The Fading Away of State Control in South Kashmir
By Muneeb Yousuf
The Valley of Kashmir, nestled between the gigantic Himalayas, has remained a hot ember in the carpet of peace in the sub-continent. From the time of armed struggle in the 1990s, India had gained considerable control over Kashmir by 2002. The control did not result exclusively because of the policies of ”counter-terrorism” but also due to the defining moment of 9/11. The post 9/11 world emerged as less sympathetic towards armed struggles. Moreover, the post 9/11 world made the authorities in Pakistan believe that the Kashmir focused militant groups could be painted with same brush of ”War on Terror”.
After experiencing a bumpy decade of armed insurgency, the assembly elections of 2002 proved to be a relief for India. The significant voter turnout in the assembly elections of 2002 – termed as ”free and fair” – helped India gain some legitimacy in the world community, which criticized it for different forms of human rights violations in Kashmir. The period from 2003 to 2008 emerged as remarkable in the entire history of India-Pakistan relations. A composite dialogue dealing with all issues, including the Kashmir issue, was started. In addition, a back-channel talk on Kashmir was also started. Considerable progress was achieved regarding a number of disputes, particularly Kashmir, in the peace process before it got derailed in 2008.
Since 2008, the Kashmir Valley witnessed repeated bouts of summer uprisings. However, from July 2016, the protests are showing no signs of abating. The political leadership in New Delhi has not shown any initiative for dialogue with stakeholders as of now. Instead, New Delhi has heavily relied on coercive measures, which have further pushed the situation into an abyss. In a recently held by-election in Srinagar constituency, minimal percentage of voting was recorded. Moreover, on the day of the election, eight civilians were killed and also a civilian was used as human shield by the Indian army which led to an uproar against the army’s atrocities across the Valley.
The degree of control that India gained over the valley since 2002 is steeply declining. Max Weber’s idea of modern state as a human community, which has a monopoly over legitimate use of violence in a given territory, does not hold in South Kashmir. The state authorities possess only a modicum of control over these areas and it is actually the militants who are in control of South Kashmir. While the entire valley witnessed breakdown of political order, the trend in South Kashmir is much beyond danger. The militant groups particularly in the districts of Kulgam and Pulwama are quite active and are openly exercising their control. Militants belonging not only to the Hizbul Mujahideen but also Lashkar-e-Taiba have shown their presence. In a more organized form, militants offer salute to slain militants at their funerals through gunshots.
In the last two weeks, the militants attacked the Jammu and Kashmir police force. In two such attacks, eight policemen were killed. These incidents have instilled a deep fear among the local policemen, who consider it better to avoid wearing police uniforms. Some local policemen also drape themselves in Pheran (local gown) in order to conceal their uniforms.
Why do militants attack local Policemen?
There is a belief that the policemen are involved in various atrocities and civilian killings and such activities have made them the centre of this guerilla strategy. Moreover, it is also believed that the militants are in need of arms and the policemen become soft targets for weapon snatching. The Kulgam attack, where militants of Hizbul Mujahideen killed six policemen, has led to debates on social networking sites about the righteousness of the militants’ strategy of attacking and killing policemen. Few argue that there is nothing wrong in targeting policemen as they are genuine combatants, who actively participate in the operation of neutralizing militants. However, some Kashmiris do not embrace this militant strategy. The complexity gets multiplied by the fact that the fear has not only gripped the policemen but also their families, who live in mortal fear that their sons, husbands, brothers might become a target of militants.
There is a deep rage among the common people regarding the police force. People belonging to transport sector, fruit vendors, shop keepers, and others undergo regular harassment by the police force. The police also used unnecessary force against girls in the recent protests, which saw wider participation of women. The Police harassment is creating an unending cycle of violence which takes different forms. Often, the police harassment pushes youth to join militancy which has also been the case of popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The chasm is getting deeper and bigger. New Delhi must immediately begin a serious political dialogue involving all the necessary stakeholders and simultaneously issue orders to both the Army and the police forces to stop troubling locals associated with all walks of life.
Muneeb Yousuf is a Research Scholar at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi.
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