Army Chief’s Warning to Civilians Shows the Desperation of Kashmir Situation – Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

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Protesters pelt stones on policemen in Srinagar on Feb 17, 2017. (Photo: IANS)
Protesters pelt stones on policemen in Srinagar on Feb 17, 2017. (Photo: IANS)

The Army chief’s words threatening Kashmiri civilians should not have been uttered. But now that they have, they should serve as a warning to New Delhi. They reveal the desperation of the situation in Kashmir, which is beyond any military solution. A vicious cycle of abuse deepens the alienation of the people that finds angry expressions against the security forces, the visible organs of the government. With every passing day and every shocking phase of repression, the battered people are finding more vitriolic and violent language to express their anger. Successive governments have abdicated their responsibility by refusing to meaningfully engage in talks with the alienated sections of Jammu and Kashmir. While governments in the past unveiled initiatives of direct or track two engagements, the present government appears to have left even the business of the engaging youth groups to the army and other security forces. This is not only a disservice to Kashmiris but also to the Army. While there can be no perfect way to start a dialogue, by leaving this mess for the security forces to sort out, the government is treading a dangerous path, says Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal 

ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]eneral Bipin Rawat’s outburst against Kashmir’s protesting crowds is anything but sane. The government’s attempt to grant legitimacy to his words in the name of ‘nationalism’ reflects a shoddy bias. Forget all emotiveness over these words, it is important to decode the message and its possible impact. The immediate inference that can be drawn from his deliberate or clumsy choice of words is that they are provocative. The other is that they are an open admission that Kashmir can no longer be handled militarily.

“We would now request the local population that people who have picked up arms, and they are the local boys, if they want to continue with these acts of terrorism, displaying flags of ISIS (Islamic State) and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them,” the Army chief said, vowing to go in for “harsher action” against the local population. The Army chief’s strategic concerns are not entirely misplaced. Protests by locals during crackdowns and encounters against militants prevent military’s combat operations and often result in higher casualties or allow militants to escape.

However, much as an emotion driven Rawat would wish to prove, there is no way to ascertain whether this is being done by design or is much of it just a coincidental expression of anger and frustration. Instead of patting the army chief on the back for his rash remarks, it would serve the government, if not the army chief, to decode why people come out in protests at the very sight of security forces, encounters or no encounters. Why is it that women raise slogans, youth pick up stones at the very sight of security men? Why are Pakistani and ISIS flags waved? And, why do people sympathise with militants, if they do? At the heart of these actions lies long pent up anger and frustration of the public, anger which is stimulated and exacerbated by gross violation of human rights.

Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat
Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat

The flaw of the remarks is primarily in the potential of the words to obliterate all difference between gun wielding militants and unarmed civilians, whether they are sympathizers or even supporters. And, surely, a handful of flags are not deemed to be as much of a strategic threat as militants lobbing grenades or engaging with security personnel in encounters. The difficult job of the army and other security forces in an area where much of the population is hostile to them is understandable. But the head of an armed force is expected to be guided by greater sanity and wisdom.

Let no one forget that in a conflict ridden Valley, mere words can be lethal, provoke sentiments and encourage security personnel already emboldened by an existing pattern of complete impunity to keep the graph of killings and torture abnormally high. In a political discourse driven by rabid elements where even mere criticism of the government on issues like climate and demonetization can be qualified as ‘anti-national’, it is anybody’s guess how an entire Valley’s population, branded genetically anti-national will be dealt with.

Let no one forget that in a conflict ridden Valley, mere words can be lethal, provoke sentiments and encourage security personnel already emboldened by an existing pattern of complete impunity to keep the graph of killings and torture abnormally high. In a political discourse driven by rabid elements where even mere criticism of the government on issues like climate and demonetization can be qualified as ‘anti-national’, it is anybody’s guess how an entire Valley’s population, branded genetically anti-national will be dealt with.

The Valley has a deep dark history of abuse, perpetuated with support of extra-constitutional laws like AFSPA, PSA and other mechanisms of institutional impunity. It should thus not come as surprise why pockets of hostility against the security forces are increasing and erupting in places where army by and large had cordial relations with the local population. The echoes of what security forces have heard in Kulgam, Bandipora and Handwara in the last one week may easily be found today across much of rural landscape of Kashmir, still reeling under the after effects of the shocking killings, pellet injuries, crackdowns and random arrests during the summer of 2016.

The Army General’s words should not have been uttered. But now that they have, they should serve as a warning to New Delhi. They reveal the desperation of the situation in Kashmir, which is beyond any military solution. A vicious cycle of abuse deepens the alienation of the people that finds angry expressions against the security forces, the visible organs of the government. With every passing day and every shocking phase of repression, the battered people are finding more vitriolic and violent language to express their anger.

For years, successive governments have abdicated their responsibility by refusing to meaningfully engage in talks with the alienated sections of the valley and rest of Jammu and Kashmir. While governments in the past have begun initiatives of direct or track two engagements, the present government appears to have left even the business of the engaging with youth groups and wooing them over with sops to the army and other security forces. The political dispensation, thus, is doing not only a disservice to Kashmiris but also to the Army and other security forces. While there can be no perfect way to start a process of dialogue, by leaving every politically born mess for the security forces to sort out, the government is treading on a dangerous path.

An, oft posed question is how does one start a dialogue. The answer is: It can begin anywhere, even at a very small level – by making an entry point through civil society initiatives and reaching out to groups who are trying to negotiate with the challenging conflict in innovative and creative ways, making an unconditional offer of dialogue with separatists or by announcing meaningful confidence building measures like measures to address human rights violations and failed justice mechanisms in Kashmir. Another way of beginning channels of dialogue can be a process of engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad.

The Pakistan involvement and role cannot be wished away. It is in the best interests of Pakistan also to understand that it will be creating a bigger mess for itself by trying to remote control events in Kashmir through propaganda or by activating its agencies in the name of ‘moral support’. Pakistan needs to first prove its own consistency with respect to Kashmir. Whichever way, New Delhi chooses to initiate a dialogue, for best results, India and Pakistan must stop playing the mind games and put on hold their propaganda and hatred spinning machineries.

1 COMMENT

  1. What the Kashmir editor seems to miss is that Kashmiri people are caught in what amounts to a civilizational self-defense of India or essentially Hindutva. Hindutva would sacrifice the people, but not any piece of territory. Simple as that. Almost a total consensus on the territorial question has existed in India since Independence. It remains solid.

    The liberal among the modern secular Indians, the English-speaking class, have indulged some dissent, as voiced by Arundhati Roy, and perhaps a few others. Just as Israel never ever compromised on its singular vision of prevailing, no matter what, a conservative India won’t. Israel believed in managing the conflict, taking hard knocks at times at the hands of suicide bombers, but prevailing, and keeping the Jewish civilizational vision unblurred.

    India, and here I mean, India as a polity has accepted the fact of having to manage this conflict, even if it is with its own citizens who reject common citizenship. Remember, Hindutva a millenium ago pushed Buddhism out of its birth place. It has ambitions to do the same with Islam. In the 19th century, Vedic scholars and leaders had to launch a movement to save “Hinduism”. RSS was born and nurtured as a defensive force. If it was not there, India would have gone the way of Malaysia and Indonesia. Hinduism actually was in danger. Not any more.

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