Goodwill of late nineties has been replaced by the worst form of repression reminiscent of the Scorched Earth policies of retreating armies in the Second World War!
The decade of the nineties of the last century witnessed the most violent period in the recent history of Kashmir. It was the decade of the armed uprising. There was violence all around. Thousands of boys had crossed the line of control and got weapons to fight the Indian security forces. With the total immunity granted under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the forces went berserk. There were massacres and mass rapes. Everyday there were armed encounters in different parts of the valley. Cordon and search operations were continued endlessly all over Kashmir. These were necessitated by the total collapse of the intelligence network resultant from the mass migration of the “sources” who would keep a tag on all activities. In those days, the Time Magazine carried a front page story written by Edward Desmond describing Kashmir as enemy territory for the Indian Army! The excesses of the Army during the nineties have been depicted as confessions of some officers by Kishalay Bhattacharjee in his book, the “Blood on my Hands”! The Army which had landed in Kashmir in 1947 as saviours against the marauding tribesmen unleashed on Kashmir by Pakistan, turned totally into an Army of occupation. A wide gulf developed between the Army and the civil population.
Once the armed uprising was subdued after killing of (officially admitted) over 50,000 Kashmiris, and wounding and disabling of thousands with the total disappearance of over 10,000 persons, the Indian Government tried to revive a local government in 1996 by motivating Dr. Farooq Abdullah to stand for elections. A National Conference Government headed by him was virtually installed as people were compelled to vote. The government started two pronged activity. On one hand attention was given on various civic amenities and revival of various activities including tourism. Simultaneously, an army of renegades was created to keep the remaining militants in check. Even though efforts were started to restore normalcy, yet the counter insurgency outfits of the Army and Police continued their targeting of the youth all over the valley. The generation of the nineties which had grown up in the worst atmosphere of violence in the recent history of Kashmir, refused to be cowed down. Thus, the volcano of Kashmir’s unrest simmered under the surface. Allegedly, the state and the central agencies turned the targeting of the youth into a very lucrative business.
At the same time, the Army started its goodwill programs called the “Sadhbhavana”. Many facilities like Medical Camps, building of infrastructure like bridges and taking groups on all India tours was started. Clubs for the youth, schools and other facilities were set up. The aim was to win over the civilian population by bridging the gulf created during the years of peak militancy. Army did succeed in creating new goodwill among the population in rural areas by these programs.
However, as mentioned earlier, the targeting and witch hunting of theyouth continued which gave rise to a new kind of unrest. Even though militancy had almost disappeared, this new deliberate persecution forced the youth to join the ranks of militants. Burhan was one of these new educated and highly motivated militants. Through the use of the social networking sites like the Facebook, he became a hero of resistance against the excesses of the security forces. His alleged extra-judicial killing which even Muzaffar Baig of PDP has described as a conspiracy to topple the PDP government headed by Mehbooba Mufti triggered the bursting of a simmering volcano. There was a mass uprising all over the valley. However, it was an unarmed expression of grief which was put down with the use of brutal force by the authorities. The uprising failed to subside and the State had to request Army help to curtail freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution. However, as was evident from the press conference of the Army Commander General Hooda, they were reluctant to do it. In spite of that the Political Bosses ordered them to start the “Operation Calm Down”. The result has been a virtual “Scorched Earth Policy”! The Sadbhavana has been forgotten totally!
There have been allegedly widespread instances of vandalizing of homes, destruction of household goods, private vehicles, burning of stacked and harvested crops, destruction of apples andbeating up of the inmates from all over the valley. Even in a number of places electric transformers have been damaged by intentional targeting. Such behavior by Security Forces in a conflict zone is totally banned under the Geneva Convention. Article 54 of Protocol I of 1977 Geneva Conventions reads, “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive”.
Both the strategies, the “Sadbhavana” and the “Operation Calm Down” which in reality is “Operation Cow Down” cannot restore normalcy and peace. These fail to touch the basic political problem simmering for last 70 years. As pointed out by the Army Commander, peace and normalcy can only be restored by taking on board all stakeholders including the “Separatists”. Need is for problem solution and not for problem management. One cannot prevent a boiling cauldron from bursting out by simply putting a lid over it. On the other side continuous shutdowns cannot materialize a solution. Shutdowns without end amount to a mass suicide. An unconditional dialogue among all stakeholders is the only way out of the impasse. The million dollar question is how this can be materialized?
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir