Is India losing Kashmir?

Published: May 4, 2017
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An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard during curfew in downtown Srinagar on August 26, 2016. PHOTO: GETTY

As India’s most restive region stares down the abyss of what a commentator calls another “hot summer of violence”, the doom-laden headline has returned with a vengeance: Is India losing Kashmir?

Last summer was one of the bloodiest in the Muslim-dominated valley in recent years. Following the killing of influential militant Burhan Wani by Indian forces last July, more than 100 civilians lost their lives in clashes during a four-month-long security lockdown in the valley.

It’s not looking very promising this summer.

This month’s parliamentary election in Srinagar was scarred by violence and a record-low turnout of voters. To add fuel to the fire, graphic social videos surfaced claiming to show abuses by security forces and young people who oppose Indian rule. A full-blown protest by students has now erupted on the streets, and in a rare sight, even schoolgirls are throwing stones and hitting police vehicles.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who leads an awkward ruling coalition with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rushed to Delhi on Monday to urge the federal government to “announce a dialogue and show reconciliatory gestures”.

Reports say Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh told her that they could not “offer a dialogue with separatists and other restive groups in the valley” while fierce violence and militant attacks continued.

Former chief minister and leader of the regional National Conference party Farooq Abdullah warned India that it was “losing Kashmir”. What Abdullah suggested was unexceptionable: the government should begin talking with the stakeholders – Pakistan, the separatists, mainstream parties, the minority Kashmiri Hindus – and start “thinking of not a military solution, but a political way”.

Political leaders say Kashmir needs a political and “not a military solution” Photo: Abid Bhatt

With more than 500,000 security forces in the region, India is unlikely to lose territory in Kashmir. But Shekhar Gupta, a leading columnist, says that while Kashmir is “territorially secure, we are fast losing it emotionally and psychologically”. The abysmal 7% turnout in the Srinagar poll proved that “while your grip on the land is firm, you are losing its people”.

So what is new about Kashmir that is worrying India and even provoking senior army officials to admit that the situation is fragile?

For one, a more reckless and alienated younger generation of local youth is now leading the anti-India protests. More than 60% of the men in the valley are under 30. Many of them are angry and confused.

Ajaz, a 19-year-old student in Budgam, told me that hope had evaporated for his generation “in face of Indian oppression” and he and his friends did not “fear death”. When I took him aside after a while to ask about his ambitions in life, he said he wanted to become a bureaucrat and serve Kashmir.

“It is wrong to say that the Kashmiri youth has become fearless. He just feels alienated, sidelined and humiliated. When he feels like that, fear takes a backseat, and he becomes reckless. This is irrational behaviour,” National Conference leader Junaid Azim Mattoo told me.

Secondly, the new younger militants are educated and come from relatively well-off families.

Wani, the militant who was killed last July, headed a prominent rebel group and came from a highly-educated upper-class Kashmiri family; his father is a government school teacher. Wani’s younger brother, Khalid, who was killed by security forces in 2013, was a student of political science. The new commander of the rebel group, Zakir Rashid Bhat, studied engineering in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh.

 

There have been clashes between protesters and security forces this summer Photo: Abid Bhatt

Thirdly, the two-year-old ruling alliance, many say, has been unable to deliver on its promises. An alliance between a regional party which advocates soft separatism (PDP) and a federal Hindu nationalist party (BJP), they believe, makes for the strangest bedfellows, hobbled by two conflicting ideologies trying to work their way together in a contested, conflicted land.

Fourthly, the government’s message on Kashmir appears to be backfiring.

When Modi recently said the youth in Kashmir had to choose between terrorism and tourism, many Kashmiris accused him of trivialising their “protracted struggle”. When BJP general secretary Ram Madhav told a newspaper that his government “would have choked” the valley people if it was against them, many locals said it was proof of the government’s arrogance.

Fifth, the shrill anti-Muslim rhetoric by radical Hindu groups and incidents of cow protection vigilantes attacking Muslim cattle traders in other parts of India could end up further polarising people in the valley.

“The danger,” a prominent leader told me, “is that the moderate Kashmiri Muslim is becoming side-lined, and he is being politically radicalised.”

The security forces differ and say they are actually worried about rising “religious radicalisation” among the youth in the valley. A top army official in Kashmir, Lieutenant-General JS Sadhu, told a newspaper that the “public support to terrorists, their glorification and increased radicalisation are issues of concern”.

The young people in Kashmir say they are angry and alienated Photo: AFP

One army official told me that religious radicalisation was a “bigger challenge than stone pelting protesters”. He said some 3,000 Saudi-inspired Wahhabi sect mosques had sprung up in Kashmir in the past decade.

Most Kashmiris say the government should be more worried about “political radicalisation” of the young, and that fears of religious radicalisation were exaggerated and overblown.

Also, the low turnout in this month’s elections has rattled the region’s mainstream parties.

“If mainstream politics is delegitimised and people refuse to vote for them, the vacuum will be obviously filled up with a disorganised mob-led constituency,” Mr Mattoo of the National Conference said.

In his memoirs, Amarjit Singh Daulat, the former chief of India’s spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) wrote that “nothing is constant; least of all Kashmir”. But right now, the anomie and anger of the youth, and a worrying people’s revolt against Indian rule, appear to be the only constants.

This post originally appeared on BBC here.

Soutik Biswas

Soutik Biswas

The writer is a correspondent for BBC news. He tweets @soutikBBC

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sane

    Come out of dreams. Your army and govt. both keep you Indians in illusions and rhetoric. What time that would be? Lets set the calendar and clock both.Recommend

  • Hindustan Zindabad

    i can see one more article on your website after six months… “is pakistan losing balochistan?”Recommend

  • Patwari

    Really? Ah so! Well, see, there is this chai wallah from
    Gujrat. Who is also known by his other name ‘Butcher
    of Gujrat’. The radicalized, brainwashed, 65% illiterate
    nation of two billion hindus elected him as their prime
    minister. He has a well known agenda, specially against
    Muslims. And other religious and ethnic minorities.
    That agenda is in full effect in Hindustani Occupied Kashmir.
    Plus the roving bands of regular RSS/BJP hoodlums and
    thugs who hunt for Muslims in every major hindu city.
    That’s right, the hindus of Hindustan don’t give two hoots
    or a song and dance about “freedom”…..
    See, there is this caste system there,…which keeps you a prisoner in your own caste.
    Oh! an aside. The population of Hinduland is near two billion.
    Not what the hindu govt. projects. And by 2025 Hindu Desh
    will be the most populous country on Earth.
    That’s less than 10 years from now.Recommend

  • Sane

    Message to Indian troll: Buy plenty of Burnol. You will be needing more in coming days. Burnol could be out of stock in India.Recommend

  • Jyotirmay Nandy

    Seems you are using a plenty of themRecommend

  • Jyotirmay Nandy

    Dream, go on dreaming.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    We are used to hear such rants….for the last 30 years.
    Keep writing articles, it is not going to change anything.Recommend

  • PeaceLover

    Surely not. There is no comparison of Balochistan with Kashmir. If you don’t believe then come and visit CPEC which is part of Balochistan.Recommend

  • DoorDie

    why god is not helping your kind.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    It’s funny how Pakistanis keep writing about Kashmir as if they are going to get that region.
    Pakistanis dreams will remain dreams.Recommend