On Monday 29 August, the longest ever 52-day curfew was partially lifted in Kashmir valley, barring the still volatile town of Pampore in South Kashmir and some parts of Srinagar. Although restrictions remain on unlawful gathering of 10 or more persons, under Section 144 of the CrPC.
The relief from curfew being lifted was, however, short-lived as violence broke out once again in certain areas of Srinagar, Bandipora, Anantnag, Budgam and Shopian districts.
Unfortunately, protestors were back on the streets pelting stones at security forces who responded with teargas shells. While some people came out of their homes to buy essential food, vegetables and daily requirements, most shops and business establishments remained closed.
Movement of vehicles on Monday was limited but that was understandable given that petrol pumps remained shut, as were banks and educational institutions.
Opportunity for normalcy or return to violence?
This long spell of violence was triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani on 8 July, the self-styled commander of Hizbul Mujahideen a terrorist outfit active in the state.
The resulting violence has since claimed 70 lives with over 10,000 injured. Repeated acts of stone pelting and violent demonstrations against police and paramilitary forces seemed to continue unabated.
It was hoped that the break in curfew would be seen by locals as an opportunity to break the cycle of violence and move towards normalcy, but yesterday’s return to stone pelting only resulted in curfew being re-imposed in affected areas.
So why have people not taken up the opportunity for peace?
In private conversations, several protestors of all ages have revealed that they believe that this momentum to push for their agenda for greater autonomy must not be lost and therefore, children of all ages are voluntarily joining the stone pelting.
The central government has been parroting the line that only 5% of the state’s population is out on the streets agitating. This is only partially true. The agitation has mass support, even if most people are not on the streets, it is their support that is fueling the youngsters to take to the streets in greater numbers.
The price is being paid by local people since all business activity is at a standstill. All businesses have suffered major financial loss since curfew was imposed in July. The state depends heavily on tourism for direct and indirect employment, and with domestic and international tourists keeping away, the entire tourism sector has come to a standstill.
In this scenario, the resumption of violence on Monday is indeed disappointing for various interlocutors who have been working hard in seeking a practical solution to the present crisis.
The problem lies in complete absence of confidence in the political system in offering a sincere solution that may be acceptable to all stakeholders. Over the years, there have been several farcical attempts at finding a solution but each time peace is restored, New Delhi develops cold feet in offering a solution that appears too politically risky.
In 2008 and in 2010, the nature of protests were similar and the arguments and counter arguments for its justification were also similar. Every time the central government has tried to make a positive move towards finding an acceptable solution, it has been scuttled by hardline voices within the central and state governments.
While the same lies true for protestors as well. Every time people sought to sit down with the centre for serious talks, the hardline elements amongst them prevailed thus preventing them from proceeding any further.
The Pakistan factor
While Pakistan has had its share in stoking agitations in J&K, merely putting all blame on Pakistan hasn’t helped solve the situation either.
Although the Indian government has been raising Pakistan’s involvement in various international forums for its role in funding and supporting terrorist activities in the state, it has failed to get the international community to act against Pakistan, beyond the usual lip service.
The US too, committed to its own agenda in Afghanistan, has been soft pedaling against taking a hard line against the rogue state, leading Pakistan to get bolder, and now, more vocal in its support for the agitation on the Indian side of Kashmir valley.
Will the present political initiative launched by the centre deliver results?
Desperate to see an end to the present violence, the centre has dispatched Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to meet with all stakeholders in the valley. In addition, the centre is in the process of replacing the state Governor Shri NN Vohra, indicating that it is willing to take an alternate view on the state.
In an effort to offer support to refugees from POK who have settled in the state, the centre has announced a special package of Rs 2,000 crore.
The Hurriyat has been pushing for the centre to include Pakistan in talks, while ignoring the fact that people of Ladakh, Jammu and other tribes which include Gujjars and Bakarwals, have not been part of any agitation and are opposed to any separatist agenda by the minority in the valley.
In the latest round, Rajnath Singh is due to leave with an all-party delegation to meet with various sections, including the separatists and agitators in the valley. However, the centre has made it clear that the violence must end for any meaningful talks to take place. For now, including Pakistan in any such parleys is completely ruled out, as India has upped the ante on agitations in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan, on the Pakistani side.
Ever since the agitation which began in July, the state has been suffering massive financial losses, and unless people themselves see the fruitlessness of the agitation, any hope of a permanent and satisfactory solution will remain a mirage. Let’s hope that the talks this time will result in an outcome that will be acceptable to all stakeholders.