Know Your Enemy
5 reasons Kashmir won’t see peace in this lifetime. Or next
A 'complex issue' has over time fermented into a handy ticket to postpone any specific conversation about the Valley.
- Total Shares
It has been imperative several times in the past that we cut the bullshit on Kashmir.
As swarms of people spilled out of their houses in solidarity with dead militant Burhan Wani, you’re probably exhausted from the clucking, academic head-shaking and rueful refrains about what a complex issue Kashmir is.
If you’ve got Kashmiri friends or colleagues, you’re probably waiting for one of them to sigh and tell you that you don’t understand the Kashmir issue.
I’ve travelled extensively in the state, reported from there in peace and conflict, met hundreds of Kashmiris over the years and heard their stories. But I don’t profess to know Kashmir well at all.
I do, however, believe that a "complex issue" has over time fermented into a handy ticket to postpone any specific conversation about what truly keeps Kashmir never very far from blood.
It’s easy to be swept by the raging emotions that times like these evoke. But I’m going to try and step away from the chaos that sentiment brings and list here why it is my overpowering belief that you won’t see a peaceful Kashmir in your lifetime, or the next.
I’m going with what I personally believe are the less obvious reasons:
1. The only constituency in Jammu & Kashmir that’s genuinely invested in peace has virtually no say about what happens in the state.
From tour operators to house-boat owners, from taxi drivers to pony-riders, the people who stand most to gain from a peaceful state that welcomes tourists back in, have no say. In tiny hamlets in the hills like Pahalgam and Gulmarg, these communities cling to their tentative insulation from the valley’s tensions with nervous pride, constantly hoping that their fragile existence won’t be drowned out by major eruptions like the one Kashmir is on the threshold of now.
2. Journalists in or reporting about Kashmir have virtually no incentive in a peaceful state.
Kashmir likely has more journalists (including those who report for foreign agencies) than any other Indian state. In a media ecosystem where journalists have no choice but feed off a fraught and tense land, the prospect of a peaceful state is practically a lay off.Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter on July 8, 2016.
The national media, one that I’m part of, is happy to highlight a promising young cricketer from Shopian or that Afzal Guru’s son has topped his examinations, but let’s be clear – if it’s a story about Kashmir, it had better be bleeding. Kashmir is a handy centrepiece for angry debates, filled with assertions, the impact of which aren’t immediately clear to those of us caught in the din.
In a world where journalism is hardly anymore about objectively and simply reporting the passing parade, it is hard to ignore the tremendous void to reportage as we know it, if Kashmir were peaceful.
This isn’t for a moment to say that journalists provoke violence or participate in it. But when the impulses are so strong, and the derivatives so clear, there is undoubtedly a subliminal force at play. It’s worth pondering over the impact of the certainty that peace and normalcy kill the story.
3. The Indian Army, which maintains a force of over 200,000 troops in Kashmir, is fed, supplied and maintained by a phenomenally entrenched matrix of contractors, suppliers and agents.
The time-tested economics of so many boots on the ground perfectly feeds the captive profits of a virtual contract mafia that would rather burn than see such a large "customer" force be marched out of the state.
Never underestimate the power of potential losses.
4. An Army that hunts terrorists while labouring to win over the hearts and minds of local communities with major intiatives like Operation Sadbhavna, wields controversial enablers like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, but remains vulnerable to the crosswinds of frequently whimsical central leaderships (paying homage to dead soldiers doesn’t count) and local governments that are at best grudgingly tolerant.
At worst, they’re wholly suspicious and happy to aggravate local passions about the army.
Even a force as professional and well trained as the army is poised for errors of judgment and overreactions in an atmosphere where its men simply cannot count on the executive leadership having their backs. Those invested in tensions like nothing more than an army that’s even a fraction unsure of what to do next.
5. The local political class in Jammu & Kashmir remains entirely invested in a troubled state.
Beyond largely nebulous rhetoric about the aspirations of Kashmiri people and cookie-cutter comments during tensions, Kashmir’s major politicians haven’t so much failed to develop peace as an aspirational commodity as much as actively mute the very prospect of it.
Political rhetoric offers token obeisance to the idea of peace. It plays far more, and far more consistently, on the already rampaging emotions of the people.
Senior, seasoned politicians have, by ommission or commission, helped inflate the stature of separatist busy-bodies like Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and terrorists like Yasin Malik.
A mixture of total disconnection from the people and the systematically arrogant assumption that the political class has the pulse of communities has allowed vested interests to place a vice like grip over inflaming young Kashmiris whole generations at a time.
It may be a terrifying prospect to think of solutions to a complex issue. Even more when those issues perhaps aren’t actually that complex at all.