Recently, the Kashmir Valley has entered the 5th month of shutdown and curfew with the periodic relaxation. Since July 8, 2016, when a militant leader Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed, the people of Kashmir have shown unmatchable determination to face the state repression. Constant strikes and protests led by youth have unambiguously demonstrated the public verdict.
Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a historian, aptly summarised the Kashmir situation in his recent article: “A de facto plebiscite already seems to have taken place there. Kashmiris appear to have voted with untiring throats, with eyes destroyed or deformed by pellets, and with bodies willing to fall to the ground for what the heart desires. And the vote seems to be for azadi.”
The people of Kashmir rose to the occasion and displayed their resilience by responding to strike calls with unprecedented enthusiasm, which has never been witnessed in recent history. A lot of people have lost their jobs and business during the current phase of upsurge but no public resentment was shown. The young generation is leading from the front and has taken over charge of the streets, not willing to make conciliatory gestures.
The Indian government has declined to take any political initiative to engage Hurriyat leadership or resume dialogue with Pakistan aiming to discuss Kashmir issue. New Delhi hopes that the protests would gradually die down and fatigue would pave the way for normalcy. They think there is no need to depict haste by engaging Hurriyat at this point of time.
Ironically, the Indian media and civil society largely toe the line set by the ultra-nationalist agenda of BJP and hardliners. Those who criticise the state repression or talk about the political engagement are branded pro-Pakistan, some of which had to face sedition charges.
Lamentably, state authorities used oppressive measures as a policy tool to deal with agitation and political demands of the Kashmiris. At least 92 people have been killed, over 13000 injured and nearly 8000 young people have been detained. Around 400 people, including children, have been jailed under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. Noted human rights defender, Khurram Pervaiz, was also detained while an English daily, Kashmir Reader, was banned.
Internationally, the Kashmir situation is being seen through the prism of national security and economic interests instead of principles of justice and fairness. Surprisingly, the response from the international community on human rights violation has largely been sluggish and shocking. The self-styled human rights champions have also maintained a deafening silence. The sustained shutdown, killings and stone-pelting have so far remained unable to shake the international conscience or Indian public opinion in the favour of Kashmiris.
No evident way forward is in sight yet. The international players such as the United States have not displayed any interest to help India and Pakistan break the current impasse. A sense of disappointment is manifested in the rank and file of the Kashmiri outfits who were expecting international backing to their largely non-violent struggle. A sense is gaining currency that a peaceful and non-violent movement has very less potential to earn international attention or sympathy.
Syed Salahuddin, Chairman of United Jihad Council, while talking to journalists in Muzaffarabad urged Pakistan to extend “military support”. A few ex-diplomats also talked about the legitimacy of the limited and tactical use of violence as a political tool to achieve greater good and increase the cost of the occupation of Kashmir.
If these moves get concurrence, it might further mitigate people’s miseries and upset India-Pakistan relations. The fatigue with the non-violent struggle is a natural phenomenon that creeps in when political goals take a long time to materialise.
However, the Hurriyat has to find out creative means to keep people away from the global Jihadi ideologies as it would bring only despair. Additionally, young people must understand that the revival of militancy is an ugly trap which can further complicate the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Hurriyat also needs to devise a long-term strategy to sustain freedom struggle instead of heavily banking on month-long strikes which always ruin the economy and spoil students’ careers. The present model of resistance requires radical reconsideration and a shift from unending strikes to soft and less harmful initiatives such as the establishment of a permanent hunger strike camp outside the United Nations Military Observers Groups offices in Srinagar and Rawalpindi. People can have weekly strikes in Kashmir Valley to keep the momentum alive but now the time has come to announce moral victory and let the people resume the normal life. There is no dearth of ideas to make Kashmir struggle more vibrant and convincing.
The Kashmiri Diaspora stationed in the Western countries can play a vital role to break the international silence over Kashmir with the help of local scholars and human rights activists.
Continuous engagement with the Indian civil society and political parties must be a top priority of the Kashmiri leadership. Only Indian public opinion has the potential to push their government to rethink its Kashmir policy and take tangible steps to resolve the issue. Hurriyat should use all available opportunities of engagement with the Indian intellectuals, civil society and media in order to make them understand that Kashmiris are not their enemies rather they are demanding a legitimate right. It was a refreshing news to hear that Syed Ali Gilani expressed sympathy with the grieved families of Indian troops who were killed in the Uri attack. This kind of gestures might help generate inroads in the Indian public opinion.
Hurriyat also desperately needs several new and moderate faces in its top cadre to enhance its credibility and international standing. It will have to realise that there is a generation gap among its leadership. Young and dynamic leaders should be given space to lead the struggle, particularly the women, for representing new age aspirations.
Eventually, New Delhi has to understand that merely ignoring or remaining silent and expecting that Kashmir will be calmed and normalised, is a serious error of judgment. There is a saying that creating peace is harder than winning a war. New Delhi must understand that the sentiments of people cannot be pacified or defeated by coercion.