Monday, August 02, 2010

A short comment on the situation in Kashmir

CLICHÉD or not, the only way to describe the situation in the Valley is that it is “complex”. It is so because it is the outcome of several factors that have generated a vicious cycle that the authorities are finding hard to break.
That cycle begins with violent street protests which lead to a tough police response, culminating at times in the police shooting dead a protester. Thereupon, protests against the death create a fresh cycle of violent protests which, more often than not, lead to yet another shooting.
Though the anger of the public is manifest — with even middle-aged matrons now hurling stones at the police — it is also manipulated by separatists who have links to the Pakistani intelligence agencies.
Yet, there is a nihilistic edge to the violence since the protesters and those who are manipulating them know that it is unlikely to either drive away India from the Valley or in any way improve the lot of the Kashmiris. This is the reason why people like Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin and the influential Jamat-e-Islami are opposing hartals and strikes which today almost always end up with instances of stone pelting.
The unique feature of the Kashmiri insurgency has been its ability to coexist with a kind of normality — schools and universities have functioned, apple and handicraft exports have continued apace and so on. But in the present climate, education and economic activity are at a standstill. It remains to be seen whether the orchard owners of Sopore and Baramullah will continue to support the shut down when the apple season begins. Because if that happens, they will suffer a huge loss, and so will the militants who they fund.
The only way to break the momentum of such protests is to wear it down. But India’s untrained and over-stretched police forces lack the training and sophistication to evolve a strategy which will ensure that the protests are contained without the loss of life.
Their task is not easy because though the protesters are using less-than-lethal stones, they are violent. And as Sunday’s incident in Pampore has revealed, they are not above some arson as well.
It is difficult to ask the authorities to make a systematic fire-fighting plan when the building is already on fire and the need is to douse it. But perhaps, even as they crack down in their inept way for the present, they should be planning for the longer term and begin training a force that can sustain stone-pelting assaults indefinitely without taking recourse to bullets. This is not an impossible task. All it requires is some imagination and some training.
Mail Today August 2, 2010

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