Kashmir: A Volcano in making

militants masked

In last more than two decades of Kashmir’s Freedom struggle, public support for militants is rising as a bigger challenge to the security forces and the mainstream political establishment now.

Irfan Quraishi analyses the current political scenario and strategies of stake holders to find out what next?

Kashmir is like a volcano: forgotten when quiescent, but terrifying when it comes alive. Militants are heroes for the people of Kashmir. Massive gatherings are witnessed in the funerals of militants. In between what is more worrying for the Indian political leadership and forces is the trending gatherings of stone pelters near the encounter site.

People throng to the encounter site to help the holed up militants to escape by resorting to stone pelting pitched battle with the counter insurgency security personnels.

This has made government to deploy an additional enforcement of law and order squad to tackle with the militant sympathizers. This trend led to the highest number of civilian killings near any encounter site recently on March 28, 2017 at Chadoora village of district Budgam. Three youngsters, Zahid Rashid Ganie, Saqib Ahmad, Ishfaq Ahmad were killed while protesting in support of holed up Militant.

On December 9, 2016, killing of Arif Amin Shah (24) of Sangam village in south Kashmir during a shootout with three militant killed made Army Chief General Bipin Rawat to issues a warning that stone pelters and those who help “terrorists escape” or display Pakistani flags would be treated as “anti nationals”.

He further added that the army would “get them” and take “tough action against them”. The warning came as he blamed the “local population” for creating hurdles for the army to conduct military operations.

But the situation for establishment turns more disturbing with the killing of Ashiq Reshi on 13, February, 2017, who was the owner of the house where the militants were holed up at Nagbal locality in Frisal, a village of Kulgam.

The locals contested the official claims, alleging that Reshi was used as a ‘human shield’ by the forces. “He (Reshi) and his brother, Muhammad Shafi, were taken along by the forces inside the house. Only Shafi managed to come out alive,” they alleged.

As the news about the encounter spread, youth from the adjoining villages in Kulgam, Anantnag and Shopian district rushed to the spot to help the militants escape, triggering massive protests, which were met with bullets, pellets and teargas shells. At least 25 civilians were injured, including 22-year-old Mushtaq Ahmad Itoo of Sirgufwara. Itoo was hit by a bullet in the abdomen, succumbing to his injuries at a local hospital.

Many blamed the controversial statement of the army chief is responsible for these killings in Kashmir. The security forces have allegedly begun indiscriminate firing on protesters near encounter sites after the army chief’s warning.

A major opposition political party, National Conference spokesperson, Junaid Azim Mattu dubbed Rawat’s statements as “tragic” warning such moves will only alienate the youth of Kashmir and “compound their hostility”. “Mobs rushing to encounter sites should concern us and alarm us into constructive political action – NOT issuing threats of “no mercy”, he said.

“The State can’t make a hostile, politically alienated people “cooperate” by threats of merciless retaliation. Not at least in democracies”, he added.

Hurriyat leaders as usual slam the army chief for the statement. Moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq too criticised Army Chief’s statement saying, “It shows his (Gen Rawat’s) lack of knowledge. Kashmiri youth have not taken to arms for fun nor are they made to hit streets in protest but they have been forced… as the space of Kashmiris has been squeezed”.

Congress Chief in the state Ghulam Nabi Azad also didn’t wait to criticise the lack of government initiative for the dismal situation in Kashmir and said, “The government is to be blamed for the situation in Kashmir. Even we ran the government, why was it not so bad then? To threaten the Kashmiri youth like this is unjustified. Last year 1000 kids were affected by splinters, 1200 kids lost their eyes”.

However, Army Chief’s warning which not only raises criticism but also increases the gatherings to reach encounter sites in defense of holed up militants as befitting reply of militant sympathizer.

On March 9, 2017, a 15-year-old another civilian, Amir Nazir Wani was killed after he suffered a bullet wound in the neck at the encounter site. Amir Wani, a resident of Pulwama’s Beegumbagh-Kakapora, was “hit by a stray bullet” as civilians clashed with the security forces to help the militants to escape. While local residents claimed security forces fired at the protesters near the encounter site, leading to Wani’s death, police officials said the teenager was fatally injured by a “stray bullet”.

Another youth Jalaluddin (22) was rushed in an unconscious state from Padgampora to a hospital where he was declared ‘brought dead’.

The “stray bullet” theory of the security force triggered a controversy across the political establishment of Jammu and Kashmir. The main opposition political party national Conference and Congress terms it a target killing of innocent civilians.

Now the big question arises, that is the warning only option left with the establishment to deal with the increasing trend of supporting militants at the encounter sites.

Why the security forces have failed to incorporate new strategies to avoid civilian killings near the encounter sites while carrying counter insurgency operations. Or is Kashmir heading towards a new wave of Freedom struggle.

The growing sympathy and open support to the militants by the Kashmir’s new generation may be an indication of reemergence of turbulence if not addressed politically.

The trending public support to the militancy at the risk of their lives if continues to be fatal may carry Kashmir towards the unending unrest. This also often raises a big question mark on India’s democracy.

 The killing of civilians, be it a unarmed militant sympathizer or a protesting stone pelters can’t be justified with mare a word of “Stray Bullet’ or a warning. This has to end somewhere if India wishes democracy to flourish.

The country’s establishment and the state government cannot afford to wait till the civilian support dies its own death and arises again. Many political experts believe that this is the more dangerous and worrying phase of Kashmir’s movement for the India.

Mare public Darbar by the police or Sadbhavna programs of the army can’t resolve it. The political solution of the issues is utmost to put an end to the bloodshed.

How long establishment can afford to justify the killing. There is no room for justification in the digital age of 21 century. The militancy in the digital age has made Burhan Wani, commander of Hizbul Mujahedin the poster boy of Kashmir. He attracted scores of young qualified youth to join the militant ranks. Even his death on 8 July 2016 has not spared Kashmir from the unrest and bloodshed.

The 2016 unrest in Kashmir, also known as the Burhan aftermath, refers to a series of violent protests in the Kashmir Valley besides killing of 93 protesting civilians, more than 15000 injured.

The political establishment repeated the same tactic of internet ban, media gag, curfews and restrictions till it calm down after nearly eight months of turbulence.  But in between why the establishment fails to understand that every uprising gave birth to another.

Like Kashmir had 2010 unrest prior to the recent one in 2016. The 2010 Kashmir unrest was a series of violent protests and riots in the Kashmir Valley which started in June 2010 after the Indian Army claimed to have killed three “Pakistani infiltrators” but it was later revealed to be a case of a fake encounter in which a soldier of the Territorial Army, a counter-insurgent and a former special police officer had lured three young men from their Nadihal village in Baramulla district and killed them in a staged encounter at Sona Pindi.

And prior to the 2010 uprising, Kashmir witnessed, 2008 land row agitation. On 26 May 2008, the government of India and state government of Jammu and Kashmir reached an agreement to transfer 99 acres (0.40 km2) of forest land to the Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) in the main Kashmir valley to set up temporary shelters and facilities for Hindu pilgrims. This caused a controversy, with demonstrations from the Kashmir valley against the land transfer and protests from the Jammu region supporting it.

The only thing rulers achieve or the agitators achieve is the bloody bloodshed.  India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, including the Indo-Pakistani Wars of 1947 and 1965, as well as the Kargil War. The two countries have also been involved in several skirmishes frequently on the line of control. But what next?

Experts have time to time reiterated that be it India, Pakistan or Separatist leadership of Kashmir, all has to revisit their strategies to prove their sincerity towards the alienated people of Kashmir.

Asrar Amahad Khan, Former Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), popularly known as Lali Khan, who has served during the peak militancy era of 1990 told, “The youth oriented schemes implemented by India has failed in Kashmir. The policies of India and the state government has have failed to develop tactical strategies on Kashmir to make valley peaceful”.

He said that the army Chief’s statement has strengthened the hands of forces and has given a license to kill the civilians in Kashmir. “The state government has to ready the rapid action squad to keep youth away from encounter sites and engaged in ding don till the encounter is over to avoid the causality. The delay in the action, to keep stone pelting youth away from the spot cause causalities”, he said.

Khan believes that the 2017 is heading towards another unrest like 2016 and prior. “The government has to take the opposition leaders in confidence to make strategies and bring peace. The stone pelter youth should be employed. The long queue of youth for job at army recruitment rally is evident to this fact”, he said.

It is being observed that the dying down of uprisings or peak militancy era of 90’s is not outcome of mainstream political strategies or failure of separatists. It is a volcano in making which can explode any time to destroy beyond repair.

The recent shift of struggle from gun to mass uprising to public support for militants and massive gathering at militant funerals is alarming about that volcano.

In-between, the warning statement of army chief or indo-Pak’s blame game followed by the state’s police chief’s remarks of ‘pelting stones at encounter site is akin to suicide’  indicates that the stake holders have failed to incorporate a strategy to prevent the volcano in making.

At the time when Burhan has left behind a new wave of militancy by reaching out to the masses, especially Kashmiri youth via global media of internet, there is no room for suggestions and warnings, but a dialogue indeed.

Burahan Wani, a dreadful militant for India and a Freedom fighter for Kashmiri freedom seekers was outcome of alienation, atrocities and political failure.

The new generation of Kashmir has grown under the shadow of gun and the stones. They need to be seriously taken by the all stake holders including Hurriyat. If not, they have already taken movement into their own hands.

The new generation doesn’t hinder from even criticising Hurriyat for its ‘Protest and shutdown calendar’ politics. They don’t scare to reach the encounter site unarmed despite warnings at the cost of their lives.

The fear psychosis has vanished from the streets of valley for its youth when it is about their political aspirations. The number of local militancy from 45 in 2016 to 110 in 2017 is quite evident to the reemergence of the armed struggle if not addressed quite well.

This new generation militant does not go Pakistan to get a AK47, but he snatches it to get armed to fight for the cause. The Burahan Wani’s Hizbul Mujahedin group before his death even made it public through a video on social sites that ‘snatch weapons to join militant ranks’.

According to the figures till October 19, 2016, the militants have snatched 67 weapons from the security forces. On March, 30, 2017 an unidentified masked youth releases a video in which he appealed militant Chief in Pakistan to provide sophisticated weaponry adding that Kashmiries want fight against the occupation but have no arms.

This indicates the alienated youth of Kashmir has understood that enough is enough now. They want to take the course of long pending issue of Kashmir into their own hand for a final call.

The presence of youth massively in militant funeral is evident to the intentions of Kashmir’s new generation youth. The massive presence was witnessed not only in Burahan Wani’s Funeral, but when two of Burhan’s associates, Waseem Malla and Naseer Ahmad Pandit, were gunned down by security forces at Shopian in south Kashmir, tens of thousands of local Kashmiris converged at their burial site.

The crowed is witnessed so large at the burial ground that the funeral rites had to be performed six times to enable mourners to participate and pay their respects.

This is not an isolated incident but a growing trend in Kashmir now. The public outpouring of grief and support for militants is worrying as it is evoking memories of the early 1990s when anti-India militancy was at its peak in Kashmir.

In its early years, militants and militancy enjoyed enormous mass support. Militants were looked upon as heroes. Civilians braved batons, bullets and harassment, even torture by security forces to protect them.  And now people bear to face bullet for them.

‘No resolution to the Kashmir issue’ besides a string of events and developments over the last couple of years has deepened Kashmiri anger.

In 2013, Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, was hanged after a flawed judicial process for his alleged role in the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament. Guru’s hanging also gave vent to anti India sentiments in Valley. His decision of hanging during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the country doesn’t go well, but dents the India’s grip in valley further. Now the killing of civilians is not at all filling the void, but making it huge.

The recent turbulence since the day of parliamentary polls on 9 April has further alienated the youth of Kashmir. The behavior of security forces torturing, making human shield and killing at blank range mercilessly is not the solution to suppress the ongoing turbulence but it sparks it further. The army can fight a war against any army in the world, but not with the masses. They need to bridge the gap between the people of Kashmir and Indian establishment, people by addressing political concerns and listening to them.

Due to the failure of establishments since decades now, democratic politics is the target of public ridicule in the Valley. It is militancy that will gain from this sentiment. For the peace and prosperity of all stake holders Kashmir resolution is vital before it is too late.

Irfan Quraishi is a Srinagar based Broadcast & Multimedia journalist in Kashmir. He has previously worked as Bureau Chief for Day & Night News and as Correspondent for Kashmir Times. He had been a fellow of Thomson Reuters Foundation London and RNTC Europe.