Kashmir: Stop Blame Game, Help Ending Bloodshed

K B Jandial
Many top officers of security forces have put out statistics, describing 2018 as a ‘successful’ year on the strength of killing of 257 militants in Kashmir, highest in a decade, and bloody response to 2936 ceasefire violations on LoC, highest in 15 years. It is customary to analyse this data of security situation in J&K during the year just passed by. By this ritual, the year 2018 was declared as eventful.
But the year also saw martyrdom of 91 brave hearts of the security forces, half of these were the gallant members of Jammu & Kashmir Police. There were also killings of over 90 civilians, many by the militants. They include stone pelters who are now considered part of militancy by virtue of their “lethal weapon of stones”. The total number of causalities in the year was 440. On the other hand, some non-official bodies in Kashmir have dished out higher and varied causality figures; International Forum for Justice and Human Rights JK claimed 450 killings and 586 by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. Still 2018 was the bloodiest year since 2009. The earliest highest killings were 375 in 2009. These higher causalities are despite Govt’s unilateral Ramadan ceasefire from May 16 and June 15, 2016.
Even the Ministers in the Union Govt too joined the bandwagon of “celebrations” of the “successful” year from security operations point of view, unmindful of the blood shed on the streets of Kashmir, be it of militants, stone pelters or the brave hearts of the local police and security forces. But more than anyone it was DGP Dilbag Singh who pointed out at yearend presser that “higher killing of militants is no indicator of grand success” and rightly so. However, the security forces can genuinely claim success in elimination of almost all the top aides of Burhan Wani’s and Zakir Musa’s gang in 2018.
As per the official data, 44890 killings have taken place in J&K since inception of militancy, including 23604 militants. In this cross border terrorism, 14845 civilians have also lost their lives, mainly at the hands of terrorists and some either in cross firing or while maintaining law and order. But in this proxy war, 6443 brave hearts of police and security forces too were martyred. This figure is comparable with any of the wars India fought since Independence. As per available data, India lost about 1000 soldiers in 1947 war, 1383 in Indo-China war of 1962, 3000 soldiers in 1965 war and 527 in Kargil war. All these add up to 5910 causalities as compared to 6443 martyred in proxy war in Kashmir.
Most of the analysts overlooked the fact that the martyrdom of each soldier ignites emotions across the country in general and the area to which he belonged and that restricts the space for political or diplomatic outreach. Such bloody incidents are the grim reminder to the nation of serious challenge being faced by the Police and security forces every day. While tooth-for-tooth sentiments are often raised at some level but the larger and more serious thinking has to find ways and means to end this vicious cycle of killings in Kashmir. This is a collective failure of political leadership which continued to score brownie points and run down the ruling party for its failure which on the hand put these figures to silence their criticism, claiming huge successes in anti-militancy operations. And the story of Kashmir continues from one Govt to another.
Probably peeved at lack of national policy on handling Kashmir situation, Security experts have started suggesting a role of the Army in formulation of a pragmatic policy. These experts say that Army is a serious stakeholder in Kashmir situation. While the Army’s job is limited to bring down the level of violence which did happen many times but it was frittered away for want of any meaningful political initiative. Lt Gen D S Hooda (Retd) in his article has recently asked the Army to insist on framing a coherent strategy for J&K which should be in consultation with the Army also. With continuing martyrdom of army personnel on daily basis, pressure is building up to end the dance of killing in Kashmir. Is our leadership really thinking about it? Doesn’t seem to be! Their priorities are different.
Far away from the ‘bloody battlefield’ in the Valley, the Parliament, in the recently concluded session, saw debate colored with political blame game on Kashmir during the statutory resolution on imposition of President’s Rule in J&K which only showed how politics has taken a heavy toll of the “national interest” in Kashmir. Dr. Farooq Abdullah in his usual passionate style wanted India to “own Kashmir”? The counter question is when did the nation disown Kashmir? The fact is that India has kept Kashmir as its crown but it didn’t reciprocate.
Since Independence the State has been ruled for 63 long years by the Kashmiri leadership itself, either alone or in alliance with other parties. The Central rule in the State was not for more than nine years, six years of which were in nineties when Kashmir political leadership had fled the valley with the outbreak of terrorism. Even during Central rule, efforts were made to “win the hearts and minds” of Kashmiris and launched several schemes for the purpose. How can Kashmir mainstream leaders forget that the nation had been investing hugely in Kashmir and given everything possible to J&K? These include special constitutional status, separate Constitution, autonomy, separate Flag, discriminatory residence law to safeguard state’s Muslim majority, huge and special funding pattern with 90% grants, and special quota for militancy affected families in admission to professional colleges and so & so forth.
Abdullah family has ruled J&K for about 34 long years and thus they cannot be absolved of the ‘blame’ for Kashmir’s alienation including militancy. In a way, NC and all other parties are part of the problem. Farooq sahib and his well-meaning son also remained part of Govt of India, incidentally both in NDA & UPA regime. It is not that Central Govt that had alienated people of Kashmir because most of the time the political leadership of Kashmir was at the helm of affair in the State and putting blame on the centre is just to pass the buck. In forthcoming elections to Assembly and Lok Sabha, whichever party comes to power in J&K and Centre, it should own Kashmir, for that matter, Jammu and Ladakh as well along with India. Separating India from local ethos would not help improving situation.
Politicians of different hues could claim credit for exposing the other party during the debate in the Parliament on President Rule, especially in Rajya Sabha. While Gh Nabi Azad rejoiced over the fall of PDP-BJP Govt in J&K and referred to fresh spurt in violence and consequential increased alienation true to his prediction of BJP as red rag to Kashmiris. But what followed Azad’s blistering attack on BJP was no-hold-barred attack on Congress by Arun Jaitley who rocked the nation when listed one blunder after another by the Central Govts (when BJP was not there) and how it pampered one family even by resorting to unheard manipulation of elections in Kashmir- one set of MLAs selected by Khaliq (a DC) and another elected by the people. Whether Azad won or Jaitely, but India lost in tu-tu main-main.
At Kolkata, Farooq sahib has come up with yet another negative narrative to shake whatever little faith of Kashmiris had in India’s electoral process by coining a slogan- “EVM chor machine hai”. How these leaders conveniently forget that it was with this machine (electoral process) they were elected, leave aside margin or percentage of votes polled. By indulging in such unsubstantiated narrative India loses even a winning battle, and regrettably it is not being done by Pakistan but our own leaders and rulers.
This is what has been happening since Independence. India is losing in Kashmir either by inadvertent blunders, political misadventures, motivated or inefficient actions. Those who had ruled the State and enjoyed the benefit of “serving the people” in all these years never forget to cry hoarse about the maltreatment of Kashmiris and alienating them. How can they forget that the continuing bloodshed in Kashmir has roots in manipulation of elections and selling the dream of separation just to pander to pro-Pakistan sentiments to checkmate Delhi? This continues even today. Look, what Mehbooba used to say, like seeking answer for sending children to army (for toffees)at a presser and singing paeans in support of Modi when in alliance with BJP, and now what’s her tone and tenor is? She is the latest example of duplicity just to seek “popular support” for electoral gain.
A positive trend that had started with a Bandipore medico, Dr. Shah Faesal topping the India’s premier Civil Services in 2009, has got a serious setback with his resignation from IAS citing a number reasons. It was mainly to protest against Delhi for unabated killings of Kashmiris (he didn’t talk of terrorists killing of unarmed Kashmiris and also didn’t comment on brutal killing of abducted local army personal and Policemen by the terrorists) and lack of Modi Govt’s political initiative on Kashmir besides alleged marginalization of 20cr Indian Muslims in last two years. Quite a stunning statement for Indian nation which had looked at him with respect as in him they found a window of opening for mainstreaming Kashmiri youths by motivating to join the India’s steel frame.
While uncertain about his future plan, Shah Faesal is still firm on seeking mandate for Lok Sabha in order to spread to Indian population the ‘real wishes ‘of the people of Kashmir and convince them to pressurize settlement of the Issue. It sounds strange that the iconic IAS topper is too looking at issues from religious and sectarian mindset. For many, he is not much different from those elements who believed in Kashmir’s azadi. Things won’t move the way he thinks but it is a huge loss to mainstream forces in Kashmir who still find India a much better place to live as compared to other Islamic countries, some incidents of lynching of Muslims notwithstanding.
Whatever may be agenda of Shah Faesal, be as a politician or activist, the real issue is how to stop the unabated cycle of bloodshed. Everybody has to join hands to achieve this common and only goal. In militancy affected districts of Kashmir, talk of autonomy, self-rule, justice, fair play, greater rights, investment and jobs are no issue but separatist tendencies, propelled by separatists openly and mainstream parties indirectly. Farooq has ruled out Kashmir going to Pakistan or getting “azadi” and at times even suggested conversion of LoC in to IB, which appears to be the only plausible solution to the vexed issue but regrettably it couldn’t get desired impetus.
While the separatists have so far failed Kashmir in getting “azadi” which is not achievable, how would the iconic Shah Faesal succeed in convincing Indian nation to respect sentiments of people and ‘give up’ Kashmir? As long as the gun rules Kashmir, there will be no light across the tunnel. Army and harsh laws like AFSPA are in Kashmir only because of terrorism. Those who are genuinely worried about bloodshed must work collectively for first ending terrorism. This is achievable. Punjab is an example.