Burning Kashmir With the onset of Amarnath pilgrimage, separatists are again playing with fire in the valley.
This has been the third continuous summer of discontent in Jammu and Kashmir. For the past three weeks, the entire Muslim-dominated region, Kashmir, has been engulfed in a whirlpool of violence, witnessing young deaths, curfew putting life to a standstill.
This is the same place that with the onset of summers used to be flooded with tourists from different parts of the country. And the tourism industry this year too was preparing to cash in on the Amarnath pilgrimage, reflecting the return of normal peace days.
But, then the hardliner separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani came up with a call of a week of protests against the “Indian rule” in state. The street protests that have caught up a latest trend of stone-pelting, instead of bullets, turned ugly as a 17-year-old school-boy was killed by a tear-gas shell that hit him on the back of his head, when the police moved in to control a stone-pelting mob in downtown Srinagar on June 11. The incident burst the bubble of normalcy in Kashmir pointing to the biting reality that peace in Kashmir is a mere illusion. So far, the violence has claimed 14 lives.
Who is responsible for the current turmoil? In the blame game, separatists and political opponents of Omar Abdullah say: “Indian security forces have instigated the sentiments as they have resorted to firing actions to counter the protestors.” While the government puts the blame on neighbour Pakistan’s ISI and terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Already the impact of it is showing on the borders as there were four ceasefire violations between July 6 and 7. Two Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were killed while two civilians were injured in firing from Pakistan side of border at two different places in Jammu region. Following the incident, there has been heavy exchange of heavy fire-arms between Indian and Pakistan troopers.
Defence Minister AK Antony has also said that infiltration attempts into Kashmir from across the border are increasing with “conscious, calculated attempts” to push more terrorists into the valley. Already Indian forces killed at least six terrorists in two infiltration bids along the Line of Control between July 4 and 6.
The ground situation especially in Kashmir is a flashback to the troubled period in the 1990s when India came under immense international pressure on this very issue with Pakistan ratcheting up the ante after every killing in the valley.
Kashmir was almost free of terrorism-related violence till 2008. The number of terrorists from thirty to forty thousand in 1990 had come down to, from government’s reckoning, to bare three hundred almost inactive, living in some remote jungles until it was the allotment of few acres of land to Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008 that provided grits to otherwise silent mill of Kashmir politics as Syed Ali Geelani expressed his apprehension about the allotment of land and saw it as a game plan for changing demography of the state. Over 60 persons were killed and two regions, the Muslim Kashmir and Hindu Jammu were divided with each holding swords against the other for almost two months.
Immediately after winter, Kashmir cauldron started boiling. The bodies of two pregnant women at a distance from a CRPF camp were discovered and allegations that two were raped and murdered by the armed forces spiralled out into a mass movement, which brought within its ambit the entire Kashmir valley.
And now in 2010 summer, which is called by a section of media an year of “teenage killings”, the current rage of anger, the analysts say, is the expression of people’s frustration over New Delhi’s failure to show progress on the Kashmir issue despite the fact that it has done three rounds of dialogue rounds with moderate Kashmiri rebels.
There have been demands of internal confidence-building measures to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the Disturbed Areas Act, which give security forces the power they have in Kashmir. There have been attempts by some mainstream political groups of Kashmir as well the radical group of Geelani to fan people’s anger for their political aspirations and the moderate Hurriyat faction of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq has no other option but to support the rhetoric of Geelani for its political survival.
The current situation is quite tricky as the violence for the past three seasons has always started when the annual Hindu pilgrimage of Amarnath into Himalayan cave in Kashmir Muslim region is on and there is every possibility of situation becoming communal as happened in 2008 over transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board. The Hindu groups allege that Kashmir-based rebels and some mainstream groups deliberately start protests and demonstrations at this time of year to discourage the Hindus from taking up the pilgrimage.
Meanwhile, Omar Abdullah and New Delhi have had their share of criticism by the state and national political parties—the former getting bashing from its main rival group PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti in Kashmir responsible for giving security forces a free hand to kill Kashmiris and ignoring their sentiments, and the latter for its resumption of dialogue with Pakistan when it had firmly stated after 26/11 that no dialogue would be held with Pakistan till perpetrators of violence are dealt with.
Even as the state continues to reel under a wave of protests, Omar Abdullah has called for a “political solution” of the Kashmir issue. “Aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be assuaged only by development, good governance and economic packages. We need to address the political aspects of the problem as well,” he said. Abdullah added: “The party I belong to is for autonomy. But I have time and again reiterated that we are not averse to moving beyond it, if there is another solution that is acceptable to both India and Pakistan and meets the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” The Chief Minister also asked political forces to jointly work to facilitate a dialogue between India and Pakistan to end the Kashmir imbroglio.
“We must work together to find a solution which can lead to lasting peace in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. “We need to work to create a new Kashmir where the young blossom, the youth forge ahead and the old live in peace.” In the light of the ongoing protests, he said the government would reply back to the instigators of violence.
Commenting that “certain elements are hell-bent upon disturbing the peace and quiet”, the CM said: “My government and I will not only expose them but also deal with them sternly. We have lost 20 years. A complete generation has grown under the shadow of the gun. We cannot allow it to go on.”
While the resumption of talks with Pakistan may help tensions subside, it cannot be a panacea for the problems in Kashmir. Delhi will have to look for more effective and sincere ways to re-engage actively with the people of Kashmir before it’s too late.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Srinagar