Burhan-the prominent face of young, revived and local militancy in Kashmir valley, is no more today! Killed on July 8, by forces, which resulted in an unforeseen law and order problem and violent social unrest. For the majority of native Kashmiris’ he was an icon of unsuppressed youth demanding justice and adherence to freedom sentiment! Like the previous bloody uprisings of 2008 and 2010, the loss is, once again, huge as over fifty civilian killings resulted in the gory aftermath and hundreds of injured lie groaning in hospitals!
Burhan Muzaffar Wani – merely 22 years old – was in the prime of his youth and much more popular, especially in the southern belt of Kashmir, purely due to his being tech-savvy and having a wider popular support than many lesser known militant commanders in the past. The young boy was called the face of new and young militancy in Kashmir valley and became quite famous due to his liberal use of social media. Security apparatus and media called this social media using militant, the poster-boy of young militancy in Kashmir as he was considered the main recruiter and an attraction to lure young boys to militancy in the valley. The threat of increase in the local militancy still continues even after his death given the unrest, civilians killings, injures and a new wave of uprising in the valley, reacting violently to his death!
Situation from the Ground Zero
The situation on the ground is pathetic and mostly described as war like. While I had gone to the valley for a study on the Amarnath pilgrimage, I got stranded there due to the violent situation that constituted the explosive aftermath of Burhan’s killing. Being a local I interacted with friends and acquaintances around regarding the prevailing situation of uncertainty following the killing. I was learning a new lesson with each uninhibited response; I was getting from ground zero. The highest state of mass alienation, routine killings, deep pessimism about the system and hopelessness with the government and political institution has become a reality. Also the sheer frustration of the masses and anger over the violent and unpredictable situation prevailing is alarming. Most importantly, the legitimising of the all-pervasive culture of violence in the valley is becoming a dangerous trend.
“If twenty more civilians die, Kashmir issue will reach some solution”, said an elderly man. Such thinking reflects that there is a section of society in Kashmir who thinks only violence can solve their issues and more the killings of civilians, more will be the impact. People perceive so because they have been witnessing only violence since the onset of the armed conflict since 1989.A culture of violence has inadvertently shaped up to the core and is being legitimised even by the common masses, for they feel only violence is the way to change the system. They know the history and failure of all other means.
Youth are seeing this as yet another big uprising after the 2010 violent agitation, as both significant and different given the different pattern of violence, intensity of civilian killings, people’s rebellion and violent protests, an undying commitment to resist the brute power and above all, the scale of unmanageable violence and senseless loss of lives and injures.
“I am thirty three years old who has witnessed 2008 unrest and then 2010 unrest and all the other such big and small incidents since 1990s, but this time the situation is different and more dangerous. The valley is burning.” says an Engineering student. The rampant killing spree by forces and oft repeated crisis mishandling and failure of crowed control management has added fuel to the fire. The separatist camp keeps extending the shut down duration and people keep following. Militants keep dying and people gather in thousands for their funerals.
Mass Alienation and No Lessons Learnt by Security Apparatus & State
Undoubtedly, the inevitable fall-out of Burhan’s killing is the huge unrest in itself after the 2008 and 2010 uprisings. How it led to such a violent turn, couldn’t even the establishment guess in time? Why they couldn’t foresee the consequences given past instances is, in itself, quite shocking! Is it again a mere case of crisis mishandling in terms of the lack of following SOPs by security apparatus or the design of the peoples’ protest itself that has made it so violent? Now there are also debates on the ill-equipped and ill-trained forces which brave such protests with least protection available. Why this incident resulted in so many civilian deaths, even time will not tell because even the previous unrests are yet to be probed properly and nothing tangible has come out so far. The masses maintain that hardly anybody has been persecuted for civilian killings till date, be it any uprising in the past. Was killing the Hizb Commander a mistake or a pre-mediated/mature and well thought out strategy that proved too expensive? Perhaps yes. Could he have been captured alive to avoid the crisis or was it really so impossible? Why such an outpouring of mass anger and why so much of growing popular support for militancy in the valley even today? Is this so called movement or anger against the nation growing and why is the reach out to the vulnerable, not being made? Why Kashmiris support militancy and why so much of mass participation and sloganeering on militants’ funerals, are also significant issues that remain to be pondered over?
While the Centre maintains that such kind of reality is because of the vested interests that motivate youth, fuel anger or radicalise them, but the story from the ground seems altogether different! No one is fuelling anger as everyone is already angry and those who could have fuelled it further, are already under house arrest. People are forced to starve inside their homes due to curfew, communication blockade continues without any break and pellets and bullets have wreaked havoc everywhere. Are such acts the sign of the mass alienation that has increased multifold due to bad governance, which New Delhi denies outright or is it again the sentiment of secession from India that never dies down, the stories on the ground are a mixed bag of all this ? New Delhi cannot and should not brush aside every such situation as merely a law and order problem and as a solution announce economic packages or treat unemployment as responsible for the mess but approach youth with a political discourse. Where will it lead us to and where will it end, nobody knows! Why nobody knows because nobody not even the State government is clear about the methods of peace building on the ground but feels the pain only when it reaches the optimum. Are Kashmiri youth really so radically alienated that even death is not a big deal now? Perhaps yes. Because they continue their protests even when they know they may die. The situation that prevails is the writing on the wall and must be taken seriously by the power corridors.
The Sentiment and the Peoples’ Resistance
A local told me that there is a sentiment which can never die down in the valley. There are even youths who want their sisters to marry a boy who is nothing but ‘Tehreek Pasand’ (Movement sympathiser).What has actually shaped such a mentality and mass perception, is a question surely worth pondering over, is it not? Who is doing such perception management in the valley? Analysts only call it Islamic radicalisation but I think it is beyond that. The problem is political and cannot be treated with such labelling time and again. A complete political alienation exists on the ground and no readiness to listen to such angry voices remains a reality.
“The shocking thing to see is the stone versus bullet again and the same civilian causalities. Does it mean people have lost the fear of death and prefer honour and dignity?” questions a businessman. The question that still remains to be answered satisfactorily, is the success of stone pelting as a practice among youth and what leads to such anger time and again, crisis mishandling, use of much force or what? Why hasn’t been stone pelting been curbed so far? Who has failed and who will take responsibility for such a mess time and again? Are stones still the weapon of the weak and pellets/bullets the answer to such anger?
“Even rifles are snatched and to the worst police personnel are kidnapped by protesters. The situation has crossed all limits. People hate local police even a cop was pushed in Jhelum along with his vehicle resulting in his death. It cannot be worst than this. Has police failed local aspirations or is it facing the wrath of past mistakes?” asks a young chap musingly.
“The police feels caught between the devil and the deep sea, masses hate them and bosses push them against us”, emphatically maintains a protester.
Why is the local police, that too highly ill equipped, pitted against the angry mobs every day? Are they really trained to face such situations? I think no.
“The new wave of anger against the system is on its full flair”, says a medical student. Everyone is angry as everyone feels caged, frustrated due to shut downs and blockades, etc.
“The future of Kashmir whatever it may be, but this uprising (he calls it Ragda-3) is the severe one and may turn decisive” says a history student”. Will the state learn some lessons out of such repeated violence? Nobody is sure. There is a sentiment, a secessionist sentiment and an enemy perception that is not going to die down without a proper reach out and a political solution.
Burhan Backlash and the Culture of Violence
Burhans’s death led to many more deaths (over forty five and thousands injured) for his death is treated as a major setback to militancy in Kashmir and a big success for the forces. But the question as much debated in media now is that whether the new recruitment will increase or decrease due to this killing. If the poster boy was killed who will recruit now, some say, the dead Burhan will recruit, for emotion and inspiration may motivate the youth now. Sloganeering is everywhere, some raise pro-freedom slogans, some eulogise Pakistan while some attach religion via religious slogans to the Kashmir’s political issue. Amid this all, killings are routine these days and the people’s sympathy seems to be increasing and violence permanently becoming a part of culture as rightly guessed by eminent sociologist Prof. Dipankar Gupta in one of his recent articles on Kashmir.
“State has power and absolute power this time which is being used against us, we are still not afraid.” preaches a sloganeer defiantly during a protest. The question remains why is the power not used wisely and under control?
As a social analyst and being an insider, one can see a different turn now. People, especially those well educated, feel such killings are a mistake on the part of security forces as far as the bloody fallouts are concerned and therefore calling such killings a big breakthrough or major success, is a folly. State is not enough, public is sensitive and killings are still not replaced with arrests leading to such expensive fallouts. Should forces prefer arrests to encounters, remains a significant debate for the future.
The situation in the valley is obviously tense and everyone is scared. People don’t necessarily fear the security forces but fellow people for everyone has turned a rebel and violence against each other is almost legitimised due to sentiment, emotions and anger. I myself had to rush to the airport for the national capital at 2 am in the night just to escape agitating masses and stone pelting during the day time.
Of Pellets, Bullets and Political Appeals of Peace
Despite the appeals of maintaining peace by Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister and the CM, peace is yet to return to the valley that always keeps waiting for a tipping point to burn. Will only peace appeals do when so much needs to be done on the ground in every perspective be they Human Rights concern, political space, dialogue and consultation with youth, development and empowerment, etc, remains a big question? Frankly speaking, youth in Kashmir today don’t expect any such initiative from the State that can address the real problem on the ground. The State reacts with pellets, bullets and later with some appeals. The conundrum continues and bloodshed is the routine.
The Way Forward
For a perpetual peace building in Kashmir, even before engaging with the angry masses, State primarily needs to engage with those who know and understand Kashmir well from a strategy, administration and security perspective. State needs consultations with those who understand Kashmir well from its economic, security, social, political and crisis perspective. First and foremost the Centre should withdraw AFSPA at least on experimental basis in less vulnerable regions to make forces more accountable and give a sense of justice to the alienated people.
What will and who will stop this routine bloodshed in the valley, should be the concern of the central government at the moment as the State government, like the past governments, has failed to deliver so far? Therefore, who will speak to seething masses and build peace in the valley, I think the Centre should leave this job to the charismatic and worthy Governor of the State? The man who addressed thousands of people’s problems, that too in a shorter span of time during governor’s rule in the state and reached out to the flood affected Srinagar masses without any publicity and complications besides scores of other people, friendly and developmental works. Who has the capacity to bridge the hateful gap between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, I think only Mr Vohra is capable of that given his governance style and expertise. Who will restore peace and justice by delivering on the Human Rights abuse of the past, I think the Centre should form an expert commission on the subject so that the alienated masses feel that justice will be done and culprits will be brought to book eventually! Who will value peoples’ lives and who will stop this killing spree, I think the Centre needs the consultation of those who have served in Kashmir in uniform and those who understand the reality on the ground. The Centre should assign this job to the eminent defence stalwarts like Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, who introduced the ‘Hearts Doctrine’ in the valley and achieved much on goodwill and peace building front during his short tenure as Corps Commander in the valley. For his people friendly soldering he began to be called as the ‘Peoples General’ and therefore his recommendations should be valued and practiced on the ground to avoid such a massive collateral damage time and again.
The Centre has to ponder over it and think of a credible administration in Kashmir after all for how long will the reality be distorted or painted as a mere proxy war by Pakistan, law and order problem, unemployment as the only culprit, paid stone throwing, denying leadership of Hurriyat sections, Islamic radicalisation, etc,. Also Healing Touch theory should be practised on the ground not by those who only preach it but by the Centre itself and I am quite sure that the eminent Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, is quite capable of that.
After Wani’s killing, the Hizb (PoK based Militant outfit) appointed a new commander to continue what was being done. What does it indicate? Simply that this is not the end of the show, also reflected by the Pakistani PM’s statement on Kashmir. May be tomorrow the new Commander dies and the state will be back square one. Is the State ready for the future now or learning any lessons from the mess the state is in at the moment? I guess no. Given the magnititude of chaos and violence in the valley, I think making peace has fewer stakeholders than those producing more and more violence. We urgently need a permanent peace building strategy and solutions for Kashmir, not just some statements of sorrow and some appeals on television when Kashmir boils time and again.
The death of the poster boy after all does not mean the end of the violent story and it has already affected the fragile normalcy of the valley. The need of the hour is to address the issue politically for long lasting peace in the region and reaching out to the angry and alienated public, besides the separatist and mainstream leadership to build some peace on the ground. Let us see if Home Minister’s July 23 Kashmir visit makes some difference when separatists and other key stake holders are not meeting him and described his visit as a time buying act.
The article first appeared in Kashmir Times