Why militancy has failed in Kashmir

Rohit Revo
Rohit RevoApr 27, 2016 | 15:34

Why militancy has failed in Kashmir

Kashmir, which was once declared as one of the most violent zones of the world, has limped back to normalcy with encouraging signs for the future. Even though Kashmir is likely to see a long phase of low level violence, there is elaborate evidence that militancy has failed to establish itself in the Valley. Kashmir today is witnessing hit-and-run militancy along with low intensity daily conflicts which is how it started in the 1990s and clearly, militancy is on the ebb.


Only 20 per cent of the people in Jammu and Kashmir now think militancy will help solve the dispute. India has made the power of the state visible to the insurgents and the grieving population has toned down its cries for azadi. Instead, they provide tacit support to any activity which they think undermines India's prestige. Such activities rarely make a dent in India's credibility or overall image.

Villagers carry the body of Dawood Sheikh, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, during his funeral procession in Kashmir, March 7, 2016.

Even though there is resentment among the local population, there are more channels for expressing discontent today than during the 1980s and 1990s. While the hardline elements in Kashmiri society will continue to act assertively in ways that run counter to Indian interests, the call for maintaining peace is getting stronger.

The situation in Kashmir can be significantly cooled down by the state and Central governments reducing steps which exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions and by improving the stagnant quality of governance. This article analyses the top ten reasons militancy has failed to succeed in Kashmir. Here they are:

1. Kashmir issue affects just six per cent of the Indian population


Internal conflicts are not new to India. Ever since Independence, the country had to deal with aligning over 300 states into an amalgamated structure. While it did this very well initially, it failed miserably in the later years to assuage the feelings of certain subjugated regions and communities.

The Indian government has been fighting dissent in Punjab, Sikkim, Goa, Darjeeling (in West Bengal), Chhattisgarh, Kashmir, apart from running an ongoing battle with the Maoists. These conflicts have been contained politically and sometimes militarily and have given the Indian leadership perhaps a false sense of security that it can solve any internal conflict.

Just as the US Army has been battle-hardened by fighting in multiple conflict zones using specialised warfare tactics, so has been the case with some of the security units which have developed specialised expertise to contain violence in civilian areas.

India's specialised anti-insurgency and pseudo-paramilitary units like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have perfected the art of overcoming resistance and, in fact, some extremists are fearful of fighting these units and follow the path of least resistance, which is to avoid conflict with them.


The Kashmir issue affects just six per cent of the Indian population and is extremely localised. The concerns of the Kashmiri Muslims have failed to find resonance with the Muslim population in rest of India. They are more concerned about the riot-affected Muslim victims in Gujarat or fighting prejudice and discrimination against Muslims in their local cities. The Kashmir issue is not central to the Indian Muslim population at large, which comprises about one-third of the total Muslim population in the world.

Likewise, the concerns of other ethnic groups like the Kashmiri Pandits, have also failed to find resonance with major segments of the Indian population which are more concerned with fighting cross-border terrorism and getting local issues to the forefront.

The Kashmir issue has hardly ever been an election issue in any of the Indian states since the past three decades.

There is thus a silent yearning among both sides of the ethnic divide to go back to the status quo that existed in the Valley before 1989, which needs to be channelised by the current set of politicians.

2. Kashmiri leaders have failed to provide leadership

The moderate Kashmiri leadership has failed to emerge and lacks the vision to espouse the Kashmiri cause. The constant bickering, one-upmanship and a congenital disdain and abuse for anyone seen close to the Indian leadership in New Delhi has cost Kashmiri leaders dearly.

Shabbir Shah failed to emerge as an alternative after having much hope and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has remained a fringe leader who can hardly command respect outside a few pockets. The more mainstream National Conference and Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) have continued the lust for power and have built a well-oiled mechanism for distributing the spoils of office amongst its leaders.

Within any conflict, a moderate leadership needs to emerge that has a vision and eschews violence to achieve its aims. While the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) blew it away in Sri Lanka when it rejected a political solution, hybrid terror organisations like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon have formed local governments and control territory and govern all aspects of the lives of people living there.

The Hurriyat has not shown a collective political will to govern and has failed to take the domestic political initiative.

One leader who has held sway over Kashmiri minds and hearts for a long time is Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Age is not on his side for him to wait for tedious negotiations and he has failed to take a political stand which could lead to a solution.

Adopting a hardcore, extremist and Pakistan-centric approach has increased his popularity in the Valley but a long-term solution for Kashmir needs someone to be flexible and open-minded in the give and take negotiations. Having been jailed for over 18 years in his 88 years, it would be fair to say the Indian government has run out of options to keep him in jail.

Having spent so much of his life in jail, Geelani could have been in the same league as a Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela but his love for Pakistan has made him unacceptable to anyone outside the Valley. Even the liberal Indian brigade has refused to sing laurels for him or give him credit. It is a similar story with the other leaders of the Hurriyat conference, who appear to be more interested in promoting their image in international conferences rather than solving the Kashmir issue.

Sheikh Abdullah had faced a similar dilemma in his earlier years but took the bull by its horns by convincing his party to change its name from Muslim League to National Conference on June 11, 1939. This decision paid big political dividends to the party and also to Kashmir.

Born in an extremely poor ans uneducated family, Sheikh Abdullah set out to pursue Masters but failed to get a government job as a teacher which ultimately led him to pursue politics. His grip on the mindset of the people of Kashmir was too strong, which lasted around 50 years. Not many people are aware but the first calls for opposition to a plebiscite in Kashmir came from Sheikh Abdullah. Kashmir has not been able to find a leader of Sheikh Abdullah's stature and current day Kashmiri leaders lack his political acumen.

3. The rise of a decadent society

The authority of the Indian government decreased after 1989 for some years but since the past decade, India has regained most of the lost ground. The elected state governments since the past decade have helped the spread of all arms of the Indian government.

With the increasing authority and spread of Indian government resources, the ability of terrorists to strike has been eroded and jihadi propaganda has lost its punch. The lure of a secure government job has eclipsed the lure of jumping across the border and pick up the gun.

An individual terrorist may not need any money as his needs are taken care of, but his immediate family needs regular finances. With the drying up of finances, non-state actors in Pakistan have now been relegated to using drug money to finance terrorism, a model straight out of Afghanistan.

While this provides easy money to fund terrorism, it opens these groups to more scrutiny. These groups now need to have more foot soldiers and salesmen on the ground and they face the wrath of community elders. For any nation, including India, fighting narco-terrorism is much preferable to fighting pure ideology-driven terrorism.

The drug money injection has led to more drug usage by the local youth, who driven by incessant low intensity conflict have resorted to drugs and suicide. Estimates by various NGOs put the number of drug addicts in Kashmir anywhere between 70,000 to 200,000.

Most of these fall in the age group of 15-35 years. More than one-fourth of the addicts are believed to be females and a large proportion from rural backgrounds. Cultivation of drug crops in Kashmir has increased significantly and terms like Benzodiazepine, Corex, Alprax, cannabis (charas), opium, brown sugar and alcohol addiction are now firmly placed in the local Kashmiri lexicon.

Despite Islam strongly condemning suicide, suicides have increased from 0.5 per 100,000 people in 1989 to 20 per 100,000 in 2007. There is an extreme shortage of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists which is compounding the problem.

The long-lasting social impacts of violence on health and education are now more visible than ever before and the local population now understands the collateral damage that senseless violence brings to any society.

4. Kashmir's next generation wants to fight the war on social media

Having seen their older generation perishing in their pursuit of terrorism, the youth want to achieve the same outcomes as wished for by the older generation, but with peaceful means. The Twitter revolution which triggered the Arab Spring revolts across the Middle-East now finds more resonance in Kashmir, and people think better off moving across the mountains to Pakistan to undergo training and join jihadi forces.

The disillusioned Kashmiri youth now want to fight its war on social media rather than adopt guerrilla warfare. There are some Kashmiri groups on Twitter with a sizeable following which vacillate between arguing for total independence for Kashmir, liking anything that Pakistan does and expressing disdain for all Indian efforts. The more this segment grows, the less attractive will it become for the youth to cross the border, and into Pakistan for arms-training. Social media has opened new channels for Kashmiris to express their feelings of discontent and dissent.

There is a new trend in Kashmir as tech-savvy militants use social media to propagate their ideology and attempt to sway minds. The more the terrorists use social media, the more footprints they leave, which makes it easier to track them.

Photo-friendly terrorists rarely have a long lifespan. There has been a recent trend of youngsters posing as militants with stolen weapons on social media. While this causes panic and tries to raise the profile of these individuals in the propaganda war, it should be remembered that terrorists posting their pictures on Facebook have a very short life. Their short-term bravado will cause them harm in the long-run as authorities can easily trace their coordinates.

The generation born after the 1990s does not understand the old Kashmiriyat ethos and doesn't carry the emotional baggage which bothers the elders. The conflict while relegating the extremist, uneducated and unemployed local youth to stone-throwing and shutdowns, has opened new vistas and offered unprecedented access to new ideas for the educated youth.

A large number of Kashmiris have now found their voice in international research papers, news magazines, popular movie story ideas and are driving the national and international corporate houses in ways never seen before.

The Kashmiri diaspora, businessmen, professionals also called the "middle range actors" have grown by leaps and bounds not only in terms of numbers but also intellectually. This thriving segment of Kashmiris wants an immediate de-escalation of the violence and the young generation of Kashmir looks up to these people for inspiration.

The border in Jammu and Kashmir did not have surveillance initially and, technology-enabled surveillance has now changed the game. There has been a significant reduction in foot soldiers wanting to travel to Pakistan for warfare training and a significant decline in supply of weapons.

The three-tier electric fencing introduced at the international border between India and Pakistan has also been a significant deterrent.

5. World sees Kashmir as a border dispute between India and Pakistan and not an ethnic terror conflict

Pakistan's involvement has compromised the rights of local Kashmiris as Kashmir is no longer seen as a domestic struggle. During the height of the conflict, gullible elements of the Kashmiri population were made to believe that Pakistan would attack India and help liberate Kashmir.

Pakistan let down the Kashmiri people by not attacking India during the peak of militancy in 1989. There is acknowledgement now even within radical elements of the Pakistani Army that the worst they could do to India was the Kargil conflict. The Pakistan Army invaded India in 1948 by sending its henchmen into Kashmir and not informing the head of the state Muhammad Ali Jinnah at that time and repeated the modus operandi again during 1999 Kargil War by not informing the then Pakistani head of state Nawaz Sharif.

Indian economy will be 16 times the size of Pakistan's economy by 2030 leaving Pakistan with no hope to wage an armed assault against India. The Kashmiris have realised that Pakistan can never achieve a military victory in any conflict with India and that it has its own problems to solve and its Army will not be able to provide the same level of support as it did during the 1990s.

Kashmir is now a border dispute and not an internal conflict. This will be debated ad nauseum with no resolution as borders in current times are hard lines and hardly change. There are now more than 150 disputes under way that involve territory, mostly in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific region, but also in Europe and the Americas.

In international fora, border disputes are regarded as trivial as compared to the other contemporary challenges facing nation states. There is likely to be pressure on the Indian and Pakistani side to recognise the de facto border separating India and Pakistan as the international border. Pakistan has already started to amalgamate the Kashmiri provinces on its side and this will significantly dilute the demands of some Kashmiris for their own homeland.

Kashmir no longer remains the world's most dangerous place and is hardly the highest on the priority list of the US in its relations with New Delhi or Islamabad.

6. Rise of Indian soft power

The explosive growth of Indian TV serials and Bollywood outside India, coupled with India's success in IT, space and medicine has catapulted the image of Indians to a new high in the minds of people living outside India.

The acrimonious debates Indians have on live TV have played on the minds of those who oppose India and in turn given active voice to the passive concerns of the downtrodden and those who feel neglected in India. It serves as a poignant reminder that Indian democracy has not provided adequate inclusive growth for some of its 2,000 ethnic groups and these groups are just not in Kashmir but also in other parts of India.

Indian soft power has permeated the bowels of the Valley and overthrown Pakistani propaganda and the demonstration of India's pluralistic society is on display at all times. It has played a great role in forming public awareness and shaping public attitudes in Kashmir.

Increased drug usage, establishment of sex trade, increase in divorces and marriages outside the community are just some of the visible symptoms of the effects of Indian TV serials on the minds of the Kashmiri people. The grip of the extremist militant ideology on the minds of Kashmiri people is on a great decline.

7. Kashmiri terrorists have failed to declare a caliphate or hold any territory

Global jihadis like al Qaeda, Boko Haram and Islamic State (ISIS) are capturing territory and holding on to the territory despite advances by Western nations. Holding a territory gives immense gains to terror networks as they can run their operations with immunity and also raise local income.

Kashmiri terrorists never had an address, except the shanties in Pakistan controlled by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa terror organisations. This has sealed opportunities for outside jihadis to join terrorists in Kashmir and also dented operational capabilities of terror networks.

During the early 1990s, which saw the collapse of the Indian bureaucracy in Kashmir, a militant area commander would exercise control over a certain jurisdiction but now the bureaucrat from civil services, the district collector, is back in control.

Armed militants no longer operate with ease and are relegated to rural areas and the mountains. Their hideouts are exposed and they constantly need to shift bases. Jammu and Kashmir Police is looking much more galvanised than in the past and their actions have helped in eliminating terrorists.

The lower level of the Jammu and Kashmir Police is energised and is confronting terrorists in an effective manner. Security forces were unfamiliar with the Kashmiri territory during the initial years but technological advances have helped them map the topography well. Most of the rural militants now have only a handful of supporters (less than 20) which makes it easier to eliminate them.

Al-Badr Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Ansar... the list of terror networks in Kashmir keeps growing and reflects the deviance of ideology and lack of coordination amongst them, thereby exposing them to the authorities.

It is extremely difficult for any newbie jihadi to procure a gun in 2016 than it was in 1990. This has resulted in a spike in gun-snatching incidents in which chili powder is being sprayed to immobilise the armed person. This is a significant climb down for the militants from the earlier times when they used to fight face-to-face. As the local policemen starting to strap their guns to their bodies, this trick will soon die down.

There is limited ungoverned space left for terrorists to operate in the state.

8. Kashmiri terrorists have failed to perform spectacular acts of terror

While there have been significant killings in Kashmir over a period of time, there have hardly been any major terror incidents there which are in the same league as other international terror plots like 9/11 attacks in the US, Madrid train bombings in 2004 and Mumbai blasts in 1993.

Mercenaries inside Kashmir have not been able to stage any major and spectacular acts of terror either inside Kashmir or outside. There has been no siege of any major hotels or shopping malls like the Taj Hotel siege in Mumbai or the Westgate shopping mall siege in Kenya.

In spite of the long-drawn-out militancy, they have never been able to bring down any major Army infrastructure and there have been no attacks on Army helicopters. Civilian aircrafts continue to operate with ease in the region. The last hijacking was on the Srinagar-Jammu-Delhi flight on January 20, 1971.

The terrorists in Kashmir have laid ambushes and sieges like the Charar-e-Sharif episode in 1995, in which the 600-year-old tomb of Sufi saint Sheikh Noorudin Wali was held up by 30 militants for up to two months, who then burned the structure to escape, resulting in damage to over 200 homes and local businesses.

The Hazratbal shrine was taken over by 40 militants in October 1993 for 15 days and eventually the government allowed safe passage to the militants. The loss of life in these cases was minimal and can in no way be compared to big terror attacks like the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 or the 2002 Akshardham temple attack.

In the 2010 Lal Chowk attack in Srinagar, heavily-armed terrorists took positions in a hotel after lobbing grenades and shooting at security forces and continued an armed encounter for just 22 hours before fizzling out. Fidayeen (suicide) attacks in Kashmir are non-existent currently and past attacks are in no way comparable to the scale of suicide attacks launched by militants in Iraq, Afghanistan or Israel.

There have been no beheadings by Kashmiri militants as displayed by the ISIS. There have been no mass casualties and ISIS/Taliban-type violence. Mass casualties in Kashmir like the 1998 Wandhama village massacre in which 23 Kashmiri Pandits were killed or the 2000 Chittisinghpura massacre in which 36 Sikhs were shot dead are still small in comparison to the modern day terror attacks by the ISIS and Al Qaeda.

The calibre of Kashmiri terrorists to organise terror plots is extremely basic when compared to other global terror organisations and networks. Kashmiri terrorists appear to be apprentices when compared to global terrorists within the ISIS and al Qaeda.

Unlike the abduction of 400 school girls by the Boko Haram and other high profile international kidnappings, there have been very few kidnappings in Kashmir. The prominent ones are the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping in 1989 which ended up in prisoner swap, the killing of six international tourists in 1995 and the killing of Kashmir University V-C Mashir-ul-Haq and HMT general manager HL Khera in 1990.

Kidnappings have been out of bounds for Kashmiri militants ever since. It is fair to say that militants have run short of soft targets.

9. Kashmiri terrorists have failed to emerge as transnational terrorists

The links of Kashmiri terrorists with global terror organisations like al Qaeda and ISIS have remained tenuous and vague. At the height of the conflict during the early 1990s when the Al Qaeda had aligned with Taliban and was in control of Afghanistan, there was limited cooperation.

Therefore, the common population of Kashmir has become so weary with extremism that while young Muslims of the world are attracted to the ISIS, there is hardly any mainstream support for the ISIS cause in Kashmir, except a few individuals raising the black ISIS flag during demonstrations.

The majority of the big terrorist attacks in India have happened outside Kashmir by non-Kashmiri, Pakistan-based militants. Kashmiri militants have never been favourites of any international Islamic terror organisation which prefers other militants from other countries for recruitment.

Friction between internally-focussed Kashmiri jihadis and transnational jihadis has resulted in rifts and infighting among the members of these groups, and has made the liquidation of many hardcore terrorists in Kashmir easy. Fatigue and disillusionment has set in the Kashmiri population to join terrorists, and Pakistan-based non-state actors have failed to supplement the terror recruitment supply line as supply has dried up.

Instead of 30,000 to 40,000 militants stationed in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and other parts of Pakistan, there are just 3,000 to 4,000 militants according to some estimates.

Most of the hardcore militants have migrated to find transnational and bigger enemies and conflicts to wage their jihad. Sources of money have dried up with money from the Gulf filling up the pockets of those fighting Israel in Gaza and Lebanon and mercenaries waging a fight against the US.

10. Former Kashmiri militants and hardcore jihadi sympathisers have adopted a remarkably low profile

Militants have lost the high moral ground they claimed for their actions and have thus lost significant moral and logistical support from the local population. The plight of distraught families affected by the loss of their children who took to terrorism has been played out many times in public.

With no insurance and regular payments, these families are facing financial ruin. Some of the former militants have been rehabilitated and have found alternate professions, including politics. People will soon realise that terrorists and militants are no heroic characters but dangerous criminals.

The conflict in Kashmir has enabled people to settle old rivalries and advance personal interests using the cover of militancy and has created a new generation of unscrupulous criminal elements. The excuse for killing another rival was not always on religious grounds but to settle personal and family feuds.

Attacks on security forces were tolerated to a certain extent as long as they fit the political agenda, but once the attacks were against the local people and local businesses, they lost popular support.

The recent feats of the Jammu and Kashmir Police in counter-insurgency have contributed to containing the militants to a large extent. Their community involvement and ground intelligence is much better than that of paramilitary forces, which has caused a significant reduction in secessionist attitudes.

The Jammu and Kashmir government's controversial rehabilitation policy for former militants who crossed over to Pakistan has been very encouraging and has found many takers. Many of them have taken up employment and have adopted a low profile to stay away from trouble.

The trouble of crossing the border and the fascination of guns has worn off as local militants are full of stories of their exploitation in training camps inside Pakistani territory.

Last updated: April 27, 2016 | 15:38
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