There is nothing happening in Kashmir that has not been witnessed and endured by the people in the past. Many people compare the present ground situation with the years of early 1990s when insurgency erupted, impacting everything. The fight between Pakistan backed insurgents, enjoying public support, with the clueless state machinery turned Kashmir into a unique battlefield. For the last 28 years, an endless battle of narratives is consuming the hapless local population.
The year 2017 is definitely not 1989. Lot of water has flown down the Jhelum. Kashmir witnessed phases when militancy, in many areas like in Srinagar and south Kashmir’s Kulgam, was completely wiped out. The people overwhelmingly participated in elections and concrete efforts were initiated to bring back the displaced Kashmiri Pandits who left the Valley after the emergence of militancy. These phases could not sustain longer, which brought the situation back to square one.
The five-month relentless unrest triggered by Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016 brought many of the elements of 1990s back on the scene. The ruthless exertion of state power to quash the uprising revived the horrible memories of a generation.
Delhi has been consistent in its resolve to wipe out separatism as an ideology in Kashmir. The policy has not altered with successive changes in guard even in early 1990s when prime ministers changed after shorter time spans. The difference between 1990s and now, however, is that Delhi has found a highly cooperative state government to achieve its objective. In the beginning of Kashmir insurgency, the National Conference-Congress coalition led by Farooq Abdullah, which had come to power through the infamous 1987 assembly elections, vacated to pave way for direct central rule. Governor Jagmohan and his successor’s former R&AW chief Girish Chander Saxena and former army chief Gen KV Krishna Rao remained at the forefront to quell the uprising until Farooq Abdullah returned in 1996.
The sudden but not unexpected eruption after Burhan’s killing led to drastic changes on ground. The local pro-India leadership suddenly turned untouchable, some even migarted. The number of militants increased manifold both through local recruitment and infiltration from across the LoC. Militants equipped themselves with guns snatched from police or paramilitary personnel. The political front of the separatist regained sway to shepherd the rebellious population despite curbs on their movement and activities. Three leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, after years of acrimony on their political and ideological outlook, suddenly came closer to forge a loose alliance—Joint Resistance Leadership, marginalising all other separatist leaders.
But the situation has never been more challenging for separatists as it has emerged now. Delhi government is most stable and haughty and one of the elements of its ‘popularity’ is separatist-bashing and use of iron hand to quell anti-India forces in Kashmir. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s declaration that Kashmir issue would be resolved permanently does not indicate to treading a reconciliatory path. The emerging situation indicates that separatists of all hues would be subjected to face lot of “music”.
The indications are galore. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) tightened noose around seven separatist leaders or workers for their alleged involvement in receiving funds from Pakistan to perpetuate anti-state activities. They were flown to Delhi and remanded to NIA custody. Cases are being formulated to put them behind bars for a prolonged period. Interestingly, Delhi media, especially the TV, are backing the initiative. The unsubstantiated reports like JKLF’s Yasin Malik owns half of Lal Chowk, proliferate as music to the ears of select audience. Geelani has completed seven years house detention in Srinagar. Mirwaiz and Malik are also facing curbs on their movement.
And, exactly like in the early 1990’s the militant groups, which constitute the vital facet of the separatist camp, are under tremendous pressure. Counter insurgency grid has embarked on a hot pursuit to kill as many militants as they can. The highly incentivized campaign has been backed by perceptible decisions like rewarding a Major who humiliated a Budgam voter by taking him as human shield or quashing military court’s verdict against soldiers involved in fake encounter in Macchil to kill four local youngsters. The campaign to reverse the phenomenon of youth helping militants flee from the encounter sites is being effectively pursued.
There are chinks emerging in the militant groups. Zakir Musa, a prominent south Kashmir militant and former Burhan aide closed ranks with Hizbul Mujahideen. He is speaking against Pakistan and local Hurriyat leaders. Off late, Musa has been appointed local head of an al-Qaeda affiliate. Salahuddin quickly denounced the development saying Kashmiri militants have no global Islamist agenda. The divide, however, is evident on ground, especially in south Kashmir. Is it prelude the internicene fighting of 1990s?
This presents a scary scenario. However, this cannot pave way to any ‘permanent solution’ as perceived by Rajnath Singh. We have seen this happening in the past. The effective alternative still remains to engage with the people and the leadership for an acceptable and durable solution of Kashmir.