Finally we hear voices from the Kashmir Valley admitting that the nature of the violence has changed. This columnist has been pointing this out for some time, and every time, a small army of ‘liberals’ has attacked me with a virulence that is quite astounding. So it pleased me to hear a former deputy chief minister and the current Chief Minister of the state of Jammu & Kashmir admit that the nature of the violence has changed in an ominous way.
Muzaffar Baig said last week that Kashmir is no longer immune to the worldwide jihad and that when people demand azadi today, what they are asking for in fact is an Islamic state. Mehbooba Mufti was more circumspect at her joint press conference with the Union Home Minister in Srinagar, but she drew attention to increasing levels of terrorism in different parts of the world and urged Kashmiris to notice that it helped no cause. She used the Urdu word ‘tashadut’, but it was clear that she meant jihadist terrorism. She repeated what she has said before, that Kashmir’s children were being manipulated by a handful of people. It would be terrific if those intrepid reporters who dare to continue reporting from the Valley, amid curfew and violence, made some effort to identify who are the people guiding a movement that is apparently leaderless. It is more than likely that these invisible leaders will be jihadists with direct links to Pakistan.
This is why it is worrying that the Prime Minister has so far not articulated a clear Kashmir policy. He has received huge applause from self-appointed Kashmir experts for reviving Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s slogan of ‘insaniyat, Kashmiriat, jamhooriat’, but the truth is that the words have no meaning today. When Vajpayee used them, they had a context. He became prime minister at a time when the Kashmir Valley had seen nothing but violence and militarisation for more than a decade. Today the situation is completely different.
Burhan Wani, whose death caused the current spate of violence, was a peacetime terrorist. Last summer in Srinagar, when I first heard of him, the Valley was filled with tourists. And a new government had taken over at the end of an election so fair that it brought the BJP into power for the first time ever. Wani was a modern jihadi who used the Internet to become a legend. In methods reminiscent of ISIS recruiters, he filled social media sites with pictures of himself and his comrades in military uniforms and with automatic weapons in their hands. It was clear from his videos that this was a new phase of violence that had nothing to do with Kashmir’s traditional separatists. Hurriyat leaders could not have controlled the violence that was caused by his death even if they had tried. The ‘experts’ advising the Home Minister to talk to Hurriyat are in a time warp.
So what should happen next? In my humble, non-expert opinion, I believe that the first thing the Prime Minister needs to do is draw up the contours of a new policy. This has to be a policy that seeks not just to find a permanent solution to our oldest political problem but that attempts seriously to counter Islamism. If the brutal version of Islam that ISIS propounds is finding support in India, it needs to be exposed for the barbaric, evil manifestation that it is. Do ordinary Kashmiri Muslims really want women to be shot for exposing their faces? Do they want Shariat punishments for thieves and adulterers? Do they want mullahs to control their lives? Do they want what has already happened in Pakistan to happen in the Kashmir Valley?
There can be no pussyfooting and no pretence that the nature of the threat India faces in Kashmir is now a very different thing to what it was even five years ago. To deal with it, the Prime Minister will need not just people who understand India’s security concerns but people who understand the political mistakes that created the problem as it exists today.
Narendra Modi has a real chance to find a permanent solution in Kashmir because he can go forward without carrying the baggage of past mistakes that so weighed down Congress prime ministers. Instead of looking for renewal of slogans and solutions from the Vajpayee era, he should begin with a clean slate and come up with new ideas. And although there is very little doubt that Pakistan is instigating the violence that has led to nearly two months of curfew in the Kashmir Valley, can we stop whining about this please? India is powerful enough to deal with the nuisance of a rogue neighbour without needing to whine about it in the forums of the world. Without a coherent, new strategy, there will be no permanent solution in Kashmir.
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