Kashmir is again on the boil. Those who were of the view that the peace prevailing there was fragile and subject to change at any time have been vindicated. This time, the killing of civilians at the hands of the Border Security Force (BSF) in the Gool area of Ramban district (close to Jammu) triggered massive protests and not only the Chenab region (of which Gool is a part) but Kashmir Valley, too, is seething with anger. Compared with the Valley, the Chenab region has been less volatile in the past two decades, though the area has been infested with militancy and the people have suffered at the hands of both state and non-state actors. But for over the last decade or so, this was a relatively peaceful region and the people have willingly participated in the elections as well.
The hard reality, however, was endorsed by the action of the BSF on July 17 and 18, and this is that the chasm between the population and the forces had always existed. Otherwise, there was no need for the BSF to conduct late-night searches in that area — and that, too, without the police — and enter into an altercation with the imam of the local mosque. The stories coming out of the affected area are heartbreaking. The political science professor who was killed was among those who were trying to negotiate with the agitating crowd but even he was not spared. To make matters worse, the BSF spokesman justified the killings saying that the troops fired in self-defence when the mob was trying to loot the ammunition. Instead, the crowd was simply registering a protest against the sacrilege and the treatment meted out to the imam. The way the BSF behaved forced even the Jammu and Kashmir cabinet to put on record its condemnation, the first time in the history of Kashmir’s 22-year-old conflict.
The Ramban killings are but a reminder that Kashmir is always on the boil. Only a few weeks ago, the Indian Army killed two civilians in Bandipore and the whole of Kashmir erupted. While on the one hand the government has been making claims that normalcy was returning to Kashmir and tourism was thriving, on the other these kinds of incidents happen.
Kashmir has been craving peace, especially since over a three-year period, from 2008 to 2010, over 200 lives were lost. The years 2011 and 2012 were seen as years of ‘peace’ and by now the consolidation process should have been set in motion. But that has not happened, thanks to the heavy-handedness of the security forces. The answer, perhaps, lies between the powers the forces enjoy under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and a complete lack of accountability for their actions. There are scores of examples of men from the armed forces going scot-free for the crimes they have committed. The helplessness of the civilian government headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also speaks volumes of how the security forces function in the state. Every time such an incident takes place, all that the chief minister can do is order a routine probe and repeat “unacceptable”.
Such a situation also brings to the fore the reality that a vacuum exists on the ground. This is of political engagement. With these incidents getting repeated every other month, the space for a peace constituency is shrinking. There is no political engagement with those who challenge the Indian rule in Kashmir. On the one hand, Delhi boasts about having a “popularly elected government” in Srinagar and on the other, it has been rendered powerless. This is obviously opening up space for those who are against the peace. Everything seems to be going back to square one and this time, it is not something that is fuelled from across the border but is from within.
In the absence of any political outreach, an average Kashmiri is, distanced from New Delhi. He believes that the Government of India does not want the political problem to be solved and does not care for the people. This sense of alienation is deep-rooted and there is no space that could be carved out for reconciliation immediately. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh failed to strike a chord with them when he last visited Kashmir on June 25. His “iron-fist” resolve to deal with the situation became the highlight of the visit, but it was unfortunately, followed by the targeted killing of civilians. It is, indeed, a bad time for Kashmir but Kashmiris are not responsible for this. Delhi must wake up and realise how Kashmir is slipping away towards a more dangerous path.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2013.
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