Report on 'Dominant Narratives in Kashmir: Evolving Security Dynamics', a discussion held on 17 August 2017.
Remarks by the Chair
Member, Governing Council, IPCS; former DGP, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF); former member, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)
Narratives in Kashmir have two dimensions - internal and external. Since the external dynamics are beyond the purview of this discussion, the focus should be on the internal dynamics. In the last three years, the issue of human rights has been put on the backburner and the demand for azadi (freedom) has come to the forefront. The word has been misconstrued in every part of the country. For most Kashmiri youth the call for azadi represents their aspirations to enjoy the same freedom and rights as the youth enjoy in the rest of India.
One can see that the traditional separatist leaders have lost their hold and the recent uprising has gone into the hands of the youth at the village level. What is more disturbing is that the local administration has lost control, and the space for the mainstream political parties is shrinking in the valley. This space has been filled by separatists and Jamaat-e-Islami cadres, as a result of which the mainstream parties no longer feel safe going to their political constituencies. In addition to this, the PDP supporters have not reconciled with the ruling PDP-BJP alliance, which has led to their alienation.
Kashmir is undoubtedly an integral part of India, but there is a need for introspection to analyse what concrete steps the Government of India has taken to integrate Kashmiris with the rest of the country. Kashmir is, in fact, a story of broken promises. The reports or recommendations of the numerous working groups have not been implemented. The real question is, does India have a long-term Kashmir policy? It is not clear who decides India’s Kashmir policy - whether it is the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Home Ministry or Joint Secretary (Kashmir Affairs). There must be a consistent long-term policy.
In the last few decades, there have been windows of opportunity - in the 1990s with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front's (JKLF) ceasefire call; in the 2000s with the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) ceasefire call; the 2003 ceasefire call, and so on. All these opportunities were, however, lost. Notwithstanding the lost opportunities, the present situation in the Kashmir still provides a ray of hope.
Independent journalist; founder and editor, The Kashmir Walla
There exists a trust deficit amongst mainstream political parties, and the PDP’s alliance with the BJP laid the seeds for this distrust. The alliance has not gone down well, especially in south Kashmir, which erupted massively after popular rebel commander Burhan Wani was shot dead on 8 July 8 last year. As a result, the local youth have taken to the streets to express their anger and demand azadi. Over 100 young militants have been killed in 2017. The measures taken so far to rectify the situation have only proven to be counterproductive, further fuelling anger and encouraging the youth to pick up guns.
There is a need to understand the psyche of the rebel youth. Young Kashmiris feel rejected and dejected in response to both sides - the local government and certain sections of the Hurriyat separatist leaders. The dialogue between the two sides has yielded no concrete result in the last thirty years. It has been only a photo-op activity. Hence, a disconnect between political representatives and the people is quite evident.
Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's rule, there was a relative calm in Kashmir as people were hopeful of the then ongoing dialogue. They were reassured that the Kashmir dispute, the main issue, would be discussed.
The situation is not the same anymore as the current alliance has failed to walk the talk.
As far as youth radicalisation is concerned, police brutality is an important part of the process. The problem lies in the flawed police reformation process which leaves the protesters with no option but to take a more violent path. The solution to violence is not more state violence. There is a need for dialogue on the main concern that people are raising: the disputed nature of the region. Additionally, there is a need for an intra-state dialogue between different regions of J&K.
Three Narratives in Kashmir
Senior Assistant Editor, The Times of India
The dominant narratives in Kashmir are: the Indian narrative, the Pakistani narrative, and the Kashmiri narrative. The latter can be further divided into two categories: the separatist narrative which coincides with the Pakistani narrative, and the mainstream political sections' narrative in Kashmir which does not match with that of the government in New Delhi. Despite being the most dominant the Indian narrative has turned out to be the weakest because its focus has only been on ‘managing’ Kashmir and not ‘resolving’ the separatist violence.
Both the PDP and the National Conference have always maintained that J&K should have special status and that over the years, the Indian government has eroded the state’s autonomy guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
The violence in the Kashmir Valley is a manifestation of the narrative that was propagated by Pakistan through proxies such as the Hurriyat Conference. This narrative has definitely left an impression and has seeped into the psyche of the Kashmiri people, leading to the birth of militants such as Zakir Musa and Burhan Wani. They are a result of the Indian state turning a blind eye towards what was happening in the valley in the 1990s. This fits into the narrative that sees the Indian state as a bigger culprit in Kashmir than Pakistan.
Coming to the evolving security dynamics, JKLF started the insurgency in J&K. The group is in no way different from Hizb-ul- Mujahideen (HM) or Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT) since their ultimate aim is to create an ‘Islamic state’, or ‘Khalifa’. Many would see HM and al Qaeda competing for space in Kashmir but in reality, they are working in tandem with each other through different mechanisms.
Even though the majority in the valley disapprove of the violence being perpetrated by these groups, the same majority also happens to be an intimidated and silenced by guns. Therefore, the anti-India narrative has been falsely ingrained in the minds of the people.
However, a point to note here is that Pakistan will always be ahead in this game. It has a certain influence in Kashmir and draws significant power as an ally of China, which has led to Kashmir becoming an international issue and a battlefield where many countries have a stake.
Clearly, there is a lack of understanding about the internal dynamics in J&K. It is a diverse microcosm of India and is as plural as the rest of India. In addition to this, the non-secular incidents taking place in India have to be factored in when talking about the Kashmir issue. Whatever happens in the rest of the country will have an impact on Kashmir and vice versa.
Going Back to the 'Mainstream'
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain
Member, Governing Council, IPCS; former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
Through 28 years of the J&K proxy conflict, the Indian state seems to have failed to devise a way forward in Kashmir once its security forces led by the army have repeatedly delivered a telling kinetic blow to terrorist capability and confidence. The focal point of India’s policy towards Kashmir should not only revolve around neutralising terrorists but also use of all means to progressively reduce alienation in order to integrate the state with the rest of the country economically, socially and psychologically. To truly make a difference it is necessary to understand the ideological conflict in Kashmir and examine the roots of the current face of its Islamist inclination. Stabilising the violent aspect of the proxy conflict has been a very important aspect.
With the turn of events since 8 Jul 2016, when Burhan Wani was killed, it did look that regaining any degree of order would be a long haul. The army, JK police and CRPF have done a fine job in ensuring a high degree of domination and reoccupying regions of south Kashmir. However, security and stability alone will not restore peace because ultimately the solution is in getting the citizens to be de-alienated and become willing members of the Indian nation. To do this it is unnecessary to engage with the separatist leadership which has bled Kashmir and the rest of India for personal gain. Since an alternative leadership is yet to emerge, the Indian state seems to have failed to devise a way forward in Kashmir. The focal point of India’s policy towards Kashmir should not only revolve around ‘dealing’ with terrorists but conducting robust outreach. The army has done a tremendous job so far in reoccupying regions of south Kashmir and also undertaking measures to curb terrorist activities. J&K police has played a pivotal role in achieving stability in the state. However, security and stability alone will not restore peace because ultimately the solution lies in the political and social domains.
An example of the proposed direct approach to the people was seen in 2010-2011 when small meetings were organised everywhere in the state with elders and the youth. These meetings were successful in countering violent narratives. Empowering the local panchayats and conducting elections at the district and village levels are important. Additionally, the Jammu region cannot be ignored and neither can the Kashmiri Pandits. The state bureaucracy also needs to be strengthened to achieve effective results.
To conclude, a refined doctrine that balances hard with soft power must be devised to provide an impetus to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on 15 August 2017, in which he said, “The Kashmir problem cannot be resolved through goli ya gaali (bullets or abuses). It can be resolved by embracing all Kashmiris.”
Rapporteured by Shivani Singh, Research Intern, IPCS