New wave of militancy can't be stamped out with just jack-boots and guns

By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 8/5/2018 12:42:24 AM

Kashmir's militancy is hydra-headed. You chop off one. Ten more resurrect from the blood of one. 28 young men joining ranks of militant groups in the month of July, the highest ever number that has been steadily increasing barring the month long ceasefire period during Ramazan, may not be as alarming as the fact that hundreds more are ready to pick up the gun. The only thing that gets in their way at the moment is the dearth of guns in the Valley, which may explain for the increasing cases of gun snatching and bank looting.
The present phase of militancy is hugely different from 1990s. In the 90s, youth went across the borders and returned as well-trained guerillas with sophisticated weapons and became the new age heroes of a movement that began to have widespread support among public, inspiring many more to follow their footsteps. The present generation of militants has far surpassed that level of passion and the massive public support. But the new wave of militancy is anything but sophisticated.
With 250 odd militants operating in the Valley, over 200 are local boys who are home-grown, the number is not frighteningly huge but is gradually increasing. Do they get any adequate or any training at all? It is difficult to say but the usual modus operandi is: young boys disappear, inspired often by their own oppression or collective weight of a repressive atmosphere and human rights violations, from their homes and it often takes just two or three days for them to reappear before the world through images that are widely circulated on the social media. Pictures of these boys, often wearing camouflage printed uniforms, brandishing assault rifles and ammunition loaded in their jacket pockets or displayed in front of them, suddenly erupt and go viral within minutes. Families get to know of their son's joining militancy only after the photographs have been circulated. Most of them are well educated with promising careers, but some are also school-going boys or school drop-outs, as young as 16 years old.
For a huge security paraphernalia of 2-3 lakh strong men, by any modest estimates, it should not have been a major task in combating and eliminating these handful militants who are operating primarily in select pockets of South Kashmir - Tral, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian as well as Sopore in North Kashmir. But it is proving to be an onerous one. The boys are well versed with the terrain and often escape the cordons during encounters. The public support provides a thick protective layer to the trapped militants. Crowds swell up at the encounter sites to throw stones and engage the security personnel combating the militants, queering their operations and often ensuring safe passage to the holed up militants. In the last one month, while stone pelting incidents on the streets have decreased, the stone pelting at the encounter sites has intensified, revealing a possible tactical shift which may further jeopardize the interests of security forces.
For the security personnel, the toughest challenge is that neither the militants nor the stone throwing civilians know any sense of fear. They are hardened beyond a point by their daily oppression - the rigours of crackdowns, cordon operations, detentions, torture, pellet injuries and revolving door arrests - and have overcome fear. In terms of military infrastructure and skills, they are no match for the well trained para-militaries with best of lethal weaponry. Yet they keep them engaged despite inferior skills, rusted guns, many of which are acquired in gun snatching incidents.
The military strategy of this present generation of militants has been interpreted in various ways - preference of death over humiliation, giving resistance a new direction or all out attempt to bleed the security forces as much as they can. There may be some truth in all of this. The jarring tones of the latter cannot be missed. The much touted successful encounters are measured by the number of killings of militants, not just forgetting the many more that are resurrected from the blood of one but also the massive casualties of the security personnel in the various militant attacks and encounters. It is a clear sign of the country being bled through loss of its trained soldiers.
A full throttle military strategy against civilian rebellion has never worked. The one being pursued in Kashmir is flawed and a losing battle on several counts. One, it is acting as an agent provocateur in turning the entire population against India more venomously, which not only pushes the Valley into unforeseeable dangers but is a far greater territorial and strategic concern for India. Second, this continuous warfare is piling up human rights violations which are morally wrong and earning India international embarrassment. Third, a huge tragedy is unfolding in the Indian hinterland as coffin after coffin of security personnel, killed because an avoidable war was forced on them, is being sent to their grieving mothers, wives and children.
Could Indian government's Kashmir strategy have been a little different? Certainly, yes. There have been opportunities wasted, some which have been the government's own initiatives. The month long Ramazan ceasefire had halved the number of young men picking up arms, though it did not stop the militants operating from stepping up their attacks. Yet, it was not extended. The ceasefire, carry it to a few months or even years, alone does not yield dividends. Political efforts do, provided they come with consistency and liberal doses of patience. It takes years to transition from violent conflict towards amicable settlement through dialogue and negotiations. It needs a mature and seasoned leadership in New Delhi to see that. In Kashmir, the appetite for dialogue and negotiations hasn't totally been closed. There is a huge peace constituency that still exists. Research scholar turned militant Manan Wani last month wrote an article that was circulated for a few hours before it was banned. The article was about the reasons that make people like him pick up arms. In his own words, he, who 'chose the gun over pen', felt it necessary to break the silence. Words signify ideas. Words and ideas make dialogues. They are not lethal like the gun. They can be read and listened to, even if one might not agree, and responded with words. The banned article was an opportunity to engage with, at least to ponder over why the militant turned to pen over gun, even if just for a brief moment. The article was shot down with a ban and lost in the machismo of an unstoppable war.



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