The valley of Kashmir, nestled between the gigantic Himalayas has remained a hot ember in the carpet of peace in the sub-continent. From the epoch of armed struggle in 1990s, India gained considerable control over Kashmir by 2002. The control did not result exclusively because of the policies of ''counter-terrorism'' but also due to a defining moment of 9/11. The Pakistan state was caught in the midst of all this ''changing world order'' which proved to be less sympathetic towards armed struggles. The post 9/11 world made the authorities in Pakistan believe that the Kashmir focused militant groups could be painted with same brush of ''War on Terror''.
After experiencing a bumpy decade of armed insurgency, the assembly elections of 2002 proved to be a relief for India. The significant voter turnout in the assembly elections of 2002 which was also termed as ''free and fair'' helped India to gain some legitimacy in the world community which criticized it for different forms of human rights violations in Kashmir. The period of 2003 to 2008 emerged as remarkable in the entire history of India-Pakistan relations. A composite dialogue dealing all issues including Kashmir issue was started. In addition, back-channel talks on Kashmir were also started. A considerable progress was achieved regarding number of disputes particularly Kashmir in the peace process before it got derailed in 2008.
Since 2008, the Kashmir valley witnessed repetitive bouts of summer uprising. However, from July last year, the protests are showing no signs of abating. The Political leadership at New Delhi did not initiate any dialogue with stakeholders as of now. Instead, New Delhi has heavily relied on coercive measures which has further pushed the situation into the abyss. In a recently held by-election in Srinagar constituency, minimal percentage of voting was recorded. Moreover, on the day of the election, eight civilians were killed and also a civilian was used as human shield by Indian army which led to huge criticism against the army's atrocities across the valley.
The degree of control that India gained over the valley since 2002 is steeply declining. The Max Weber's idea of modern state as a human community which has a monopoly over legitimate use of violence in a given territory does not hold in South Kashmir. The state authorities have modicum control over these areas and it is actually the militants who are in control of South Kashmir. While the entire valley witnessed breakdown of political order, the trend in South Kashmir is much beyond danger. The militant groups particularly in districts of Kulgam and Pulwama are quite active and are openly exercising their control. Militants not only belonging to the Hizbul Mujahideen but also Lashkar-e-Taiba have shown their presence. In a more organized form, militants offer salute to slain militants on their funerals through gunshots.
In the last few weeks, militants attacked Jammu and Kashmir police force. In two such attacks, eight policemen were killed. These incidents have instilled a deep fear among the local policemen who consider it better to avoid wearing police uniforms. Some local policemen also drape themselves in Pheran (local gown) in order to conceal their uniforms. Why do militants attack local Policemen? There is a belief that Policemen are involved in various atrocities and civilian killings and such activities have made them the centre stage of this guerilla strategy. Moreover, it is also believed that militants are in need of arms and policemen become soft targets for weapon snatching. The Kulgam attack where militants of Hizbul Mujahideen killed six policemen has led to debates on social networking sites about the righteousness of militant strategy of attacking and killing policemen. While few argue that there is nothing wrong in targeting policemen as they are genuine combatants who actively participate in the operation of neutralizing militants, some Kashmiris have their reservations about such militant acts. The complexity gets multiplied by the fact that the fear has not only embraced up the policemen but also their families who die thousand times a day in the fear that their sons, husbands, brothers might become a target of militants.
Though the attacks on police are not being hailed by common people but at the same time the same people are not happy the way police is dealing with the situation. There are allegations of excessive force by police and in some cases it is alleged that police harassment is creating an unending cycle of violence which takes different forms and often this harassment pushes youth to join militancy.
The chasm is getting deeper and bigger. New Delhi must immediately begin a serious political dialogue involving all the necessary stakeholders and simultaneously issue orders to both army and police forces to stop troubling locals associated with all walks of life.
- The writer is a Research Scholar at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi.