Caught between the backburner and the fire

None of the developments in Kashmir bode well for a political solution

Caught between the backburner and the fire
For about 75 days now Kashmir has been passing through what is undoubtedly the roughest period in recent history. It is locked in the vice grip of the government curfew and the continuous shutdown called by the joint resistance leadership of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. The separatist trinity has been leading the current unrest in Kashmir from behind bars and the confinement of their homes. So far 86 people are dead and over 11,000 others injured. For the first time in recent memory Kashmir was not allowed to celebrate Eid as the government clamped down a curfew across the 10 districts to thwart a march to the United Nations office in Srinagar called by this leadership. There is hardly any space in sight that could offer the promise of any respite from the situation since the governments—both in New Delhi and Srinagar—have failed to contain the situation. Indeed, only brute force has been the answer since July 8, when Hizbul Mujahideen fighter Burhan Wani was killed and in reaction to which exploded an uprising that made all others pale in comparison. The average Kashmiri youngster, besides holding a stone in his hand, is now armed with a different weapon this time. He believes it is a do-or-die situation for him and is convinced that is the only route to political solution for Kashmir, which in his thinking is “Azadi from India”.

In over two-and-a-half months now, Kashmiris have been put through a grind of violence that for the first time was met with a record and unbreakable period of curfew. Educational institutions are closed, businesses are shut and normal life is a thing of past. Government has its own theory of describing this uprising as the handiwork of Pakistan and a handful of elements who want to keep the pot boiling for their “own interests”. But the fact is that it has hardly done a thing to bring a change in the situation and only resorted to the use of force and restrictions. This racked up the body count, which only served to deepen the anger in the mind of the Kashmiri.

This time it is not like it was in 2008 and 2010, when the end came into sight soon after a few weeks. Today no one is talking about or asking where we are headed perhaps because the bloodbath has had the effect of deadening such discussion. How can you talk about schools and businesses when 11-year-old boys are delivered in biers to their parents, their bodies peppered with pellets? On Eid alone there were five deaths as people fought the restrictions.
Now that a fearful attack on the army's Uri base has taken place, claiming 17 lives, the discourse will not change. Attention will be diverted from what Kashmir is facing. The focus has now shifted to the UN where India and Pakistan are set to take on each other

This situation is not an ordinary one. It has put Kashmir in a bind. For most of the fallout, it is the government, which is to be blamed for bringing us to what looks like a point of no return. It did not wake up to the reality on the ground for a while and when it did decide to speak it was too late and the effort, if any, was half-baked. An all-party delegation did visit Srinagar to try to break the ice but it failed. The delegation returned to the same atmosphere of denial in the Government of India. Except for blaming the crisis on Pakistan and a few elements, it did not seem to be addressing the problem as a political one for which dialogue and engagement are the only way. They would say they were snubbed by separatists such as Geelani, who literally did not open the door when opposition MPs knocked on it while he simmered inside under house arrest. Geelani’s refusal to engaged might not have gone down well with Kashmir’s traditions of hospitality but the way this “dialogue” was happening it did not fit in any parameters of political engagement to resolve a conflict. In the history of conflict resolution it is unheard of for one to expect the opposing party to come to the table for talks if you have placed them in detention.

Back home, the state government has been grappling with the challenge of restoring even a semblance of normalcy. Obviously when the approach to the crisis has been flawed from day one and the same people are in charge of crisis management, how can the dynamic be expected to change? Politically also the government has been crippled and given that such outreach is missing, a further vacuum has been created.

On top of it, one of the PDP’s founding members and a member of the parliament Tariq Karra resigned from both the party and parliament, unhappy with the handling of the situation, which he compared to that of the Nazis. This may not rattle the PDP that is ruling the state in coalition with the ruling BJP, but it is a huge challenge to the party’s moral authority. For the PDP, one of its architects has walked away, siding with what is happening in Kashmir. And for the BJP that is leading the government in Delhi, Karra’s resignation is a reprimand. Delhi has been vehemently arguing about the elections being held in Kashmir with the participation of people. And Karra is an elected representative who defeated no less an entity than chief minister Farooq Abdullah, and that too from Srinagar in 2014. So how do they explain the resignation of an elected representative, who does it in the interests of his electorate? No MP has resigned from Kashmir in protest against what he called the state-sponsored atrocities on its people.

Now that an attack on the army’s Uri base has taken place, claiming 17 lives, the discourse will not change and attention will be further diverted from what Kashmir is facing. The focus has now shifted to the United Nations where India and Pakistan are set to take on each other. Such an attack is significant in view of the magnitude of loss. It will overshadow the crisis in Kashmir. It will push Pakistan on the backfoot, undoing the work it has been doing to up the ante on the human rights situation in the Valley. If the militants are Pakistan-backed as made public by India, then Islamabad also has a serious problem and the infighting within the state is obvious. This attack will certainly shape many things in the coming weeks and months since New Delhi has made it clear that it will toughen its stand. The follow-up both to a possible clash at the UN and this attack will determine whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Pakistan in November to attend the SAARC meeting. The unfolding situation in its aftermath will push Kashmir into the background both internally and externally. Addressing the crisis within is the bigger challenge for the joint resistance leadership. There is the question of whether they can afford Kashmir to be in strike mode and if so, then how long? People expressed concerns when the protest programme was not relaxed last week and no movement was allowed, even in emergencies. The people of Kashmir are immune to sacrifices, but the leadership must take stock and think where it is heading. But for that to happen, government will also have to take the responsibility of letting them out of jail and give them space. Perhaps only then can one even question them.

The writer is the editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper Rising Kashmir