Is Kashmir in for a change?

K B Jandial
After a long time, good things have happened in Kashmir that has rekindled a hope that Kashmir situation would take a turn for good. But this could be possible only if the vested interests let it happen. The most encouraging thing to happen is the emotional appeals of the parents to their sons who had freshly joined the ranks of militancy to come back home and fortunately, they responded positively. Is Kashmir in for change?
This positive trend started with the return of Anantnag college student and ace footballer, Majid Irshad Khan just a week after he picked up the gun and joined the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba. The reported cause of his joining the terror outfit, like many others, was the killing of a close friend in an encounter. His picture posing with a gun had gone viral.  The reason for his return back home was the passionate appeals made by his parents- Irshad Khan & Ayesha Begum. The police too played its supporting role and used his friends to put pressure on him to drop the gun and return home. He quietly surrendered in an army camp. The Police and security forces too dropped the case against him to allow him to lead an honourable life with his family.
Buoyed by the return of Majid other parents too sought ‘homecoming’ of their love-ones who have joined militancy and two more boys happily joined back their families.  In an unprecedented move, the family of Adil Ahmad Bhat of Malangpora, Pulwama went to the Press Enclave to use the media for their ferment appeal to their son to return home. He went missing in October this year and reportedly joined Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen militant outfit.
Parents of another strayed youth Ashiq Hussein Bhat of Rakipora Shopian also made emotional appeal to him through video to return as they are dying. “We have no other support other than you and we are dying,” his father, while crying, said in the video. “I appeal to my son to return home. I will lock this house and poison ourselves if you don’t return,” Ashiq’s mother beseeched her son. Ashiq has joined Lashkar-e-Toiba. In the video, his wife is seen imploring that her life has been ruined and that she wants her husband to come back.
For the first time, the most powerful, widely spread and influential social media in Kashmir was used in positive manner. The Govt. has been shutting down internet to prevent misuse of social media for spreading rumours, hoaxes and provocative material that have potential of creating law and order situation. Social media has changed Kashmir’s narrative by becoming an effective channel to bring back ‘missing’ sons from the ranks of militancy. The concerned wailing parents, and to some extent the sincere friends of the strayed youth used the social media to demotivate these boys through their distressed appeals and brought them back from a situation where death is almost certain. The ‘pains and sufferings’ of the parents did bring about a change of heart in the new recruits. The gun they picked up under peculiar circumstances which they felt compelling would have resulted into possible shedding of more blood of their own people (civilians or the local police) or security forces against whom they would have commanded to use it under the misplaced notion of jihad.
The footballer Majid Khan’s effect was huge as other parents’ appeals for return of their boys started hitting the media.  The appeals were so sentimental that no son could resist. One appeal went like this:  “I can’t explain how much I miss your smiling face, it had almost been six months, there is not even a minute that I don’t think about you. I hope you are well. I am your father and if I do not tell you this, no one else will do. Don’t bear any grudge towards those who have not done good to you. No one in this world is going to treat you well except your father and mother.”
Another passionate appeal was, “I must tell you that I am going to die. I don’t want to die but I am left with no other option. I am sorry to tell you that you will have to learn a lot but I will not be there to teach you, to scold you, to help you.”  “About your mother, she loves you more than anybody else in this world. She didn’t mind going through the pain of giving you birth because somebody told her that you will be there to lift her coffin on her death.”
“Dear son, we request you to come back and start again and we will help you in every manner otherwise the path which you have chosen will lead you to nowhere other than pain, stress and betrayal and may be, when you would decide to come back we would not be there.” These messages went viral on social and also on news media and these did impact the mind of the boys to whom these were addressed and they returned to the comforts of their homes in the company of their loving parents, families and other best well-wishers.
This emotional weapon was earlier used in late-nineties for the militants of Doda, Rajouri and Poonch when such appeals of the parents were broadcast from Radio Kashmir Jammu in Gojiri and Dogri. Even though it was a success it  was not extended to Kashmir, may be, no parent was coming forward in that fearful situation to speak out openly for weaning away the fresh ‘recruits’ and put them to the path of learning and meaningful living. But now, it is a portent ‘weapon’ in the hands of wailing parents, friends, civil society and teachers in the educational institutions. They can, collectively or separately can play a responsible role in preventing the gullible youth from treading a self-destructive path of radicalisation and militancy. These returned youth have to be taken care by the parents, civil society and the Govt and make them icons for promoting ‘return journey” of others.
No one can expect the separatist leadership to take mercy on the innocent youth in this regard and dry up the ranks of their foot soldiers. But the high profile leaders of the mainstream political parties are expected to play a positive role in weaning away the drifted youth. They have their cadre spread over the valley who should be galvanized to motivate the concerned parents to use all persuasive methods to bring back their sons. Political parties, sinking their competitive politics, should come forward to launch a well-intentioned campaign along with the worried parents and other family members to bring back their drifted youth from the clutches of sure death. The supporting role of the local police and the other security forces is vital for the success of any such initiative, which they did show recently in the case of three boys. Security forces shall have to be more cautious against doing anything that could botch up any such good initiative.
New Delhi and the main stream leaders must change their narrative on Kashmir, at least to prevent fresh recruitment into the ranks of terror groups and check further bloodshed. It needs no elucidation that in the last bloodletting 29 years nothing tangible had been achieved that could be considered reaching nearer to their goalpost. Instead of keeping the dream of ‘azadi’ or related ‘fantasies’ alive in Kashmir, the mainstream politicians should jointly or separately address public grievances  and leave the larger vexed Kashmir issue to India and Pakistan. The least Kashmir can do is to help creating congenial environment that could facilitate sustainable and productive dialogue between two neighbours.
The role of parents and civil society becomes more critical when Mehbooba has taken a bold initiative of withdrawing 744 FIRs of first-time stone pelters that will lead to release of more than 4300 youth. This has been recommended by the Centre’s special representative, Dineshwar Sharma that has made him look different than earlier interlocutors who only prepared long reports that are gathering dust in Home Ministry’s almirahs. He is rightly seeking immediate action on whatever he felt necessary for improving situation after meeting a cross section of people. This is not for the first time that stone pelters were released. After assuming power, Mehbooba had released 634 stone pelters whose cases were registered during Omar Abdullah’s tenure. But soon the new spell of stone pelting returned in Kashmir in 2016. Today, a very large number of youth are being set free.
There is every likelihood that, in the given situation in Kashmir, these youth can fall easy prey into the hands of anti-Indian forces and again pushed towards violence, radicalisation and militancy. The parents, close relations and sincere friends of these youth should put them on constructive path. All stakeholders especially the mainstream political parties and the civil society must ease the process of their adoption in the positive frame of mind rather than using  them fodder for petty gain or fuelling anti-Delhi or anti-establishment sentiments once again. The new narratives and fresh initiatives have raised hopes that must not be allowed to be razed to ground and unleash another spell of disturbances.
Will bloodshed in Kashmir ever end? Will continuous bloodshed help Kashmir in any way? And who gains from this bloodshed? Kashmir needs to seek answers for these questions. While Pakistan, a party to Kashmir issue by illegally occupying a part of the State, is a huge factor in terrorist violence in Kashmir, both Central and State leadership too have to ensure that conditions favourable are not available to Pakistan for its nefarious designs. There is urgent need to strengthen the forces of peace, harmony and integrity and restore confidence in this great secular nation. Kashmiri youth’s stake in the country needs to be reinforced, taking along other regions of Jammu & Ladakh by addressing their genuine concerns.  A formidable challenge, indeed! But the nation has to take the call.