For more than a year now there is an intense debate in the Kashmir Valley, whether a sizeable number of educated youth with reasonably good socio-economic status are joining militant ranks in some parts of south and north Kashmir. In various intellectual circles, people are also deliberating an important issue: the new and fearless face of militancy and possibly growing intellectual "radicalisation" in Kashmir.
Does intellectual radicalisation actually exist?
Why are the educated youth from rural Kashmir "crossing the line", though not the one (Line of Control, or LoC) they did in hordes in 1989-90?
On these issues, there is a strong difference of opinion between the Indian Army, paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir Police, and between officials of India’s internal security and soldiers at ground zero.
If one were to believe top police officials, at least 34 young Kashmiri boys from Pulwama, Awantipora, Islamabad (Anantnag) and Kulgam districts of south Kashmir, and Bandipora, Baramulla and Sopore areas of north Kashmir have embraced militancy, from January until June this year. Twenty two boys, out of the 34, are residents of Pulwama, Shopian and Awantipora — all south Kashmir districts.
At ground zero, there is also a growing perception that the new face of militancy is more effective and intelligent than before.
Interestingly, no one has joined the most active gun-wielding groups like Hizbul-Mujahideen (HM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) from Srinagar and the cities of Jammu. Ganderbal, the frontier district of Kupwara, central district of Budgam, Kishtwar, Udhampur and Samba have also drawn a blank in this regard.
Only two months ago, India’s special secretary (internal security) Ashok Prasad, who previously served as the director general of Jammu and Kashmir Police, denied all reports about the possible radicalisation of Kashmiri youth.
“Compared to 1990, there is no such perception in J&K presently. A number of people hoist ISIS (Islamic State) flags all around the world and people hoist same flags here but things are not that way. It can’t be termed as radicalisation of youth, this is not an issue in J&K,” he told the Srinagar-based English daily Rising Kashmir.
Some argue that the reason why small groups of Kashmiri youth raise Pakistani and ISIS flags on a weekly basis in Kashmir is not because of their radicalised ideology or intention of becoming part of the global "jihad", but only a smart strategy to attract the Indian media’s attention, especially of one particular electronic channel which holds hour-long prime time debates just because an ISIS flag in hoisted in some corner of Kashmir. That way, the Kashmir issue gets coverage for free.
Lieutenant general Subrata Saha, general-officer-commanding (GoC) of the Srinagar-based sensitive Army base, 15 Corps, in a recent interview with Rising Kashmir also said categorically that the present situation in the Valley was not comparable to the situation of the early 1990s.
However, Saha also said that local recruitment of militants in 2015 stood at 40, which was more or less at par with the previous year. He said that the Army too had intensified anti-militancy operations accordingly and claimed that the security grid was pretty robust to face all kinds of challenges posed by the new face of militancy.
According to the Army, the total number of active militants in entire Jammu and Kashmir, including the new recruits, is somewhere between 170 and 180.
The immediate question that a common Kashmiri poses after hearing this is: why would India require 600,000 soldiers to fight an "on-the-run" group of 180 militants? Have the huge number of soldiers been stationed in the Kashmir Valley to stop cross-LoC infiltration, fight the 180 gun-wielding youth or control the “hostile Kashmiri population” and suppress its dominant political sentiment and aspiration for the right to self-determination?
All said and done, what could be the five possible reasons behind the new face of militancy and perceived intellectual radicalisation in Kashmir?
1) Choking of democratic space
Student activism stands banned in the University of Kashmir, Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) and Central University of Kashmir (CUK). No debate on Kashmir’s political turmoil or prevailing situation is allowed in these educational institutions. Activities of student organisations like Jammu and Kashmir Students’ Union are completely banned. There is no platform available for catharsis. Opinions on Kashmir’s contemporary polity, having an ideology or political aspiration have been criminalised by the state’s security apparatus. Almost no political rally is allowed.
2) Absence of political engagement
Since former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan and the re-opening of trans-Kashmir Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road and trans-LoC bus service in April 2005 there has been no serious political engagement with Pakistan with respect to Kashmir-centric confidence building measures (CBMs). This impasse and political uncertainty over Kashmir’s political future is further pushing away the Kashmiri youth.
3) Human rights abuse
During any anti-militancy operation, civilian deaths have become a routine. While the Army, police and paramilitary officials say civilian killings at the hands of armed forces in Kashmir are an “aberration”, a common Kashmiri on the street perceives that this so-called aberration has become a norm in a heavily militarised atmosphere.
4) Denial of justice
The draconian Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in force in Kashmir since the mid-1990s. For the last 25 years, the armed forces have been operating in the Himalayan region without any fear of prosecution, as the law grants complete immunity to them. Amnesty International (AI), the London-based global human rights watchdog, in its latest report released on July 1, 2015 in New Delhi held the government of India responsible for encouraging “the climate of impunity” in strife-ridden Jammu and Kashmir, arguing that “impunity is a long-standing problem” and that “the culture of impunity encourages human rights violations to continue”. The 70-page report, “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir” documents the obstacles to justice faced in several cases of human rights violations believed to have been committed by Indian security forces personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. It focuses particularly on Section 7 of the AFSPA, which grants virtual immunity to members of the security forces from prosecution for alleged human rights violations. The AI report said that there was a lack of political will to take action against the guilty Indian armed forces personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. The report further said that people of the restive region did not trust the government and judiciary and attempts were made by the governments to “obstruct justice” in Kashmir.
5) Fear of Hindutva and Ghar Wapsi
Ahead of the 2014 elections for the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the BJP unveiled an overambitious and assertive "Mission 44+" that created fear psychosis among common Kashmiris. The Kashmiris voted in numbers, partly to thwart the BJP’s "mission" as they apprehended that the saffron party could reap dividends from the election boycott. That’s also one of the reasons why the election boycott strategy of pro-freedom Kashmiri groups failed. Consequently, the BJP drew a blank in the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley and Buddhist-Shia Muslim dominated Ladakh region, but won 25 Assembly segments from the Hindu majority Jammu region. As soon as the soft-separatist Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),, which initially contested the elections with a pledge to fight the BJP’s "onslaught", joined hands with the saffron brigade, the PDP’s credibility in Kashmir received a severe jolt. Today, the PDP is perceived as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) facilitator in Kashmir. Many in Kashmir now see it as a battle between the "Hindu India" and "Muslim Kashmir".