Kashmir is on the boil again. Hizbul Mujahideen commander Buran Wani’s encounter on 8 July 2016 has fuelled the current wave of violent protests across the valley. The incident invigorated chants of Azaadi, which began to resonate across large parts of the valley. Since the day of encounter, nearly 50 people have lost their lives and over 5000 civilians and security forces personnel have been injured. Despite accomplishing a tactical win against the militants, the state and central governments seem to be losing the political plot. This commentary attempts to explore whether and how the governments – central and state – are at a loss, politically.
For Kashmiris , the conflict symbolises their struggle for self-determination. However, away from the valley, in the rest of India, two paradigms take narrative predominance: one is the state-centric perspective - e.g. that of the law enforcement agencies - that prioritises national security and integrity. The other - such as those of social activists and academicians, among others - is human-centric, which considers the security of human beings as supreme. Any peace talks, inadvertently, take dichotomous turns between these two paradigms because the dominant worldview regards territorial integrity sacrosanct while the other remains critical of the official approach that disregards “the right to life, liberty and security of person” that is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Escalation of the Latest Crisis
Two proximate factors explicate the sudden violent eruption in the valley after Wani’s encounter. First, Wani’s popularity on the social media had multiplied enormously in recent times, owing to which he commanded a large following by the youth. Cyber security experts failed to keep tabs on Wani’s inflating social media popularity. Eventually, the visual appeal charmed the youth who began to perceive Wani as a role model for the Kashmir cause.
Second is the failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) coalition government in implementing the common minimum programme (CMP) that had been agreed to at the time of government formation in March 2015.
After the 2014 assembly elections, a fractured mandate brought two unlikely partners – the BJP and the PDP – into an alliance. Both parties agreed on a CMP for jointly running the Jammu and Kashmir government. Among the major highlights in the “agenda of alliance” was the coalition’s willingness to begin “a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all the internal stakeholders irrespective of their ideologies.” However, the dialogue never took place. The government’s inability to begin the dialogue, coupled with regular encounters, spawned despondency among the Kashmiris, which resulted in further alienation - proving to be a ready recipe for violence. Hence, the simmering discontent that took refuge in the fragile crust of peace found an outlet in Wani’s encounter and began to spread all over the valley.
Political Implications of the Current Crisis
The latest crisis has political implications for both the state and central governments. Nearly a decade of good work on the peace process has been lost due to New Delhi's ad hoc policy measures .
Such types of policies indicate that fighting separatism backfired. The Kashmiri people sensed it from the early days of government formation in the state. If policies proceed on the same trajectory, the likelihood of deeper future crises cannot be ruled out. This will create a complex problem - of containing renewed insurgency in Kashmir - for New Delhi.
On the other hand, the inability of the state government to address the concerns of the general populace will erode people's belief in democratic processes, and people will lose hope in the state government’s capability to provide better livelihoods. This will ultimately pose hurdles in governance not only to the current government but also to its successors. For now, only a middle ground approach to defuse the current crisis can pacify the agitating masses, before the achievement of accomplishment of any lasting peace accord.
The Road Ahead
Peace and security in Kashmir are important national interests. The Indian government must take urgent measures to defuse the raging unrest. The widening disconnect between the government and the people will lead to hardening of positions, which will eventually erect more obstacles to peacemaking. Also, continued alienation of the Kashmiri youth will provide a fertile ground for transnational terrorist groups like such as the Islamic State (IS) as well as to Pakistan-based terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad to make further inroads in the state. If an opportunity is made available for such inroads to be made, it will be disastrous for both Kashmir and rest of India. What is required at this time of crisis is an empathetic solution that wades through political corridors rather than an oppressive one that travels via the military avenues.