The Young Kashmiris Are Saying Something, But Are We Listening?

Gradually, but perceptibly, almost inexorably, the Kashmir Valley appears to be slipping out of control – again. Since the death of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist, in July 2016, incidents of stone-pelting have spread from urban to rural areas.
The Kashmiri youth now feel emboldened to pelt stones at security forces carrying out counter-insurgency operations, to distract them and help the terrorists escape. Besides over 90 people killed, almost 13,000 civilians and 4,000 security forces personnel – mainly from the CRPF – are reported to have been injured in the incidents of violence since July 2016.
Sense of Alienation
There is a palpable sense of anger and alienation among people in the Kashmir Valley. Whether or not it is justified is another matter. Slogans of ‘azadi’ are again being heard. Pakistani and, increasingly, flags of the Islamic State have begun to appear in public places with monotonous regularity.
Clearly, though 70 years have passed since Independence, successive governments have failed to comprehensively integrate the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) with the mainstream.
A new generation of Kashmiri youth has taken to the streets. Brought up under the shadow of the gun during two decades of violence, the hopes and aspirations of these young women and men remain unfulfilled. Many of them are educated, but they are jobless.
While some of these protesters are no doubt being paid by the Pakistan’s ISI to shout slogans demanding ‘azadi’ and hurl stones at the security forces, many of them are frustrated with the lack of opportunity and the seemingly insurmountable socio-economic challenges facing the people.
Uprisings That Shook the World
The present situation is reminiscent of other uprisings in recent memory. In February 1986, the Filipino people restored democracy through the ‘People Power Revolution’. In 1989-90, Lech Walesa’s ‘Solidarity Movement’ in Poland beat back the mighty Soviet Union’s tanks.
The citizens of Czechoslovakia shook off totalitarian communist rule through the ‘Velvet Revolution’. The victory of the Ukrainian people’s ‘Orange Revolution’ represented a new landmark in the history of the people’s movements for democracy. The ‘Cedar Revolution’ in April 2005 ended the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon after 30 years. The Nepalese revolution was a manifestation of the power of people. The events of the ‘Arab Spring’ are too recent to be recounted.
The key lesson these uprisings portend for India is self-evident: if the Kashmiri people come out on the streets of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Anantnag and half a dozen other towns like they did in 1989-90 and demand azadi in today’s media-driven age with the proliferation of cell-phone cameras, it will be almost impossible to govern Kashmir by force.
Insensitive Approach Won’t Work
No insurgency anywhere in the world has ever been resolved by the security forces alone. Commentators calling for a heavy-handed approach to resolve the current pelting crisis are displaying their short-sightedness. The security forces have done what they could. They will only alienate people further, not win them over. It needs to be clearly understood that the problem in J&K is a political problem and, hence, requires a political solution.
The successful resolution of insurgencies requires a four-pronged approach: governance, development, security, and carefully-calibrated perception management – all of these must go hand-in-hand.
The security situation had improved considerably in the period before the Valley erupted following Burhan Wani’s death. This was evident from the demands being made for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and for the withdrawal of the army from counter-insurgency operations.
However, poor governance and the slow pace of socio-economic development are hampering any move to put an end to the insurgency, being sponsored by the Pakistan army and the ISI.
Voice of Kashmiris Lost in Cacophony
The Indian narrative holds that J&K acceded to India legally; a plebiscite could not be held because of Pakistan’s failure to vacate its aggression; India has gone out of its way to provide economic assistance; the people are falling prey to Wahabi radicalisation being exported by Pakistan; and, too much blood has been shed by the Indian security forces to let Kashmir slip away.
The people of J&K, particularly those living in the Kashmir Valley, are guided by a different narrative. They lament India’s failure to fulfil the promises made, especially not permitting them to have their own Sadr-e-Riyasat and flag; they argue that J&K is being run as a police state from Delhi; and, are deeply anguished by what they perceive as the “excesses” committed by the security forces.
Except for a very small minority that has been deeply influenced by radical extremism, the Kashmiri people do not wish to either join Pakistan or opt for independence from India, despite the slogans being shouted in recent months. Creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan goes against the grain of Kashmiriyat and the state’s Sufi culture – and it has not gone unnoticed.
Issue of Autonomy
Successive prime ministers have taken several laudable initiatives, including the nomination of numerous task forces and holding talks with the political leaders of J&K. The Hurriyat leaders have steadfastly refused to participate in these discussions. However, there has been marked slackness in follow-up and implementation. Meanwhile, demands for unilaterally abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution – the tie that binds – have been gathering momentum.
After very hard and acrimonious bargaining, the Kashmiris will ultimately settle for a generous measure of autonomy, which will bestow on them the right to rule themselves within the Indian Union. They will accept that the Central government continues to deal with defence, foreign affairs, currency and communications while the J&K Assembly is left free to legislate on everything else. This should not be viewed as an out-of-the-way concession as India’s Constitution is based on a federal structure.
The late Prime Minister Narsimha Rao had said the “sky is the limit” for autonomy.  When asked whether he was proposing to hold talks within the framework of the Constitution, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said he was willing to host talks within a humanitarian framework (insaniyat ke dayere mein).
His successor, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had spoken of feeling the people’s pain and disillusionment (dard aur mayoosi) and made a pitch for “mutual tolerance, understanding and accommodation”. It is for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to now provide a healing touch. He has the backing of the nation. 
(Gurmeet Kanwal is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)