Put your ears on the ground and listen carefully. You may hear a new sound across the Kashmir valley. This is a different voice from the usual Hurriyat call for an immediate solution or from the rhetoric by People’s Democratic Party of Mehbooba Mufti. This is the cry of post-insurgency youth, born after 1989 when militancy crept into an otherwise quiet scene. This is violent in the sense that they pelt stone, but different because they have not taken arms from Pakistan as the militants did. Nor have they any “top contacts” which even the political leadership in the opposition maintains with Delhi.
This angry, amorphous force has no defined leadership. The different places in the valley have different hands to guide. The baton of the movement is in the hands of the new generations. What strings them together is the anger against the establishment at Srinagar and at Delhi. It is not correct to say that hardliner Syed Gillani is their leader. He sees to it that he is not out of step with them. His fundamentalism carries weight. Yet when he tried to convert them into non-violent protesters he failed. The pelting of stones is their way of saying that they do not agree to the various formulas which have been presented for the solution of Kashmir.
Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah have failed to understand the ethos of the movement. They do not realize that their intelligence agencies over the years have become part of the establishment. The Prime Minister’s willingness to talk to all sections or individuals in Kashmir, as he said in his speech, is a shot in the dark. He has no machinery to reach them. His dependence on the same old apparatus and individuals will yield no results. They are not relevant in the present situation. His thinking has to be out of the box.
In the same manner, Omar Abdullah’s offer to create 50,000 jobs to engage the youth is too late. He should have done so when he came to power after free elections in which the voters polled 62 per cent. The youth movement has no economic agenda. It is a revolt against the entire system. Moreover, the economic package has become a joke in J and K because very little is delivered after making tall promises.
To understand the situation, two things should be kept in mind. One, there is no hand of Pakistan. Two, the movement has nothing to do with the militants who, for example, had a four-day encounter at Rajouri early this week. The movement is not pre-planned. Had it been so, it would not have taken a dangerous shape during the current tourist season which yields income to Kashmir for full one year.
It is a spontaneous movement. It started with the killing of 17-year-old Tafuail Ahmed Matto on June 11. He was a class XII student, not part of the procession which was throwing stones on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Matto was killed by a tear gas shell. Everything else followed.
As Omar Abdullah has admitted, protests led to the firing and firing led to more protests. One incident ignited the other and in no time the entire valley was engulfed by young protesters. No separatist party took part in organizing the agitation. They jumped into the arena after the event, not before. The youth is listening to them but keep their own counsel.
Anger against Omar Abdullah was the focus of their helplessness. The shoe throwing incident at the flag hoisting ceremony on the Independence Day was a form of protest. The police man’s confession before the authorities was: “I did it because of my affection for my people who are being killed every day. I was beaten in up in custody and won’t accept anything under duress. They (the police) want me to name PDP or Hurriyat leaders for that.” This speaks volumes about the repressive methods of the police. What is disconcerting is that the shoe was thrown from a seat in the VVIP row, putting a question mark against the sympathy of even high officials and civil society members.
Mehbooba’s PDP is a supporter of the movement. She is a problem, not the solution. Her ambition is power. She wants to step in if and when the Congress Party parts company with Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and pick PDP up to run the state. The Prime Minister should know this.
However, such mechanization on the part of politicians has been the bane of the state. By and large, the politicians and their furtive ways are responsible for all that is happening in the state. Today all political formations, including the Hurriyat, are irrelevant because the angry youth does not have any faith in them or their methods.
The vague, undefined leadership that has surfaced is radical, Islamist and ultra-fundamentalist. It is Naxalism of sorts, with pronounced religious slant. The Taliban have come into the picture now but they were not there when the movement got ignited. Yasin Malik, who is in jail, is respected but how far he can influence the movement is yet to be seen because he is against fundamentalism.
One woman journalist, a Muslim, told me from Srinagar that what was emerging was going to throttle the gasping Kashmiryat, a secular way of life which has distinguished the Kashmir valley from the rest of the country. According to her, the youth, if not retrieved, would outdo what the Taliban did when they briefly occupied the Swat valley in Pakistan. Women would be the worst sufferers.
Both India and Pakistan have not calculated the fallout of the movement can have in their countries. India is too overwhelmed and is clueless. Pakistan feels happy that “the enemy” is in the midst of real trouble. But the movement is something which should force the two to sit together and have a sober assessment. True, this only underlines the urgency of a solution in Kashmir. Manmohan Singh has said that he is ready for it. So has been s the view of the Pakistani leadership. But the outcome has to be such which does not tell upon the secular ethos in India.
I know that the talks are going on between New Delhi and Srinagar through the back channel. But the main party after the 1989 insurgency is the Kashmiris. The sooner they are involved the better it would be for peace in the valley. The Kashmiri youth, however justified in ventilating its anger, does not realize that none in India—and probably in Pakistan—would agree to a fundamentalist, sovereign state on its border.