Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seeding a new agitation!

(Both the State and the Central Governments appear to be deliberately or inadvertently seeding a new agitation in Kashmir next summer!)

There is loud thinking going on about the possible situation in Kashmir during the forthcoming summer. The state government is supposedly taking umpteen measures to prevent another “Hot” summer. The Chief Minister has emphatically declared that he will not allow the repeat of the events of the last summer! For more than five months last year Kashmir was under virtual siege. Calls for shutdowns were reinforced by government curfews, both declared and undeclared. Schools were shut making students miss sizeable portion of their syllabus. In economic terms, the loss was in thousands of crores. No doubt there has been a simmering discontent for last 60 years or so, yet the things have carried on with off and on upheavals. However, for last few years these upheavals have not only changed in character but have taken the shape of mass upsurges throughout the valley. The main trigger for these upsurges has been the oppression indulged in by the security forces. The turmoil of last two decades had converted Kashmir into a huge security forces camp. Kashmir became the largest militarised area of the world. The unbridled powers of these security forces added to the woes of the local population. The security forces could indulge in all types of atrocities and still go scot free because of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special powers Act). The violence of last two decades brutalised people but at the same time convinced them that they were getting nowhere. This resulted in an attempt to achieve the goal through peaceful protests. However, the authorities viciously suppressed these peaceful protests. Instead of gracefully allowing people to air their grievances against the harassment of security forces in a peaceful manner, they termed it agitational terrorism and came down on it with a heavy hand. The stone pelting did not start ab initio. It was a reaction to the brutal suppression. People named it the Kashmiri “Intifada”. It was suggested that the local youth had taken a cue from the Palestinian “Intifada” In fact, some areas were given the name of “Gaza Patti” by the local youth. Deliberately refusing to see the reality, the authorities created hype about stone pelting and stone pelters by labelling the protests as violent agitation! The stone pelters were labelled as LET (Lashkar-e-Tayyaba) members and so on. Killing of innocent youth fuelled the unrest to an uncontrollable level and even the brazen show of force by conducting of flag marches by the army in unarmed civilian areas did not contain it.

The worldwide coverage of the killing of unarmed peacefully protesting civilians unnerved the central government and they tried fire-fighting measures by sending groups of officials and parliamentarians to defuse the situation. For the first time it was admitted on the floor of the Parliament that the problem in Kashmir was a political one. “A unique problem needing a unique solution!” Many confidence building measures were announced and a group of interlocutors was appointed to ascertain the governance difficulties faced by the people as well as propose a political solution to the problem. However, strangely the government appeared keener to ascertain the problems faced in carrying out development activities in Jammu and Ladakh than giving a real healing touch to the sufferings of the valley dwellers! It was expected that the lull in the turmoil would be used by the central and the state governments to address the immediate grievances of the people so that there was no repeat of the last year’s situation. Unfortunately, inadvertently, or deliberately, both the governments have been taking steps which appear to be sowing seeds for a conflagration from the masses on a much larger scale. Right from the President downwards all are claiming from the pulpits that there is improvement in Kashmir situation. They seem to be either deliberately projecting the present calm as deceptive peace or they are so na├»ve as to take the lull before a storm as return of peace and reconciliation. Firstly, there appears to be total confusion in Delhi. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing! Home Secretary announces recall of 10,000 troops while as the Defence Minister says no troops will be withdrawn. The Army General in Kashmir goes a strep further and say not a single soldier will leave Kashmir. Civilian authorities both in Delhi and Srinagar keeping parroting that the notorious legislation AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) is being re-viewed and the Chief Minister declares that many areas would be taken out of the disturbed area regime. In contrast, the Defence Authorities including some media favourite Generals throw a spanner in the works that their troops will not fight insurgency without AFSPA! What messages are they sending to common Kashmiris?

Even if one would regard these contradictory declarations as part of the Kautliya strategy, the actions on ground starkly demonstrate that the authorities are not interested in peace but are sowing seeds for another upheaval. None of the steps mentioned in the eight point package of confidence building measures have been implemented on ground. Out of 400 bunkers hardly 20 have been removed. Now, it is given out that all bunkers on the road leading to Srinagar Airport will be removed. This appears to be a step to deceive outsiders visiting Kashmir. They will feel everything is honky dory while the heart of Kashmir continues to be under the iron clamp of the security grid! Instead of releasing political prisoners, hundreds of youth have been detained all over the valley and on some of these the Public Safety Act has been slapped. Instead of so called habitual stone pelters, all able bodied potential young men capable of participating in mass agitations are being rounded up like criminals. These measures appear to be in line with the Chief Minister’s emphatic declaration that he will not allow in any case the repeat of the last summer! The moot point is whether this is the way to forestall a new upheaval or it is the best possible way to restart the earlier one? Added to all these negative measures is the globally telecast “Egypt Effect”. There have been umpteen articles about similarities between the Egyptian uprising and Kashmir turmoil. There is no comparison. The Egyptians are fighting for internal self-determination while as Kashmiris are struggling for the external self-determination. However, there is a clear message. Peaceful mass protests can even dethrone a powerful Pharaoh! There is still time till “June!” Delhi and Srinagar should get their act together to give relief to Kashmiris and not sow seeds for something worse sprouting next summer!

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