Updated: February 24, 2016 12:02:07 am
As Indian troops battled terrorists in Pampore on Monday, jihadist anthems broadcast from the town’s mosques wafted through the air. They ought to be heard by the powers-that-be in New Delhi. True, the firefight may have been relatively inconsequential despite the tragic loss of lives: Violence in Kashmir, in sharp decline since 2002, remains at historically low levels. But the signs of a looming crisis cannot be missed. In December, the last rites of slain Pakistani jihadist Abdul Rehman — also known as Abu Qasim — drew over 60,000 people, as the residents of three villages clashed over the right to bury him. Less than a tenth of that number appeared in events marking the passing of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, or, indeed, for any recent political mobilisation. The flag of the Islamic State has appeared with increasing frequency; online, new Kashmiri recruits to the jihad against India are extolled as heroes. In Pampore itself, thousands of protesters had to be held back from reaching the fighting site, where they hoped to protect men seen as warriors for their cause. Even in the 1990s, Pakistani jihadists were rarely hailed as popular heroes. Now that has changed — and Delhi can ill-afford to ignore it.
This jihadist sunrise comes over a wasteland of despair. The failure of successive elected governments to deliver development has led the state’s youth, born into the searing violence of the 1990s, to become increasingly disillusioned with democracy. Large numbers have turned, instead, to the other-world anti-politics of groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Also, few young Kashmiris have the tools to capitalise on opportunities in the new economy, even as the old one is in terminal decline. Then, there is the problem of competing communalism. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise has stoked fears of a predatory Hindu India preparing to crush Kashmir — a meme long stoked both by Islamists and Hindu nationalist politicians.
No pill exists to still this volatile cocktail of economic despair, youth rage and communal anxiety. The problem is complicated by the fact that the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference in Kashmir, as well as the BJP and the Congress in Jammu, have sought to cash in on popular frustration — and not promote any serious agenda for transformation. Warnings of that were evident from the lethal mob violence that almost tore the state apart in 2008 and 2010. Its responses, though, have been unimaginative. The old tools of lego-block political alliance-making and cash-and-carry deal-cutting have long ceased to work. Delhi needs to begin to build a new Kashmir with steel and concrete, where economic opportunity and social justice are given real-world meaning. Failure to do so will mean more lost lives — and an ever more vicious cycle of hate.
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