Things are unlikely to look up in Kashmir unless New Delhi fundamentally changes its approach to the situation, Ahmad Riyaz writes
An estimated 257 militants were killed in 2018, the largest number since the outbreak of the new-age militancy in 2015. In fact, the last year was the bloodiest. In November alone, the Valley witnessed the killing of 39 militants in the Valley, the highest such number in a month in many years. It was in this month also that nine top commanders were killed including Naveed Jatt, the Lashkar commander who had fled from jail last year.
All efforts of the security forces are now geared to track down the three most prominent commanders – Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational commander, Riyaz Naikoo, Lateef Tiger and Zakir Musa, the chief of Ansar-ul-Gazwat-ul-Hind.
But this has hardly made any difference as many more local youth have joined militancy. In addition, the infiltration to supplement local recruitment has continued. The continuing replenishment through local recruitment and the infiltration has turned militancy into a perpetual reality.
Not that the militancy hasn’t been reigned in occasionally but that has been due largely to the factors other than an exclusively militaristic approach. The latter, on the contrary, has invariably been counterproductive as the deterioration in the situation over the past four and a half years of the BJP-led government has proved yet again.
One important factor in Kashmir’s sudden lurch toward militancy has been slain popular commander Burhan Wani’s radically unorthodox approach to militancy whereby he gave up the anonymity associated with a militant’s life by appearing on social media with his face uncovered. This added some mystique to the militancy leading the local youth to join in higher numbers.
Militancy ever since has only grown from strength to strength. Rising number of killings have led to corresponding replenishment. The takeaway from this reality is that the violence will go on as it has over the past three decades and may go on in the near future too.
Going forward there is little hope that this state of affairs will change for the better. As the BJP may have learnt to its detriment, the militancy in Kashmir is so deeply rooted in the public sentiment and structurally so entrenched that it cannot be completely dislodged even by an all-out military operation. Local recruitment and infiltration ensure that the depleted number is easily recompensed. Or in case of depletion in numbers of the one component, another fills in the vacuum: that is, if local recruitment is down, infiltration compensates for it and the vice versa.
This was the case through 2004 to 2013 when local recruitment had reduced to a trickle and the foreign militants stepped in to keep the jihad alive. Incidentally, also, this steady decline in jihad had accompanied the then ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan, which, according to the leaders helming it, was close to a breakthrough on Kashmir in line with the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula.
If anything, this long history shows the resilience of the militancy in the State. It can count on a steady stream of local and foreign recruits to keep going despite the killings. What is more, a little over a hundred militants are sufficient to keep the pot simmering in Kashmir and create a perception of violence which is disproportionate to their number.
But New Delhi remains indifferent to the State, so does the media which, as always, plies a distorted picture of the ongoing situation. It is apparent from the terms used to describe the killings in the State, more so on the television channels. They give such a simplified and stereotyped representation of the situation. This only complicates rather than aids the understanding of the situation.
The objective of the counter-insurgency campaign is to eliminate insurgency by attempting to kill all the militants within a specific time frame. Viewed from that perspective, the security agencies have been exceptionally successful over the last three years. It is expected that the killings of militants at this rate could drastically reduce their number. This, in turn, is expected to alter the political dynamics in the Valley and usher in peace. But this is only wishful thinking. The deeper factors underpinning the current state of affairs will linger on and can be expected to create conditions for yet another phase of violence and unrest. This has been the case over the past three decades. The militancy has gone through its crests and troughs but never been wiped out. And same has been the case with the public unrests.
The future looks uncertain in Kashmir. And things are unlikely to look up unless New Delhi fundamentally changes its approach to the situation and moves away from a security-centric approach to empathy and engagement.