and is being sustained through public support. While the number of terrorists killed have seen a rising trend, the losses sustained by terrorist groups seem to have been made up through local recruitment, which too has seen a steady rise. There is a perception among the radicals that no matter how many terrorists are killed or captured, their numbers will continue to rise until the day of the judgement—and they will not be harmed by those who betray their cause. The proposed withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan and Syria has strengthened the resolve of the Islamic terrorists and is giving them a hope that they can achieve victory. The stated withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, at least in part, is being viewed as a defeat of the infidels. Such perceptions give an impetus to individuals and groups to continue to perpetrate acts of terrorism. Notwithstanding the perception of the Jihadi radicals in Kashmir, the majority of the people in the Kashmir Valley are now veering around to the view that ‘Azadi’ is neither an option nor will it be allowed by the Indian State.
Kashmir today is thus witnessing a mixed response. There is rise in incidences of terrorism, and innocent civilians are being killed by terror groups on the suspicion of being informers and betraying the cause of Jihad. Stone pelting as a tactic is continuing, as part of the strategy to obstruct counter terrorist operations. A large number of youth remain marginalised and blame the state for their condition. The radicals have been able to create an impression as if the state is at war with its own subjects. On the plus side, people are yearning for peace and want the conflict to end. There are thus both negative and positive waves in Kashmir that needs to be handled appropriately.
It is critical to understand that the mere elimination of terrorists does not lead to an elimination of terrorism. Security forces may have been able to eliminate the terrorists in large numbers, but guns by themselves cannot eliminate the idea of jihad. As long as the idea of jihad and hope of victory remains, the youth will continue to join terror organisations. The Indian state has yet not been able to create a narrative that can defeat the idea of jihad in Kashmir. It has failed to create a perception that coercion, use of terror and stone pelting is un-Islamic. A critical look at the violence in Kashmir indicates that the real motive is neither azadi, nor is it seeking more autonomy. What the terrorists want and seek is the establishment of an Islamic state, and they are bent upon uprooting the established order through the erosion of the institutions of governance. The objective was and remains to be Nizam-e-Mustafa and establishment of the Sharia system of jurisprudence.
There is political churning going on in Kashmir and youth feels that it is time to discard the dynastic political parties that are synonymous with corruption and nepotism. Third front, mainly consisting of youths, is now rising. They have swept the panchayat and municipal elections and are now reaching out to the people for their support for Parliamentary and Assembly Elections. Whether they win or lose, one thing is clear—the two main stream political parties will be forced to be on the edge. The Third Front, if it becomes a reality, would require guidance and support to galvanise the peaceniks. The youth are a sizeable stakeholder in society as they are the most affected by violence and in its absence, will reap the benefits of peace. Conflict drives away prosperity and forces flight of capital from the conflict zone which directly impacts the future of the young generation. Through this political experiment, message needs to be given to the youth of the Valley that major root cause of political, economic and social inequality lies in poverty, instability, poor governance and unending violence. Thus third front must give hope to the youth that they will work to create a level playing field for every Kashmiri and remove nepotism and corruption. To reduce the likelihood of conflict, it is essential for the government promotes inclusive development; reduces inequalities between regions; tackles unemployment and exercise control over the illicit drug trade in the state.
Peace building in Kashmir cannot be just left to the government and its various organs. Civil society too has a major role to play. Parents, teachers and society needs to assert and reclaim their space in the society to help in bringing stability. It is not the duty of government to keep the youth away from the streets. That is the duty of the parents, the elders in society, the teachers and other influential leaders and role models as well as private organisations. It is not for the government to assume the role of parenting—that task is best left to those more fortuitously placed to exercise it.
A question is often asked as to why political initiatives did not take over the process of peace building at a time when security forces had created conducive environment for consolidating peace and stability? There are no clear answers to this question. However, what is significant is to understand the process of peace establishment in a conflict zone. It is a fact that between 2003 to 2008, a fragile peace had been brought in through suppression of violence. It was perhaps a negative peace that had the potential of relapse, if triggers were given. This peace was mistaken as an adequate peace and voices had started resonating in political circle to withdraw security forces. What policy makers and political leadership failed to comprehend was the important aspect that negative peace is only a stepping stone for adequate peace and no experiment can be undertaken under such circumstances that may lead to relapse of conflict. Similarly there is no space for experimentation under the prevailing environment without developing cushions where relapse can be managed.
Conflict in Kashmir now will require a detailed analysis and participation of social scientists and professionals who understand the process of capacity building for peace. It is a highly nuanced process and cannot be left to bureaucrats and political leadership to call the shots. Challenge today is to first bring temporary peace and then graduate to adequate peace without disturbing the societal equilibrium and emotional aspect of the people. There would be endeavours by inimical forces to create relapse of conflict but state must not allow any slippage and triggers. Experimentation such as debate on Article 370 or 35 A must not be allowed to take place. Let us first create enduring peace and let people get used to peace before such experiments are attempted. Political stability is imperative and any actions to derail this process will be counterproductive.
Radicals have managed to glorify and normalise the violence in the Kashmiri society. They have been able to pin the blame of violence on the government, while denying the accountability and responsibility of the terrorist perpetrators. They have been able to create acceptability of innocents being harmed as essential in pursuance of the larger aim and goals. In contrast, the government narrative has failed to create a sense of unjust war by unjust means used by terror groups against the public.
One of the biggest failures of the Government, both in the Centre and in the State, has been its inability to cause moral exclusion of terrorists and proxies of Pakistan. Unless this is done and the radicals including Jamaat-e-Islami are excluded from the cognitive domain and collective conscience of the public, conflict and radicalisation will continue to take place. It would require sustained campaign to show the people how these elements have destroyed the moral fibre, history and culture of Kashmiriyat in pursuance of their self-serving motive at the behest of Pakistan. Political process, military operations and economic development will not yield result, unless India succeeds in moral exclusion of jihadis from collective conscience of the public. Thus, the narrative should be directed towards this end through religious and cultural discourse.
Brig Narender Kumar, an Infantry Officer, commanded a Rashtriya Rifles Battalion in J&K and Assam Rifle Sector in Manipur. He is currently Distinguished Fellow at United Services Institution of India, New Delhi