By Brig. Anil Gupta (Retd)
From all available indications it is emerging that the impending summer in the Kashmir valley is going to be very hot. It is not a weatherman’s warning but prediction of many keen Kashmir watchers.
Hectic activities across the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Pakistan territory, establishments of training camps, efforts to revive and unify terrorist organisations that were dormant since long, formation of Tehrik-e-Azadi Jammu Kashmir, resurfacing of launch pads with approximately 100-150 terrorists waiting to infiltrate, desperate attempts at infiltration backed by ceasefire violations, surge in number of locally recruited Hizb militants, spurt in terrorist activities in South Kashmir, regular incidents of public “resistance” to enable the terrorists break the security forces’ cordon, attempts to demoralise the state police by threatening their family members and increased activities of ISI are some of the early and late indicators that form the basis of prediction of a tumultuous summer ahead.
There has been no change in the stance of Pakistan and its sympathisers -- the separatists as well as the other global jihadi terrorist organisations. But at the same time, some mainstream politicians who have held or still hold constitutional positions but have lost their importance in the present dispensation in the state have started speaking the language of the separatists and pro-azadi elements in order to regain political space under the misconception that only anti-India rhetoric can help them revive their political fortunes.
This is acting as a catalyst for Pakistan-sponsored hooligans and turning Kashmir into a cauldron of unrest, lawlessness and terror.
Kashmir today is witnessing a peculiar phenomenon. Almost continuous turmoil in Kashmir for the last three decades means that the present youth of Kashmir is a product of the gun-culture era. They have grown up in an era characterised by check-posts, security bunkers, curfews, bandhs, hartals, cordon-and-search, encounters, stone-pelting and detentions.
They have been victims of two worst natural calamities Snow Tsunami and the Floods. Loss of a kith or kin has been a regular feature of their growing up process.
The youth has been indoctrinated by “salafi” literature available freely through mosques and madrasas and is often confused between “humanitarianism” and “radicalism”. They have grown up in a monolithic society and have no experience of renowned Kashmiri Sufi culture characterised by co-existence of multiple religious and cultural ethnicities, tolerance, mutual acceptance and inclusiveness.
Instead they have grown up in an environment of fear, mistrust and hatred. They have also been witness to the power politics played in Kashmir and the dubious role played by the power brokers, misuse of funds meant for development, unending list of broken promises by both the state and central governments, perceived excesses committed by security forces and exploitation of the common masses by the power brokers and fundamentalists in the name of religion.
They have first-hand experience of Pakistan-sponsored proxy war including terrorism. An upward trend in the number of drug addicts is also a worrying factor.
Due to the prevailing security environment, there is no investment thereby leading to unprecedented unemployment which is the main cause of frustration among the youth.
In a nutshell, the modern Kashmiri youth is frustrated, angry, emotionally hardened and determined. They are no more willing to be exploited by the power brokers and seek a bright and dignified future for the Kashmiris and are willing to go to any extent for that.
The government, on its part, has failed to recognise the youth as the centre of gravity for resolution of the ongoing turmoil in the Valley. Resultantly, it has made no sincere and concrete efforts to reach out to the Kashmiri youth -- not only to assuage their hurt pride but also to address their problems which are unique due to the environment in which they have grown up.
During my visits to the Valley and interaction with the Kashmiri youth, I have found no dearth of those willing to join the mainstream and be part of “New India” envisaged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The unprecedented number of young men who turned up for the recent army recruitment rally and growing number of Kashmiri children seeking admission in educational institutions in Jammu for undisturbed education are pointers to this effect.
They want to break loose from the clutches of the power brokers and so-called champions of “azadi” who have merely used them as cannon-fodder by radicalising them to the extent that they are willing to get killed, exploited their sentiments to push them into “Jihad”, and misled them to pick up a gun instead of a book or pen -- but at the same time ensured that their own kith and kin remain safe and isolated from the happenings in the Valley.
The Kashmiri youth are yearning for peace and looking for genuine leaders who are interested in bringing an end to the turmoil in Kashmir.
Despite its best efforts, the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government has not been able to cut much ice with the youth and the disconnect continues leading to status quo. Like the older generation which had pinned their hopes on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the present generation of Kashmiri youth look up to Narendra Modi as a panacea of all their woes and are hoping for the Prime Minister to take the initiative at the earliest.
The security forces will be faced with new challenges and changed strategy adopted by the terrorists. The biggest cause of worry for the security forces is the public support enjoyed by the terrorists and counter-measures they need to evolve to meet the challenge of public resistance.
There is every likelihood of stone-pelting being complemented with use of “petrol bombs”. Recent reports indicate heavy demand for used bottles in both urban and rural Kashmir. Use of 'petrol bombs' can hinder smooth movement of army logistics convoys as well as the annual Amarnath Yatra Hindu pilgrimage to the cave shrine up in the Himalayas.
Lone-wolf attack is another challenge the security forces are likely to face this summer. Weapon snatching and looting of armouries to meet the critical deficiency of arms and ammunition will become more frequent. Security forces, apart from strengthening the anti-infiltration and counter-terrorism grid, will need to boost ground-level intelligence.
Concrete measures will need to be taken to ensure that militants are not able to target the families of police personnel. Smooth movement of winter stocking convoys will be a major challenge for the Army.
The civil administration and the government will also have their hands full. Smooth conduct of parliamentary byelections, polls for local bodies and municipal corporations and the Amarnath Yatra will be challenges to cope with. The major challenge will be to thwart all attempts of the disruptive forces to replay the previous summer and throw the Valley back into a turmoil bringing to a grinding halt all development-related ambitious plans of the coalition government.
The disruptive forces will look for a small trigger to spark off the unrest. The government will need to use all its might and collective intellect to deny such triggers. A greater coordination between the alliance partners and strict “hold fire” orders to loose cannons will be needed to achieve the same.
The government may also consider forming crisis management groups at district levels. These groups should be headed by a political leader and have important district-level functionaries as its members. Village/Mohalla-level police committees need to be formed to ensure that evil designs of the “disruptive forces” do not fructify.
No time should be lost in reaching out to the youth and addressing their genuine grievances, including unemployment.
Another issue annoying the youth is the denial of passport to the wards of surrendered militants. If anti-national leaders of Hurriyat can be given passports, why should we deny them to those young Kashmiris whose parents at one time realised their mistakes, surrendered and join the mainstream. Why should the past of the elders now haunt their next generation? It is one of the measures to win over the frustrated youth and the government should address it with earnest.
By now the security forces and the civil administration have got used to meeting the challenges. However, the approach has been to thwart the immediate threat and not look for a long-lasting solution -- what I term as a “fire-fighting approach”. This approach seldom leads to a solution but leaves the issue simmering.
The need of the hour is the sledge-hammer approach. This approach is needed for a decisive end to the Kashmir turmoil. The key elements of this approach are an all-out offensive against the divisive and Pakistan-sponsored terrorist forces augmented with a focussed policy to bring into the mainstream the Kashmiri youth.
Incidentally, the youth -- unlike the power brokers -- are not interested in appeasement and huge financial dole from the union government but are looking forward to an outreach from the government without hurting their pride.
The coming summer is going to be an acid test of the political acumen of the ruling class, administrative skills of the bureaucracy and professional competence of the security forces, including their synergy. It will make or mar the ongoing resistance movement.
(The author is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, and security and strategic analyst. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to email@example.com)