Kashmir’s disconnect with India

88 killed in the past 3 months. It could get worse, with Kashmir simmering due to the vicious cycle of violence, which for the time being looks unabated. Curfews are the order of the day and life is paralysed, on the streets of Kashmir. Many believe that the situation is one of the worst and what we are dealing with, at this point, is much graver than the insurgency of the late 80s and 90s. It’s the citizenry of Kashmir, which is out on the streets, demanding their voices be heard and their demands be fulfilled. What has happened in the past three months that has led to the whole young generation out on the streets – pelting stones at the armed forces? It’s the failure, on all counts, by the state and the Centre, the opposition, separatists and the civil society.

Failure of the state:

In January 2009, the National Conference in alliance with the Congress was elected by the population of Kashmir. The mood was upbeat, at that time, with Omar Abdullah taking the reins of the state and becoming the youngest Chief Minister. So, what has happened in the past 18 months, with the people – who voted in the elections but now coming out on the streets and demanding azaadi? The policies or, lack of it, by Omar Abdullah – has been in question. His style of working (read lack of leadership qualities) is the reason many believe that his resignation might not be such a bad idea. He has, in a way, shown aloofness from reality and has looked towards Delhi – to get him out of tricky situations. Some would say that this is a rider which comes with coalition, but in a state like Jammu and Kashmir you need an assertive leader who has ‘out of the box’ solutions, but sadly, which have not been shown by Omar, so far.

Failure of the Opposition and the Centre:

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), under the aegis of Mehbooba Mufti, has been quiet. They have flared up tensions – by not condemning stone pelting, also allegedly involved in sponsoring some of these violent protests, and are now demanding Omar’s ouster. Until two days back they had boycotted all meetings held by the state and the Centre and have contributed zilch, in this hour of need. Being the principal Opposition party, one expects more than just criticism and the discernment as to when to shun politics.

Delhi’s reaction, so far, can best be described as lackadaisical and, it hurts to say, apathetic. An all party meeting, just this week, when the Valley was boiling and the innocent were losing their lives- for the past 3 months, seems too little too late. But, at least, relevant voices: PM Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister P.Chidambram have given statements and are looking at the grievances and possible solutions.

Controversial AFSPA:

At the heart of the storm is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which many describe as draconian. The situation, on ground, is nowhere similar to the insurgency which hit J&K in the 80s and 90s so, at best, AFSPA requires amendment, if not complete withdrawal. This matter is contentious and has many pros and cons associated with it, which ever way you weigh. Over the past decade some excesses have been committed by the armed forces and human rights violation have happened, plus the situation on ground is very bleak,  when you see ‘ordinary’ people vs armed forces –  interaction. If winning back the confidence of the citizenry needs AFSPA to be amended or withdrawn, then the Centre should do it.

But there is a whole ‘other side’ to this, which cannot be ignored: separatists’ clamour for azaadi and Pakistan’s diabolical involvement. The whole notion of azaadi – ingrained into the young minds and stones given in their hands, which should have books – is deplorable and cannot be ignored. Armed forces need special powers to keep these divisive forces at bay.

There has been a whole generation which has grown up with curfews, blasts, killings, the ignominy of being harassed by the forces and constantly being looked upon as terrorists. It seems like a life in a dark alley with no end to it. It’s the failure of all of us, who haven’t heeded to the just demands of the Kashmiris. The concerned authorities cannot ignore this important aspect, which is alienating the Kashmiris from India. It pains to see young children, as small as five years old, getting killed.

The consequence of lethargy and indifference, over the past 20 years, is what we have on the streets of Kashmir today. The government, on its part, would do well by not turning this into a cosmetic exercise but, rather, taking some concrete ‘Confidence Building Measures’. Let’s bridge this divide and usher in a future which promises a tranquil and a better future with opportunities for the young Kashmiris.

Aatish Sharma

Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/mvvermeulen/91705072/sizes/m/]