By Praveen Swami
Associate Editor, The Hindu, New Delhi
On June 11, 2010, a tear-gas shell arced over a crowded street in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal area. It landed, with surreal precision, on Tufail Mattoo, ripping apart the seventeen year olds’ skull.
Since then, Kashmir’s cities have seen a wave of murderous clashes between Police and protestors, fuelled by a new radical Islamism that has acquired ideological influence among young people. Following particularly intense clashes in early July, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Government asked Army troops to stand by to assist civilian authority in Srinagar —the first time the Army had ever been called on to do so. The Army did little, bar staging drive-by patrols in some neighbourhoods, but the message that has gone out is clear: India appears confused and panicked by events on the streets.
For the young men who have been battling Police, Mattoo was a martyr for their cause. His loved ones don’t seem to see it in quite the same way. Muhammad Husain Mattoo, the accidental martyr’s father, gently argued with protestors who wanted to march in procession with his son’s body to Srinagar’s Mazhar-e-Shauhda, a graveyard where hundreds of those killed in the separatist movement are buried. Mattoo, he pointed out, wasn’t seeking martyrdom; just trying to make his way home from school. Later, though, the father gave in — but on national television made clear he disapproved of the rioting that broke out after his son’s death.
The parents of at least some of the men who have died since seem to feel the same way. Muhammad Rafiq Bangroo, shot dead by the Police June 12, was buried at the Dana Mazhar in Safakadal, as his family’s tradition mandates. Even though Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat’s family were furious at the Police, who chased their son into the stream where he drowned on July 5, they rejected pleas from secessionist leader Shakeel Bakshi to have their child buried at the Mazhar-e-Shauhda. So did the family of Fayyaz Ahmad Wani, who was killed a few hours later.
In these stories lie important clues to the violence that has torn Kashmir apart this summer. Polemicists have cast this wave of unrest as a Kashmiri intifada against Indian rule. The truth, however, is that the violence has been concentrated in small urban pockets, not even the entire Kashmir Valley. Nor is it a new problem: similar clashes have claimed lives on a regular basis since 2006; in some years, far greater violence has taken place. J&K’s decision to call in the Army was driven by fears that protestors might target an ongoing Hindu pilgrimage, sparking off retaliatory attacks on Muslims in Hindu-majority Jammu. The Army’s presence, the State Government hoped, would persuade public opinion in Jammu that it was taking all possible measures to end the violence — and thus ward off this worst-case outcome.
Few, though, have paused to ask the important questions: who are the protestors? What are their aims? Who are their leaders? And what, if anything, can authorities do about the problem?
Mapping the violence in Kashmir helps understand who the protestors are, as well as the reach of the urban Islamism that has manifested itself in repeated clashes since 2006. Parts of the city of Srinagar, Police data makes clear, have accounted for a disproportionate share of the violence. More than half of the 21 civilians killed in Police action between January 1 and July 7, 2010, were Srinagar residents. Thirty-two of 72 civilians injured in the clashes also belonged to the city. [The Police add that 141 officers and 62 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were injured in these clashes — a third of the 623 injured across Kashmir].
Between these dates, the Police recorded 269 clashes involving violent mobs across Kashmir. Just under 45 per cent of those clashes took place in Srinagar city — and most were concentrated in the five Police Stations of Rainawari, Nowhatta, Maharajgunj, Khanyar and Safakadal. Small urban pockets in northern Kashmir have accounted for the bulk of violence outside of Srinagar. The north Kashmir trading town of Baramulla, like Srinagar’s shahr-e-khaas, a major trading centre before independence, accounted for 46 clashes. Nearby Sopore, a major apple-trading concentration, which has been an historic stronghold of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), saw 21. Put together, the three towns accounted for 69.5 percent of all violent protests in Kashmir this summer.
Last year, too, the pattern was similar. J&K saw 290 incidents involving clashes between protestors and Police in 2009; only 64 took place outside of Srinagar, Baramulla and Sopore, and most of these were concentrated around Shopian, where the alleged rape-murder of two women had caused widespread rage (investigators later determined, on the basis of forensic tests, that the women had died of natural causes, and had not been raped and killed).
Notwithstanding claims made both by Indian authorities and separatist propagandists, there is little to show that the violence is underpinned by a coherent political design. Much of the rioting has taken place in Srinagar’s shahr-e-khaas, neighbourhoods, which make up the city’s traditional trading and artisanal hubs. The protestors consist, in the main, of what might be described as a lumpenised bourgeoisie: auto-rickshaw drivers; store-clerks; school dropouts who haven’t found a job… The rioters are, for the most part, were children of a once-powerful social class that has been in decline for decades.
Indian authorities have intercepted conversations, which suggest local activists of Islamists groups have paid small groups of agitators to initiate protests by throwing stones at the Police. Investigators say funds for this enterprise have come from Pakistan-based organisations sympathetic to Islamists in Kashmir. But the sums of money involved are small — and neither telephone intercepts nor the actual character of the protests suggest that any one organisation binds them together. Pakistan’s Government has revelled in the opportunity to embarrass India, and jihadist groups have backed the protestors. On ground, though, neither has significant influence. Instead, local political dynamics are key to understanding what is going on.
In the years after Independence (in 1947), the shahr-e-khaas saw intense contestation between the traditionalist cleric Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq and the National Conference (NC). The struggle represented the conflict between the old bourgeoisie, and an emerging new élite of contractors and businessmen. In 1986, facing a common threat from new alliances of the religious right, the two parties allied. Mirwaiz Farooq refused to support secessionism after jihadist violence broke out three years later, and paid the price in May, 1990, when he was assassinated. Both Mirwaiz Farooq and his assassin, Abdullah Bangroo, were, ironically enough, buried in Srinagar’s Mazhar-e-Shauhda — the graveyard where some of those killed in the protests are being buried.
Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq’s son and successor, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, reversed course — and emerged as the principal leader of the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The younger Mirwaiz’s decision to boycott successive elections, made in line with the APHC’s demand for a three-way dialogue between India, Pakistan and itself, created a peculiar political situation in the shahr-e-khaas. Mirwaiz Farooq, focussed on securing a dialogue with India, which he hoped would lead to power, made little effort to address the concerns of his constituency. Problems like unemployment and drug use went unaddressed. For their part, NC legislators elected from Srinagar won in low-turnout elections that gave them little legitimacy — and had little interest in working for constituents who, in any case, did not vote.
Frustrated by the failure of traditional politicians to deliver, young people began lashing out at a political order that had no space for their concerns. Their anger expressed itself in hostility towards India and, increasingly, in slogans supportive of the Islamist movement and jihadist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Pro-Lashkar slogans began to be regularly heard in the shahar-e-khaas from 2003, when protestors backing the group disrupted a rally intended to commemorate the assassination of pro-dialogue leader Abdul Gani Lone the previous year. It is significant, however, that these slogans — and others calling for an Islamic state — have been largely confined to the sphere of polemics. There is no evidence of large-scale recruitment by jihadist groups from the shahar-e-khaas; indeed, many of the protests have been made up of young men dressed in western clothes, very different in their aesthetic from the neo-fundamentalists that groups like the Lashkar have historically attracted to their ranks.
Put simply, the rioting marks the death-throes of an old political order — and the birth pangs of a new one which is still to fully develop.
Kashmir’s Islamist patriarch, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, lies at the centre of that new order. There is evidence that leaders of Geelani’s Tehreek-i-Hurriyat (TiH) have paid local activists to initiate clashes with the Police. The TiH, though, simply doesn’t have the political networks needed to sustain a large-scale, coordinated movement. Instead, young protestors appear to have acted locally in response to media-broadcast calls made by mid-level Islamist leaders like Massrat Alam and Shakeel Bakshi, using everything from mosque public address systems to mobile phone text messaging to prepare for marches through their neighbourhoods.
Last year, religious traditionalists began to understand the threat these mobilisations posed to their own influence. Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith President, Shaukat Ahmad Shah, declared that the Prophet Mohammad himself had held stone-throwing to be un-Islamic. Mirwaiz Farooq backed Shah. So, too, did Kashmir’s Grand Mufti, Mohammad Bashiruddin.
But leaders of the new Islamism hit back. Geelani said it was “natural for youth to show anger by pelting stones”. Islamic Students League leader Shakeel Bakshi, in turn, described the protests as “a Kashmiri version of the Palestinian intifada”. In an effort to legitimise his position, Bakshi held a seminar where he displayed images purporting to show the eminent Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories.
“Osama [bin-Laden]”, Geelani rasped in a 2008 interview, “has come only during the last few years. People like me have been fighting for this all our lives”. The assertion wasn’t quite true: for decades, Geelani had been a well-embedded member of J&K’s political system, fighting and winning elections from the north Kashmir town of Sopore on a Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) ticket. He only reluctantly backed the jihadist war against the Indian state, which began in 1989, and never appears to have been tempted to join it himself. But ever since 2005, Geelani has succeeded in decisively displacing the major secessionist coalition, the APHC.
In his success lie important clues to the battles on Srinagar’s streets.
Back in 2004, when a jet operated by the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) flew him to a hospital in Mumbai, Geelani’s autumn seemed to be upon him. The Islamist leader had been sidelined by realists in his own JeI; the following year, the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led APHC opened negotiations with New Delhi, breaking with its historic rejection of a dialogue that did not include Pakistan.
Part of the reason for the APHC’s desire to talk to New Delhi lay in a successful campaign by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to recruit secessionists to its cause. Former Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) supreme council member Pir Mansoor Husain, became party President Mehbooba Mufti’s political advisor; former JeI chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat’s brother, Abdul Khaliq Bhat, was lined up to fight for election from Sopore; Mirwaiz Farooq’s trusted lieutenant, Mohammad Yakub Vakil, too, joined the PDP in search of power.
This was also a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s then President, General Pervez Musharraf, were widely believed to be inching forward towards a deal on J&K’s future that would have institutionalised the status quo, with some modifications.
Mirwaiz Farooq understood the writing on the wall. “Let us come out of our delusions”, the APHC chairman said in one speech, “It may sound offensive, but the fact of the matter is that sacrifices alone cannot help us to reach our desired goal.” Sajjad Gani Lone also underlined the need to focus towards an “achievable future”. “In between ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’”, Lone declared, “the leadership has to consider ‘something’ as well”. “Even holy cows”, APHC leader Abdul Gani Bhat said in response to critics of the new realism, “have to shit”.
Geelani claimed the realists were leading J&K’s people to the slaughter — and set about proving it. In 2006, Islamists leveraged the uncovering of a prostitution racket in Srinagar to argue that secularism and modernity were responsible for undermining, and were an Indian conspiracy to undermine, J&K’s Islamic character. Pro-Islamist scholar Hameeda Nayeem even claimed the scandal pointed “unequivocally towards a policy-based state patronage [of prostitution]”. Significantly, the prostitution protests saw the first large scale Islamist mob violence that went unchecked by the state. Geelani’s supporters were allowed to gather at the home of alleged Srinagar prostitution-ring madam Sabina Bulla, and raze it to the ground. Mobs also attacked the homes of politicians charged with having used her services.
In the summer of 2007, the rape-murder of north Kashmir teenager Tabinda Gani was used to initiate a xenophobic campaign against the presence of migrant workers in the State. Addressing a June 24, 2007, rally at the town of Langate, Geelani claimed that “hundreds of thousands of non-state subjects had been pushed into Kashmir under a long-term plan to crush the Kashmiris. He asserted, further, that “the majority of these non-state subjects are professional criminals and should be driven out of Kashmir in a civilised way [sic]”. His political ally, Hilal War, claimed that migrant workers’ slums were “centres of all kinds of illegal business”. Language like this inspired a series of terrorist attacks on migrants, the last of which was the bombing of a bus carrying workers from Srinagar, just as the protests against the right of use of land to the Amarnath shrine board began.
Even on the eve of the shrine board protests, Islamists had mobilised against a career counsellor who, they claimed, had been despatched to Srinagar schools to seduce students into a career of vice. An Anantnag school-teacher also came under attack, after a video surfaced showing that a group of his students had danced to pop film music on a holiday in Goa.
Speaking at a religious conference in Baramulla on May 26, 2008, Geelani warned his audience that the stakes were too high for the new realism. India, he said, was seeking to change “the Muslim majority into a minority by settling down troops along with their families here permanently… After turning Kashmiri Muslims into a minority, they will either massacre Muslims as they did in Jammu in 1947, or carry out a genocide as was done in Gujarat [in 2002]. ” Later that summer, the existential anxieties Geelani had been stoking since 2006 exploded, after the J&K Government granted land-use rights to a board which administers an annual pilgrimage of Hindus to Amarnath. Many in Kashmir saw the decision as evidence that Geelani had been right.
Now, the new Islamists were able to turn the tables on the APHC. In a secret June 19 declaration, Mirwaiz Farooq accepted Geelani’s long-standing assertion that bilateral dialogue with New Delhi would be fruitless. He also agreed not to initiate any unilateral moves excluding Geelani.
That agreement did not survive the end of the 2008 violence, and an historic election where record turnouts were registered in rural J&K despite a jihadist fiat against participation. But while Mirwaiz Farooq has since held multiple meetings with envoys form New Delhi, as well as secret one-on-one talks with Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, the peace agenda hasn’t moved forward. The APHC knows it doesn’t have the political capital to deliver on any agreement it might arrive at with New Delhi, especially if the deal doesn’t have Pakistan’s backing. Pakistan, for its part, has lost interest in the plan President Musharraf was pushing, believing that any concessions to New Delhi would erode the state’s already waning credibility.
None of this, however, explains just why the hurling of stones has become so important in the constituencies of the realists. For that, one has to examine broader ideological trends in Jammu and Kashmir.
Paranoia and piety have long fuelled Kashmir politics: in the decades after independence, the scholar Yoginder Sikand tells us, JeI leaders believed that an “Indian conspiracy was at work to destroy the Islamic identity of the Kashmiris.” It was alleged that “the Government of India had dispatched a team to Andalusia, headed by the Kashmiri Pandit [politician and then State Home Minister] D.P. Dhar, to investigate how Islam was driven out of Spain and to suggest measures as to how the Spanish experiment could be repeated in Kashmir.”
Resistance to this imagined plot often exploded into violence. In May, 1973, an Anantnag college student discovered an encyclopaedia containing a drawing of the archangel Gabriel dictating the Quran to the Prophet Mohammad — an image that, in some readings of Islam, is blasphemous. Protestors demanded that the author be hanged: “a vain demand,” Katherine Frank has wryly noted, “since Arthur Mee had died in England in 1943.” India proscribed sales of the out-of-print book, but four died in rioting. Politicians often drank at these wellsprings. At a March 4, 1987, rally in Srinagar, Muslim United Front candidates, clad in the white robes of the pious, declared that Islam could not survive under the authority of a secular state.
The constituency Geelani has built — welding together elements of the pious petty bourgeoisie, and angry lumpenised young people who feel disenfranchised — builds on this tradition, but, in important ways, marks a break with it.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, J&K saw the emergence of a political project which rested on sharpening the ideological boundaries of Islam: a project spearheaded by the birth of a new middle class that vied with traditional Muslim leaders for power. Key was the arrival in Kashmir of the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis, a religious order that was set up by followers of Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly. Ahmad died at Balakote, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, in 1831, while waging an unsuccessful jihad against Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom — a campaign that, historian Ayesha Jalal reminds us in her book, Partisans of Allah, still fires the imagination of numbers of Muslims in south Asia. Ahl-e-Hadis ideologues like the clerics Siddiq Hasan Khan and Nazir Husain rejected the accommodation Islam in India had achieved with its environment.
Sayyed Hussain Shah Batku, a Delhi seminary student who carried the Ahl-e-Hadis message to Kashmir in 1925, denounced practices of mainstream Islam in the State, like the worship of shrines and veneration of relics. Batku attacked traditionalists for following practices tainted by their Hindu heritage, like the recitation of litanies before Namaaz. Not surprisingly, Batku came under sustained attack from traditionalist clerics, who charged him with being an apostate, an infidel and even the dajjal, or devil incarnate. His response was to cast himself as a defender of the Faith, railing against Muslim denominations like the Ahmadi and the Shia, Hindu revivalists and Christian missionaries, all of whom he claimed were working to expel Islam from Kashmir.
Despite its limited popular reach, the Ahl-e-Hadith had enormous ideological influence. As the historian Chitralekha Zutshi has pointed out in her work on the making of religious identity in the Kashmir Valley, Languages of Belonging, the “influence of the Ahl-e-Hadith on the conflicts over Kashmiri identities cannot be overemphasised.”
Today, the Ahl-e-Hadith has expanded dramatically in many areas where traditionalist orders like that of the Mirwaiz once exercised near-hegemony. Key leaders of the organisation, as well as much of its rank and file, have opposed the street clashes. There is no evidence that the Ahl-e-Hadith is in any way institutionally complicit in the violence — but the defection of growing numbers of young people to the organisation points to a breakdown of traditional religious authority in the neighbourhoods most hit by violence now. Geelani has been the principal benefactor of these conflicts — and of networks built up over decades by the JeI.
Back in 1945, in his inaugural speech to the then newly-founded Jamaat’s cadre, Saaduddin Tarabali railed against “the sad state of Islam in this land today.” He bemoaned the fact that Kashmir Muslims were “totally ignorant of the true spirit of Islam.” “Our state is such that leave alone making an unbeliever a Muslim,” Saaduddin said, “no true Muslim can be fully satisfied with us.” Only once personal reform was achieved, in Saaduddin’s view, could the party of Islam place before the world “a broad Islamic revolutionary programme.”
What was this programme? According to the Jamaat’s constitution, the organisation is committed to “establish the true Faith” [iqamat-e-din]. Its members are called on to “know the difference between Islam and jahiliya [ignorance],” “abandon all customs, practices and beliefs that are in conflict with the Quran and the sunnah [theological tradition]” and “not have any close social relations, apart from ordinary human links, with morally corrupt people and those who have forgotten Allah.” It expressly commits the Jamaat to “use democratic and constitutional means while working for reform and righteous revolution,” forbidding “ways and means against ethnics, truthfulness and honesty, or which may contribute to strife on earth.”
For decades after independence, the Jamaat participated — first through proxies and then up-front — in mainstream political life. It endorsed candidates to the J&K legislature who swore allegiance to India’s Constitution. Speaking for the emerging Muslim middle-class — the petty bourgeoisie, orchard owners and bureaucrat — the Jamaat insisted that Indian rule in J&K was contested, but stayed clear of successive violent movements intended to overthrow it. In the mid-1970s, though, that began to change, with fateful consequences.
In March, 1977, Indira Gandhi withdrew the Emergency and called General Elections. She was defeated. Now wearing the halo of political martyrdom, the Jamaat sought to capitalise on the new situation. It allied itself with the Janata Party both at the national level, and in J&K, where elections were held that year.
Incendiary communalism was used to take on the Jamaat. A vote for the Jamaat, the National Conference (NC) claimed, was a vote for the Jana Sangh, a Hindu-chauvinist constituent of the Janata Party, whose “hands were still red with the blood of Muslims.” Islam, leaders of the NC insisted, would be in danger if the Jamaat-Janata alliance took power. Mirza Afzal Beg, Abdullah’s key deputy, would often unpackage a green handkerchief with Pakistani rock salt — as opposed to Indian sea salt — contained in it, signalling support for that country. National Conference cadre administered oaths on the Quran to potential voters, while clerics were imported from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to campaign in Muslim-majority areas of Jammu.
It paid off: the National Conference won 47 of 75 seats in the J&K Assembly, a decisive majority. Moreover, the NC secured over 46 per cent of the popular vote, an exceptionally high proportion in Indian elections. By contrast, the Jamaat-e-Islami could secure just one of the 19 seats it contested, and received only 3.59 per cent of the state-wide vote. This was a poorer performance than even the fledgling Janata Party, which picked up 13 seats from the Jammu region and secured 23.7 per cent of the popular vote.
But Abdullah’s victory came at a price. His aggressive use of Islamist themes and images during the campaign had cost him support in Jammu, particularly among Hindus. Just one of the seven seats the NC picked up in Jammu, that of Ramban, had a Hindu majority. In effect, the NC had abandoned its historic project of building itself into a spokesperson for the entire State, and had retreated, instead, to its heartland in the Valley. More importantly, the party had opened the gates for the large-scale use of religion in mass politics, a weapon that others, in time, would also learn to use. It was in the wake of these developments that the Jamaat began its transfiguration into a platform for the nascent jihad in J&K. The vehicle for this transformation was its student wing, the Islami Jamaat-e-Tulba (IJT). Formed in 1977, the IJT was to develop transnational linkages with neoconservative Islamist groups.
At the outset, the IJT reached out to Saudi Arabia-based neoconservative patronage networks for help. In 1979, the IJT was granted membership of the World Organisation of Muslim Youth, a controversial Saudi-funded body which financed many Islamist groups that later turned to terrorism. The next year, the IJT organised a conference in Srinagar, which was attended by dignitaries from across west Asia, including the Imam of the mosques of Mecca and Medina, Abdullah bin-Sabil. By the end of the decade, the IJT had formally committed itself to an armed struggle against the Indian state. Its President, Sheikh Tajamul Husain — now a mid-ranking leader of the secessionist movement — told journalists in Srinagar that Kashmiris did not consider themselves Indian, and that Forces stationed there were an “army of occupation.” Husain also called for the establishment of an Islamic state. A year later, in 1981, Husain called on his young followers to “throw out” the Indian “occupation”.
Since 1998, however, the mainstream JeI leadership has sought to claw its way out of the political dead-end its association with jihadist groups led it into. The decimation of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) by Indian Forces meant that, by 1996, the JeI was left facing extinction — not the power the jihad had once promised. In the 2008 elections, the Jamaat worked closely with the PDP.
Geelani, however, used past lessons — and elements of the Jamaat organisational network — to further his cause. For long, Geelani had argued that Hinduism and Islam were locked in an irreducible civilizational opposition. At an October 26, 2007, rally in Srinagar, he demanded that “the people of the State should, as their religious duty, raise their voice against India’s aggression [emphasis added]”. This duty, he argued, stemmed from the fact that to “practice Islam completely under the subjugation of India is impossible because human beings practically worship those whose rules they abide by.” In a 2008 interview to the New Delhi-based journalist Aasha Khosa, he called for the creation of an Islamic nizamiat, or state, in which the “creed of socialism and secularism should not touch our lives and we must be totally governed by the Koran and the Sunnat [precedents from Prophet Mohammad’s life]”.
For those familiar with the work of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Islamist whose ideas deeply inspired the global jihadist movement in general and Osama bin-Laden in particular, this argument will be familiar. Qutb argued for a radical reorganisation of “relations between the Islamic community and other camps, whether idolaters or people of earlier revelations”. He asserted that it had proved “impossible to achieve coexistence between two diametrically opposed ways of life”. “We have one way of life based entirely on submission of all mankind to God who has no partners”, Qutb proceeded, “and another that makes people submit to other people and false deities. The two are bound to be in conflict at every step and in every aspect of life”.
Geelani’s rise marks the triumph of a vision of Kashmir which, at its core, rejects its integration into the modern world. His Islam articulates the concerns of social classes angered by the inequity which has followed in the wake of economic growth; for a social order threatened by a pluralist, commodity-based culture; and, perhaps ironically given his age, for the rage of young people who stand at the gates of the earthly paradise that a fast-growing India has promised them, only to find they are denied entry.
India has few options to deal with the problem. Politicians in J&K — both pro-India and secessionist — have little direct influence in the areas where the violence is most intense. Pakistan, in the throes of profound and potentially existence-threatening crises, has little interest in making the kinds of concessions on J&K that President Musharraf seemed prepared to do. That means a grand peace deal is years away, if at all one is possible. Mirwaiz Farooq simply does not have the on-ground influence to bring peace, even if New Delhi finds a means to persuade him to join in a dialogue. The best New Delhi can do in the short term is to help the J&K Government’s efforts to restore order — for example, by improving Police capabilities for non-lethal crowd control and financing interventions in the shahar-e-khaas aimed at rebuilding its crisis-ravaged polity.
In the longer term, political opportunities do exist. Older people — schooled, unlike their children, in a system of institutional politics — have been deeply uncomfortable with the violent clashes. Politicians elected with substantial mandates have, moreover, succeeded in resisting Islamist radicalisation across large swathes of Kashmir. Langate, perched between volatile Srinagar and Baramulla, has seen no violence. Neither has Kupwara. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s home district, Ganderbal, saw just six clashes in which only one civilian was injured. In Kulgam, Geelani’s supporters have, despite the backing of elements of the PDP, failed to spark off any significant unrest.
For the time being, though, there’s little doubt that the hurled stone — and the bullet fired back in anger — will continue to influence the vocabulary of political life for some time to come. Kashmir’s politicians are struggling to find a language with which to address the problem. “These young people”, said the state’s former Deputy Chief Minister, Muzaffar Husain Beigh, last week, “they listen to no-one”.