By Zainab Akhter
Though there have been numerous peace initiatives, what has remained constant in the Kashmir valley is the uncertain nature of peace. Peace in Kashmir remains fragile and even the smallest altercation takes a political or communal shade resulting in prolonged unrest. Why is the peace so fragile and unsustainable in the valley?
The Fragile peace
Normal life in the valley came to a standstill on 25 June 2012 due to the fire that broke out at the Sufi shrine, Dastgeer Sahab in Srinagar. The Bandh called by the separatist faction paralyzed life across the state. Restrictions and undeclared curfew were imposed by the police, and paramilitary forces were deployed in large numbers across the city to prevent protests. Despite restrictions, stone pelting incidents and mass protests were reported from various places across the valley. The state government’s decision to put the entire old city under undeclared curfew for five consecutive days and people’s reaction to the incident have reiterated the trust deficit that exists between the state and the people.
In recent years, there has been an increase in tourism in the valley in recent indicating an improvement in the security situation. However, the tourism boom cannot be equated to lasting peace as the potential of seemingly unrelated small incidents snowballing into a full-fledged ‘war for Azadi’ has always remained. For instance, the Shopian incident – the rape and murder of two young women in May 2009 at Bongam, Shopian district – saw violent protests across the valley, with protesters accusing CRPF personnel of the rape and murder. In 2010, protests and ubiquitous stone pelting broke out across the valley due to the killing of a school boy, Tufail Matoo, and many young people lost their lives in the ensuing violence.
Reasons behind the fragility
One major reason for the fragility has been the one-track policymaking in New Delhi, which has only helped to aggravate the situation further. The Union government has disconnected itself from the ground reality in Kashmir and relies more on ‘expert opinions’ from the corridors of power in New Delhi. It may be true that those taking the law into their own hands do not constitute a major section of society, but their proliferation has put both the State and Union governments on the back foot. This fragility has been fueled by many factors particular to the valley, and among them AFSPA (Armed Force Special Power Act) which grants special powers to armed forces and the resentment against it in the valley is one. Chief Minster, Omar Abdullah and the Interlocutors report (three interlocutors were appointed by government of India to meet with the civil society of J&K) submitted to the government of India also advocated the withdrawal of this act.
Secondly, there is a lack of investment in the valley due to which there is a shortage of industries and private organisations. The state government cannot provide employment to the qualified youth resulting in massive unemployment and underemployment .The unemployed youth end up doing some odd jobs with meager wages, and with frustration setting in, they become vulnerable to radicalization and are involved in stone pelting activities and other forms of mass protests.
Thirdly, the separatists, both moderates and hardliners (pro-freedom groups), play a vital role in the political framework of the valley and they have a stronghold in the old Srinagar city, which is considered as the bastion of stone pelters. They play a fundamental role in fuelling the protests and stone pelting on the streets. They are not keen to talk about autonomy or any kind of economic packages for the state. During any unrest, the separatists call for a complete bandh, which sometimes continue for days together. They boycott any attempt by the central government to include them in the peace negotiations, the latest being the failed efforts of the interlocutors. The stone pelting in the Valley is multi-dimensional and is said to have large-scale monetary support from across the border.
The separatists are trying every trick up their sleeve to galvanize the public to create a state of chaos and uncertainty in the valley, and the tussle between the separatist and the center is likely to continue for long.
Finally, the military strategy is not sufficient by itself to make peace permanent. Last year, the counter-insurgency strategists in the Union Home Ministry began deploying central forces to pursue a clear, hold and build strategy in the insurgency-prone states. The objective was that the forces would clear the area of insurgents and thus pave the way for civilian development programmes. Although a decline in the militancy related activities is visible in the valley, there is a dearth of developmental work.
This strategy has not worked completely for the state of Jammu and Kashmir because peace in the state has remained unsustainable. They have partially succeeded in the ‘clear’ and ‘hold’ components, but have totally failed to implement the ‘build’ component of the strategy.
Research Intern, IPCS