Meeting the Hearts and Minds Challenge in Kashmir


As the militancy cum terrorist campaign in Jammu and Kashmir enters the fourth decade, the challenge of integrating locals in the national mainstream in thought and spirit continues to remain.

While there has been a drop in the level of violence, this alone cannot be the metric for the success of militancy, but grassroots ideological leanings have to sustain the spirit of homogenous identity with the Indian state.

What Happened?

This was seen seriously challenged during October through the spontaneous cheering of the Pakistan cricket teams success vis a vis India in the T 20 World Cup in two key medical colleges in Kashmir and across some campuses in North India. The state response was hamhanded in lodging a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 13 of the counter-terrorism law the UAPA.

The purported action came three days after Union home minister Amit Shah extended the “hand of friendship” to Kashmir’s youths and said only they, and not the government, could stamp out terrorism.

The Footage of students, purportedly from the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and the Government Medical College in Srinagar, bursting firecrackers, raising slogans, some of them in favour of Pakistan, and dancing after the match was widely shared on social media and would have created a buzz beyond the small numbers who were actually involved in the incident.

Meanwhile as a reaction there were random attacks on students from Kashmir in universities in North India. National Conference (NC) Vice President Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti condemned these incidents as per Greater Kashmir.

Abdullah tweeted, “It is distressing to hear about the incidents of physical and verbal assault against some Kashmiri students in a college in Punjab last night. I request @CHARANJITCHANNI ji to direct @PunjabPoliceInd to look into this and also to reassure the students studying in Punjab.”

“Why such anger against Kashmiris for celebrating Pak's win? Some are even chanting murderous slogans - desh ke gadaaron ko goli maaro and calling to shoot traitors. One hasn't forgotten how many celebrated by distributing sweets when J&K was dismembered and stripped of special status,” Mufti said in a tweet.

While individuals were not named in the FIR, the move seen as coercive is unlikely to reduce empathy towards Pakistan in a section of the youth in the Kashmir Valley. Howsoever misplaced this may be and the degree to which it ignores the pains and travails that Pakistan has inflicted in the State in the last decade through campaign of terror, state response will have to be far more sophisticated than FIRs. This comes even as a large number of so-called Over Ground Workers (OGWs) were arrested in the wake of the series of selective attacks on migrants and Valley’s minority community. A general rather than a targeted programme of arrests is expected to have a backlash, a loss of hearts and minds.

State Security Approach

On the other hand, state security organisations are not geared up to meet the sophisticated challenge of sustaining grassroots support to the government and are frequently trapped in a coercive reactive mode leading to encounters, arrests and stigmatising the unknown. This will inevitably have a backlash in the Valley which is already seething with resentment after repealing of the special status and conversion of the State to a Union Territory regarded as down gradation by regional leadership.

The helplessness of the security forces in providing security in the Valley, to migrants and minorities is evident with a statement by the IGP. “Time and again I am saying there is no lapse on security front. Soft targets were attacked who were not provided security by us. It is not possible to provide security to every soft target and we have identified them (militants behind recent civilian killings). Two have been already neutralised and three others will be soon neutralised,” the IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar was quoted by the media.

Alternatives to reach out to defuse the anti-national sentiment through a proactive process of ideation is missing from the police chiefs narrative, either because there is a lack of will or knowledge of such a chart.

Development

Development is seen as a panacea to provide relief to the people’s basic needs of food, shelter, communication and comfort. Some may be weaned away ideologically and politically, but many will continue to partake the material benefits while refusing to move out of the ideological window of resentment against the state.

As part of the development process, investment is being made in the State. To provide a secure environment, Jammu and Kashmir administration allotted land at eight places in south Kashmir to the CRPF to build permanent permanent housing camps for personnel and their families.

A government spokesperson said the administrative council chaired by lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha had approved the transfer of 524 kanals or 65 acres to the CRPF in Anantnag, Pulwama and Shopian for establishing “battalion camping sites”.

CRPF spokesperson Junaid Khan stated that ownership would be with the Force. “We have a few camps here on a permanent basis, such as at Awantipora (Pulwama) or Panthachowk (Srinagar). But the IGs’ (inspectors-general of the CRPF) office in Nishat is in a rented building,” Khan said.

Khan added: “The new camps will be under the ownership of the CRPF. In the permanent camps, we can undertake construction.” Permanent camps would be set up in the villages of Brah, Jumbo and Bhanpahari in Anantnag; Allowpora-Sheikhpora and Zawoora-Baderhama in Shopian; and Oukhoo, Kadlabal and Koil in Pulwama as per a report in the Hindustan Times.

People’s Democratic Party leader was quoted by the Hindustan Times to state, “..they (the government) are now free to do anything they like (after the scrapping of the special status in 2019). Such measures will further alienate people and strengthen the notion that the government is bent on changing Kashmir’s demography,” he said. A government statement said: “The land will be transferred against the payment as per the stamp duty rates notified for the year, 2021.”

Investment in the State is welcome but integrating this in the political and socio-economic framework is essential.

Hearts and Minds Acceptance of the challenge of integration of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the need for moving beyond the security led approach is the way ahead, where results are not likely to be seen in the numbers killed in encounters but those who cheer the success of Indian cricket and mourn at its failure.


5 views