By Rahul Bhonsle
Terrorism as a tool for separatism seems to have lost its appeal in Jammu and Kashmir. While sporadic incidents of terrorist violence are likely to continue, this may no longer be the principal agent for change in the days ahead. Yet new forms of protests have emerged, principal amongst which today is stone pelting.
The aim of the sponsors of stone pelting is obvious; to keep discontent in the limelight, by forcing the government to use control measures which disrupt normal life and create crisis which can be exploited by more agitations, establishing a virtually interminable cycle of disruption. This is a low cost, high visibility strategy adopted with some success in the Valley. Thus the local incidents having a snow balling transnational impact are picked up by news agencies, particularly in Islamabad, with alacrity.
While the motivation of the agents behind the stone-pelters is clear, there are varied interpretations of who these youth represent. The security denomination has been ‘agitational terrorism’. On the other hand Wajahat Habibullah, the Chief Information Commissioner of the Government of India, typifies these youth as genuine grievance seekers. “Kashmiri youth are pelting stones. There is a need to know why they are doing so. They feel this government is not theirs. They have grievances about the functioning of the system,” he said at a Seminar on Right to Information Act in the Valley.
It is evident that categorizing the youth who are resorting to stone pelting is not easy but it is important to do so even at the cost of oversimplifying a complex problem, so as to evolve viable solutions to the same. Given their motivations, stone-pelters can be divided broadly into the few categories; youth with genuine grievances marginalized from the process of employment and empowerment; anti-socials and small time criminals who have taken to stone pelting for pecuniary gains; hard-line separatists, the quasi terrorists who are the main drivers of the stone pelting movement.
According to the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, stone pelting has been most frequent in downtown or old Srinagar, Baramulla and Sopore and is fuelled by the political machinations of the separatists as well as the opposition party mainly the PDP. The opposition and the separatists blame the government for marginalization of youth and thus the political recriminations continue.
The solution however lies in a comprehensive approach; political, social, economic and security. To enable application of the right palliatives, it is important to note that the problem is socio-economic though its exploitation by separatist elements espousing violence has a security dimension. This can be met in two ways, first and foremost is by arming the police with non-lethal equipment for riot control including rubber bullets, water hoses, protection pads and so on to prevent a spiral of casualties, setting off a chain of protests. Training the police in crowd management including emotional control is also necessary to avoid unwanted civilian casualties.
The other security facet is apprehension of ring leaders of stone pelting gangs by intelligence operatives. There is not much attention given to this aspect. Incarcerating the leaders will disrupt the cycle. Simultaneously a crack down on anti-socials involved in these activities must be undertaken to neutralize their capacity for such an activity.
The second front against stone pelting has to be political. Ironically while all shades of opinion in the Valley, the government, the opposition and separatists oppose stone pelting in public, this is seen as a political tool which is allowed to fester. This approach will have to change and hard-line separatists who espouse this form of violence will have to be politically isolated.
For this, a tacit agreement between the three main leaders, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Mirwaiz Omar may be the answer. Given antipathy between the parties this may appear to be a non starter but an implicit understanding is within the realms of political possibility. It is time separatist and nationalist leaders in the Kashmir Valley sit together and draw up a strategy to carry out protests peacefully rather than causing more pain to the people agonized by years of suffering.
The third facet is socio-economic. Job creation provides an obvious avenue, it is apparent that adequate efforts for providing employment to youth from urban areas have not been made. A special campaign after identifying their specific talents would be necessary so that they are gainfully weaned away from the path of mindless violence.
Finally inclination of youth, from these areas which have a legacy of supporting separatism, cannot be wished away. This again will have to be addressed politically and various initiatives being taken including the, ‘Quiet Dialogue’ and Indo-Pakistan talks post-Thimpu can create a hope of meeting the aspirations of the youth in the days ahead.
In the larger conflict panorama of Jammu and Kashmir, stone pelting may be seen as an irritant, however the disruption caused in lives of people of the Valley, physical casualties to innocent bystanders and its use as a political tool underlines the need to meet this challenge head on.
Rahul Bhonsle is a Security Analyst at Security-risks.com and may be reached at: [email protected] This article was published by Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies (IPCS) .