Comment

How to win over Kashmiri youth

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has been on the boil since Independence. Several solutions to the problem of militancy have been put forth. Recently, there was a suggestion that de-radicalisation camps should be organised for the youth. Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said that it is a “positive sign” that the people in Kashmir are now saying they will “lynch terrorists”. Before we talk about why a soft touch is required to win over the Kashmiri youth, let us look at the history of radicalisation in Kashmir.

Religion in state craft

The process of using religious overtones in state craft was initiated by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the dictator-President of Pakistan. He stressed that religion should be part of state policy. It is anybody’s guess whether he tried to make Pakistan an Islamic state due to politics or piety or both, but the fact is that the proliferation of Madrasas started during his time and have contributed immensely to the Islamisation and radicalisation of Pakistani youth. This later on spilled over into Kashmir as part of low-intensity conflict operations (LICO).

 

From 1989, insurgents, whose aim was the secession of J&K from India, began to use violent means to achieve their goal. This led to strong counter-insurgency operations. It was the beginning of the dividing line between Kashmiris and the rest of India. The Public Safety Act of 1978 and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 were used to counter militancy. Those were harsh times and warranted harsh rebuttals. Back then, militants were sent to Kashmir from Pakistan; the local youth were not involved in militancy. Hundreds of tanzeems (groups) were created in Pakistan to fight in Afghanistan. Some of these were then deployed in J&K. Pakistani agents moved around recruiting youth to train in Pakistan in the name of Islam and freedom for Kashmir.

From the 1990s, militancy increased and then peaked in J&K. Due to threats from terrorist leaders, many Kashmiri families sent one of their sons to be trained in Pakistan and then to be deployed in Kashmir. Governor’s rule remained in J&K for a long time keeping the democratic process at bay. When the due process of elections was brought back, the same Abdullah family from the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference and the Mufti family from the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party became the leaders.

But these leaders could not gain the full trust of the people. Kashmir began to see home-grown militancy during the 2008 protests due to the State elections and then following the 2010 killing of three infiltrators by the Indian Army. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference called for violent protests which resulted in riots, burning of government vehicles and ‘stone-pelting incidents’.

 

The situation on the ground changed for the worse with the birth of home-grown militancy. There were now twin challenges for the Army, the Central Armed Police Forces and the J&K Police. The first were the terrorists for whom the rules of engagement were different and the second were the Kashmiri youth who formed the bulk of the protestors — Indians for whom all the rules and laws applicable to any Indian citizen apply.

When stone-pelting incidents took a serious and alarming turn, armed personnel responded with pellet guns and other means of riot control. Injuries, especially eye injuries, were a serious fallout of this response. According to the United Nations Report on Children 2021, a total of 39 children (33 boys, six girls) were killed (nine) and maimed (30) by pellet guns (11) and torture (two)...”. The Mufti government announced in January 2018 that 6,221 people had suffered pellet-gun injuries during the unrest in Kashmir after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist, Burhan Wani, in 2016.

Also read | 57 J&K youth joined militancy in PoK after travelling on valid passports, says DGP Singh

Unacceptable suggestions

The suggestion that terrorists must be lynched is not a good idea as a vigilante approach in a democratic country is not acceptable. De-radicalisation camps for the youth have been conducted many times in a different, toned-down manner. In August this year, for instance, the Indian Army announced that it would subsidise undergraduate courses and school education to selected children and youth from J&K and Ladakh in residential schools and professional colleges functioning under the Army Welfare Education Society, as part of Operation Sadbhavana. In August 2018, the J&K Police organised a Bharat Darshan tour to Delhi and Agra for students to “provide them [the] opportunity to understand history and development of other parts of country”. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been organising such programmes since 1999-2000. Till date, 1,539 children from J&K have participated in 55 BSF-sponsored Bharat Darshan tours, according to the Union Home Ministry. The Army has also been assisting in the construction of schools, medical aid, veterinary care and disaster relief. However, these measures have not had the desired effect as most of the youth selected are not from the militancy-prone regions.

Protecting Kashmiris

Kashmiri children in schools and colleges outside the State are often mistreated when any misadventure takes place in J&K. The incidents of violence against minorities, including Muslims, in north India have only worsened their problems. One cannot love Kashmiri Muslims in J&K and hate them elsewhere. The Kashmiri youth feel that they face hostility from the Indian state because of their Muslim identity and so the status quo cannot be effective. The suggestion of de-radicalisation camps for the youth can appear similar to the detention camps run by China for Muslim minorities. This suggestion will be exploited for political gains by the pro-Pakistani elements and further vitiate the atmosphere.

The administration has to provide protection to the Kashmiri youth when they are studying elsewhere in India. It is important for the Kashmiri youth, where ever they are, feel at home. This needs a real professional approach, a soft touch and long-term efforts. Otherwise, generation after generation will continue fighting their own country, India.

Lt. General Naresh Chand (Retd.) is an army veteran of four decades, who served in Kashmir at the height of the militancy in the early nineties


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 8:31:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/how-to-win-over-kashmiri-youth/article37741998.ece

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