In the crosshairs, civilians and Kashmiri harmony

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As an aggravated tragedy, there must be a range of actions as solutions – from security to justice to reconciliation

In the past two weeks, more than 11 civilians and nine army soldiers have been killed by militants in the Kashmir Valley. Most of the civilians targeted were Hindus, but there were also Muslims, and a Sikh. Hindus killed include Kashmiri pundits and migrant workers.

Wave of fear, insecurity

The immediate reaction to the killings was a robbery of pundits who had returned to the valley as part of the Prime Minister’s 2006 Migrant Return and Rehabilitation Program, which provided jobs in the valley to pundit teachers. Pandit organizations say up to a third of returnees have left; even those of the 800 families who remained during the years of insurgency began to leave. Although Kashmir’s political parties and civil society, as well as Lt. Gov. Manoj Sinha’s administration, have pleaded with them to stay, their calls are not convincing given the very real insecurity created by the killings.

Read also: States warned against “aggressive” infiltration of terrorists along the Afghan border

Equally dire is the plight of migrant workers. Most try to leave the valley and return to their country of origin. The administration has ordered that those who cannot return immediately be accommodated in police stations and guarded camps. In other words, like refugees. It remains to be seen whether they will then be helped to return home; they probably will.

These two groups are not the only ones who want to flee. A new wave of fear has gripped the valley, with most residents fearing that they will be caught between the militants and the administration. More than 700 people have reportedly been taken into police custody on suspicion of supporting activism. Meanwhile, according to intelligence agencies, potential militant targets include religious leaders, panché and the media.

It was widely expected that Pakistani armed groups would embolden themselves to relaunch cross-border infiltration after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Now, it appears their strategy is repeating elements of the 1990s insurgency. As happened then, the insurgency was foreshadowed by attacks on pandits who were viewed by Islamist militants as a weapon of the ‘India because they were Hindus, and Muslims who worked in state administration or central Indian agencies such as Doordarshan.

Attacks and goal

The attacks were aimed at both communitizing the valley and crippling its administration, and over time managed to do so, albeit partially. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ceasefire negotiations with cross-border armed groups in 2000 were shattered by the murder of more than 100 Bihari workers, but the years of peacebuilding that followed, from 2002 to 2014, restored much of the administration and created conditions for the return of pandits – unfortunately at a much too gradual pace – and migrant labor.

Read also: 3 heavily armed militants killed near LoC in Uri: Army

The question of whether cross-border and local militant groups succeed in re-communitizing the Valley is debatable. It all depends on the policy that the administration of the Union adopts in response.

These are two very distinct issues: one, reassuring the minorities of Kashmir as well as the general public of the Valley; second, an overhaul of the counterinsurgency strategy, including its cross-border tentacles.

A little comfort

Encouragingly, every opinion group in Kashmir has condemned the killings. Mosques have broadcast their criticisms. Kashmiri political parties have expressed opposition to such activism, as have political leaders, notably the Hurriyat and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Civil society groups issued protest statements. Local community leaders and neighbors visited Pandit homes to offer help and support. This ground level wave can provide a solid foundation for reassurance, if encouraged.

Encouragement can begin with the lieutenant governor. So far, Mr. Sinha’s administration does not appear to have consulted either the Kashmiri Pandit organizations or the various groups that condemned the killings, on which steps can be taken to restore some degree of confidence. This is surprising, given that these groups, taken together, constitute a formidable cross-section of public opinion, and with their support, activism can once again be socially marginalized, as it was during the years of consolidation. peace.

From the information available, it appears that most of the recent killings of civilians have been carried out by what the military calls “hybrid militants”, as they are recruited and trained locally, have regular jobs and are activists. part-time using basic weapons such as field pistols. The implications are that the field of activism has become more dispersed, with wider public support, despite the successes of the counterinsurgency in degrading large armed groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohamed. In this context, any opportunity to marginalize activism is vital.

Setback for the pundits of Kashmir

Many have started to wonder if the Kashmiri pundits will ever be able to return to the valley, as the Narendra Modi administration had promised in August 2019. There is no doubt that the recent killings of civilians have significantly compromised the prospects of return. It is also true that Kashmiri Pandit organizations have increasingly complained of administrative negligence regarding returns over the past year. A recurring point made by some of them is that the administration, while focusing on returns, must simultaneously pay attention to securing the Pandit families who never left. Their condition worsened as their numbers declined; although less covered by the media, the same issue has started to affect the Sikh minority as well, whose numbers have declined over the past decade.

The Kashmiri Pandit tragedy has been going on for 30 years now, and like all worsened tragedies, it takes a range of actions, from security to justice to reconciliation. Starting with security, which is the first requirement to allow justice and reconciliation to follow, it is a mistake to imagine that closed enclaves alone will provide it, or even that reinforced counterinsurgency operations will minimize the risk. . Each measure is useful if accompanied by community support, but neither is it a solution to the security dilemma in itself. Of course, targeted assassinations will not stop until the insurgency ceases. But peacemaking combined with counterinsurgency has been shown to be more effective in ending insurgency in democratic countries than counterinsurgency alone, in our own experience as well as around the world. So far, the administration of the Union has not presented any olive branch; on the contrary, its implementation of the August 2019 rulings added one cause of resentment after another, the latest being the multiple use of section 311 (2) to dismiss officials without an investigation or hearing. A policy of reclaiming the Pandit’s property that had not been thought out did not help either; apparently this is now fixed.

Both political science and sociology tell us that a precarious majority is unlikely to protect vulnerable minorities; he is focused on his own survival. The arrest of more than 700 people following the recent killings of civilians has added to the feeling of insecurity among the majority, as it raises questions about why the police intelligence services have not restricted the field of suspects like this should definitely be required professionally.

Approach in Pakistan

Narendra Modi’s administration appears to have recently taken a multi-pronged approach with Pakistan, starting with a ceasefire and extending to an invitation to the Pakistani national security adviser for a regional meeting on Afghanistan, while giving the army carte blanche in cross-border operations. infiltration. Why then does he not take a similar multi-pronged approach in the Valley, where civil and human rights remain severely restricted and the administration lacks the transparency that oversight and grievance commissions offered? Without general civil and human rights, how can the rights of minorities be protected or the returns of minorities encouraged?

Radha Kumar is a writer and political analyst


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