The winter of relative calm that was achieved after months of protests and curfews following the killing of Burhan Wani in July last year, threatens to come to an end in south Kashmir. On February 12, six young men from Kulgam district were killed. Four were militants killed by security forces, one was a civilian, allegedly shot by the militants, though some locals dispute the army’s version of events. Protests broke out after the encounter and security forces reportedly used tear gas and fired live ammunition on the crowd, killing a civilian. The situation, unless handled deftly, threatens to engulf the Valley once again in an older battle of competing narratives, with the state government and security forces tragically at odds with the people.
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By all accounts, the militants killed in Kulgam were, like Burhan Wani, local youth — not infiltrators from across the border. The state government, at least, is aware of the need to switch gears when dealing with home-grown militancy. Speaking to this newspaper in December, soon after last year’s unrest had seemed to settle down, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had said, “We need to have a plan of action. A majority of these boys (who have joined militancy) haven’t killed anybody. We need to figure out how to integrate them back so that they can lead normal lives. We are also differentiating local (militants) and outsiders…”. The sheer number of people at the funeral of the militants killed in Kulgam, and the protests that followed, show that the anger and resentment that marked a large part of 2016 in the Valley still simmer. The last wave of protests came to an end after a prolonged curfew, crackdown on protesters — including the controversial use of pellet guns — and the onset of a severe winter in Kashmir. The underlying political issues and grievances are waiting to be addressed, beginning with a dialogue with the young people in the state. The scale and nature of the protests that followed the encounter at Kulgam must serve as a warning.
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In November last year, in a widely reported incident, the army asked the mother of a militant in Sopore to convince him to surrender — and he did. This — the drawing in of family and community by the security forces — has been done before. But this instance seemed to hint at the approach CM Mufti advocates — which acknowledges that deep social roots in the community can be a means to wean the disenchanted from violence. As the snows melt, the way forward must, of course, focus on containing violence and militancy. But it must necessarily include an imaginative and sensitive attempt to reach out to the people, especially the young, to listen to what they say.