Kashmir simmers

Stern action may temporarily stop violence, but a sustainable solution requires political engagement

Kashmir simmers
Kashmir has been locked down for ten days now, as I write these lines. A curfew is in place and a communications blockade is near complete. Newspapers have been banned. Separatist leaders have been jailed. So far, 45 people have been killed and 2,000 injured. Since 1990, when an armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir against the Indian state, the state has seen tough times. But by all standards, what is happening right now is unprecedented.

After the 2008 row over granting a good chunk of land to Amarnath Shrine Board, a body that regulates annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave in Pahalgam woods, Kashmir has been witnessing a massive public unrest. The agitation that divided Kashmir and Jammu regions along communal lines had claimed 60 lives. When order was restored, things settled down, but not without Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad losing his job after the People’s Democratic Party withdrew its support to his government.

In 2010, Kashmir was up in arms again. This time, the trigger was the fake encounter stage-managed by the Indian Army in the remote area of Machil in north Kashmir, in which three innocent young men were killed. It was responded to with an agitation that began with the death of a young boy Tufail Mattoo at the hands of the police. A trail of death and destruction followed, killing 120 people, mostly young men. The Omar Abdullah government did order an inquiry, but that was later buried, without any recommendations, and justice continues to elude the victims. The New Delhi government led by Manmohan Singh set up a group of interlocutors to cool down tempers. They made an exhaustive report recommending measures that could be taken to pacify the Kashmiris though not in line with their political aspirations. New Delhi just continued its decades-long policy of ignoring their own report, which now lies somewhere in a government cupboard in the North Block that houses the Home Ministry.


Kashmir has seen a long string of promises by Delhi but hardly any of them has been kept. That is why the fate of that report was not a surprise. It worked on the expected lines – strengthening the sense of deep mistrust towards Delhi among the Kashmiris. For a long time, Kashmir saw a period of peace during which the Delhi-Islamabad and Delhi-Srinagar peace process flourished. A rapprochement between India and Pakistan rekindled the hope that some serious engagement to resolve the Kashmir issue was on, and people wholeheartedly supported the process. A transition from violence to non-violence was registered. But soon, everything got derailed with the Mumbai terror attack. Since then, the space for peace and reconciliation that could lead to stability has shrunk, and the old rhetoric that Kashmir was just a law and order issue has overshadowed the discourse that could have helped achieve something on Kashmir.

The result of that approach is that when a militant commander, categorized as “high-grade terrorist” by Indian agencies, is killed, the entire Kashmir erupts. Burhan Wani was just like another militant in Kashmir. But the way he challenged the state, he made himself into a phenomenon. According to officials, he became an inspiration for many others. A large number of people attending funerals of militants has become a new reality in Kashmir in the last few years, and that demonstrates the anger against the state.

But when 200,000 people joined Burhan’s funeral, it revealed a completely new reality in Kashmir. Not only did such a large number of people in a way endorsed what a “terrorist” was espousing for, but it led to a new wave of unrest that is showing no indication of subsiding. The space that had been carved after a long dialogue process has been occupied by the likes of Burhan, and the people have been rallying behind them. Every time there is unrest in Kashmir, New Delhi blames Pakistan. But hardly anyone knows that Pakistan has failed to have any consistent policy over Kashmir. There may be a section in the Pakistani state apparatus that wants continued trouble in Kashmir, but largely, the Nawaz Sharif government has been talking about peace.

It took Islamabad several days to react to Burhan’s killing. Unlike the media in Delhi, Pakistani newspapers did not give too much space to his killing and the consequent spree of deaths on their front pages. The “reality” that Kashmir was boiling to “their advantage” dawned upon them late, and they are making attempts to seize that opportunity by observing a “Black Day” in solidarity with Kashmir. Pakistani leaders, including army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, are now making belligerent speeches. Pakistan has failed to visualize the situation that has been developing in Kashmir, and it is essentially New Delhi’s failure to address and approach Kashmir politically that is making Pakistan relevant.

In the last 26 years, Kashmir has been paying a huge price for the struggle they launched for the resolution of the political issue. There have been many ups and downs in these year, and many more realities have come to the fore too. People have participated in the elections, which are held under the Indian constitution, in large numbers. The constituency of mainstream Indian parties has expanded. They have been in power for the last 20 years but the urge for political resolution has not died down. Political discontentment has been further cemented with the new wave of intolerance against Muslims in India and the fear of insecurity among Kashmiris has increased. New Delhi fails to recognize this deep-rooted political alienation, particularly among the youth, and that is why they have become more violent and openly dare to take on the police and the army by attacking their installations with stones.

After a continued absence of political engagement, Kashmir seems to be entering a dangerous phase. The narrative of denial – that the Kashmir problem is only created by a handful of miscreants and supported by Pakistan – will not help contain the situation that we are facing at the moment. The unrest might settle down, but it will raise its head again. Political engagement is the only option.

Today, the elected representatives in Kashmir are also facing the ire of the public. That they are not able to connect with the people, and are seen as running away from scene, tells us all about the new reality in Kashmir.

The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of

The Rising Kashmir