Finding the road to peace in Kashmir
The security situation in the conflict-riven Kashmir Valley is rapidly deteriorating.
Security experts fear incidents of violence will increase in the Valley now that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is over. Also, the Indian army is gearing up for the Amarnath Hindu religious festival in Kashmir and the first anniversary of the killing of the militant Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016.
Escalating violence is expected during the remaining six months of this year, which could make it the bloodiest in the last decade.
On June 23, Mohammad Ayub Pandith, a deputy superintendent of the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) police, who was in plainclothes on anti-sabotage duties and taking photographs with his mobile phone, was stripped and lynched outside the historic Jama Masjid in Srinagar. He tried to defend himself with his pistol but was overpowered by his killers, who suspected he was spying on the public. The incident has caused widespread public outrage.
On June 22, two Indian soldiers were ambushed and killed near the Line of Control about 10km from the town of Poonch. A Pakistani army border action team is suspected. A Pakistani soldier who was shot dead was reportedly wearing a headband with a camera attached to it.(Indian Express, June 25).
It was the third ambush this year in the border district. In a similar action on May 1, Pakistani army regulars and others beheaded two Indian soldiers in the Krishna Ghati area under cover of mortar and small-arms fire.
The Krishna Ghati sector has seen intense skirmishes since September 2016, when 18 Indian soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack on the Uri military base. The tensions forced over 3,000 people to leave their homes along the Line of Control.
The July 8, 2016, the killing of the militants Burhan Wani and his two comrades led to a serious crisis of internal security management in the Kashmir Valley. Not just the army and the central paramilitary forces but also the men of the Jammu & Kashmir state police force have paid a heavy price.
The death toll, including security forces, militants and civilians, has exceeded 150 this year and could rise higher than the 2009 figure of 375.
Two key forthcoming events are the annual Amarnath religious journey (June 29-August 7); and the death anniversary of Burhan Wani, who was killed on July 8, 2016.
The number of well-trained foreign terrorists in the Valley is said to be around 70 to 80. The army has deployed several additional battalions ahead of and beyond the Jawahar tunnel and in the Valley.
J&K police officers are more at risk than ever before. The June 16 killing of six policemen in Achabal in South Kashmir raised the police death toll to 16 this year. Thirteen were killed in 2016.
On May 1, during a militant attack on a bank, seven policemen were killed.
The militants even raided the homes of policemen, forcing officers to stay at their barracks for their safety.
Senior military officers posted in the Valley have called for political efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue since a law and order approach has been ineffective.
On June 24, suspected militants hiding near a school opened fire on a Central Reserve Police Force vehicle in Athwajan on the outskirts of Srinagar, close to the army’s 15 Corps HQ, which was considered safe due to high-level security. One sub-inspector of police was killed. Such an incident so close to the army HQ has serious implications.
Army officials have said that Kupwara district has the largest number of foreign terrorists and the Shopian district the largest number of home-grown ones (The Hindu, June 25). They have said militants will target security forces and small convoys. Along with attacks within the Valley, infiltration to support the militants with Cease Fire Violations (CFVs) will be stepped up. An additional battalion is being deployed along the Line of Control. Violence has been much more severe this year even during the holy month of Ramadan.
Attacks on security forces and attempts at infiltration are occurring on a daily basis. Security forces estimate that there are least 200 militants in the Valley. This year up to June 12, 77 militants have been killed (32 on the LoC and 45 in the Valley). Last year, for the same period the figure was 54 militants killed.
The CFVs during the same period have gone up as well: 193 this year to June 13 against just 5 during the same period last year. The number of CFVs during the whole of last year was 228.
What do these mind-boggling data signify?
Are India and Pakistan preparing for a full-scale war?
Perhaps they are.
I had a conversation with a brilliant Kashmiri militant who visited Delhi last month. He said the Kashmiris were fighting for independence. No less. They would never give up, no matter what India does in Kashmir.
‘Thoughtful Indians must understand that cooling Kashmir lies in India’s hands, not Pakistan’s’
He said the several visiting Indian teams to Kashmir were not sincere. They were looking at Kashmir from an Indian perspective and ignored the Kashmiri view. They did not address the issues of: i) Kashmir as a political dispute, which called for a political solution, not a military one and suppression of democratic rights; ii) the withdrawal of military and paramilitary forces from civilian areas; iii) the repeal of repressive laws; iv) the release of political prisoners, especially those arrested under the J&K Public Safety Act, 1978; v) allowing access to a UN fact-finding mission; vi) the establishment of a Supreme Court-appointed judicial tribunal on extrajudicial killings; and vii) an open and transparent dialogue with all, devoid of preconditions, to bring about a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
The several reports submitted by visiting teams from India to Kashmir appear to have ignored these issues.
Where lies the solution to the Kashmir conflict?
Parvez Hoodbhoy, the eminent mathematician, physicist and human rights activist, said the conflict in Kashmir can be resolved but only under specific conditions.
I cite Hoodbhoy:
‘Thoughtful Indians must understand that cooling Kashmir lies in India’s hands, not Pakistan’s. By formally acknowledging Kashmir as a problem that needs a political solution, using humane methods of crowd control, and releasing political prisoners from Kashmiri jails, India could move sensibly towards a lessening of internal tensions. Surely, if India considers Kashmiris to be its citizens then it must treat them as such, not as traitors deserving bullets. Else it should hand Kashmir over to Kashmiris — or Pakistan.”
He added: ‘Thoughtful Pakistanis must realize that their country’s Kashmir-first policy has brought nothing but misery all around. Using proxies has proven disastrous. A partial realization has led to detaining of LeT and JeM leaders, but Pakistan’s army must crack down upon all Kashmir-oriented militant groups that still have a presence on Pakistani soil. Such groups are a menace to Pakistan’s society and armed forces, apart from taking legitimacy away from those fighting Indian rule.
‘Thoughtful Kashmiri nationalists must recognize the grave dangers of giving more space to religious extremists. Their struggle should be for some form of pluralistic entity – whether independent or under nominal Indian or Pakistani control. That entity must assure personal and religious freedoms. An ISIS-type state with its cruel practices makes a mockery of the very idea of ‘azadi’ and would pave the way for Kashmir’s descent into hell.”
Hoodbhoy concluded: “Such rethinking would clear the road to peace through negotiations which, though narrowed, still remains open. Every conflict in history, no matter how bitter, has ultimately been resolved. In Kashmir’s case whether this happens peacefully, or after some apocalypse, cannot be predicted.” (Kashmir: Hard Choices Only’, Dawn, May 20 2017).