Nature has bestowed Kashmir with abundant beauty but sadly, India’s very own Switzerland has been subject to widespread violence and unrest since 1947. Since the killing of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani in an encounter by the Indian army , Kashmir has seen violence like never before. Almost year into the death of Burhan Wani, Kashmir has been volatile since, barring two months owing to the effects of demonetisation.
Recently, a video clip surfaced where army personnel carrying Electronic Voting Machines being jeered and kicked at. The personnel in the video showed extreme patience and restraint in face of insults and abuses, well aware of the fact that opening fire would only worsen the situation. The video showcased just a small part of what is really happening in Kashmir. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has gone on record and said that Kashmir will be normalized within a year by any means. Kashmir remains a complex issue and the Government of India must devise a long term plan to end the conflict.
Following are the possible solutions to bring back the Indian state from the brink:-
1. Tourism and Job Opportunities
Jammu and Kashmir has unparalleled beauty and tourism remains the biggest provider to the economy of the state. The recent unrest would only worsen the situation in Kashmir. In 2016, Kashmir had seen about 70-80% occupancy in it’s hotels during the vacation season. The number alarmingly has dropped to just 20% this year, rendering a large section of the youth of Kashmir jobless. The State and the Central Government must work together to restore normalcy in Kashmir to help it’s tourism industry to get back on it’s feet.
Kashmir despite all it’s beauty, lacks a public face to promote it’s tourism. The decision to rope in Amitabh Bachchan to promote Gujarat tourism by then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi proved to be a masterstroke as the state saw three fold increase in footfalls especially Gir forest where the hotels have been overbooked since the past 5 years. Kashmir needs a public face like Akshay Kumar and relentless media presence to promote it’s tourism. Narendra Modi is the most followed leader on Instagram and his social media presence must be utilized to showcase Kashmir’s beauty. When normalcy returns, which will soon, the state and central government should leave no stone unturned to promote it’s tourism industry. A booming tourism industry will not only be a boon to the it’s economy but also provide jobs to thousands of youths who are at the forefront of stone pelting. Foreign Direct Investment in Kashmir’s tourism industry will only aid it’s ailing economy but for that to happen, normalcy has to return in Kashmir.
2. Strike Pakistan’s Achilles Heel
It’s an open secret that Pakistan has a huge role to play in Kashmir’s unrest. Kashmir has been the main issue between India and Pakistan and the Pakistan high commission in Delhi has been treating the Kashmiri separatists like VVIPs. Pakistan understands that it cannot take Kashmir from India – either through war or proxy war. But it needs to keep the Kashmir issue alive in order to divert attention from its domestic problems as well as to nurture anti-India sentiments that give legitimacy to the role its military establishment plays. Pakistan, in fact, is feeling desperate after Modi’s open announcement that India would now raise human rights and atrocity issues in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and Balochistan on international platforms which got good traction among Baloch activists spread across the world. Despite the atrocities meted out to the citizens of Baloch, India understands the limited use of the Baloch card.
Unlike Bangladesh, which had the advantage of a border with India and population, the Baloch on the other hand are merely 3.5 per cent of overall Pakistani ethnicities and limited by their lack of border with India. Even if the entire Baloch in Balochistan rise up against Pakistan, that would amount to only 55% of the population which is ever decreasing due to migration from other provinces. The construction of CPEC through Balochistan will certainly not help it’s cause to gain independence from Pakistan even with assistance from India.
The Baloch issue should be limited to international forums to embarrass Pakistan.
However, ever since the creation of Pakistan, pashtuns which are the second largest ethnic group(16 million) in Pakistan share a fraternal relationship with the pashtuns of Afghanistan which constitute about 12 million of it’s population. Over the years, Pakistan has exploited pashtuns as cannon fodder which is evident from Human Development Index and literacy rates. Refusing to mend ties with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan continues to believe and invest in Taliban projects, and uses the population bordering Afghanistan to bring in a regime change in Kabul, in turn wreaking havoc within Pashtun society.
Kurram, bordering Afghanistan is a region of special strategic importance to the Taliban. In the past, it served as a launchpad for Afghan jihad. The expansion of Haqqanis and LeT will have gruesome consequences for security and stability on both eastern Afghanistan and Pashtun dominated Kurram in Pakistan. Afghanistan has emerged as India’s staunchest ally and with Pakistan facing an existential crisis due to it’s own policies , it will take a willing Narendra Modi to pay back Pakistan in the same coin.
3. Restoration of Kashmiri Pandits
Pakistan has always claimed that “India occupied Kashmir” should be given to Pakistan claiming it’s a Muslim majority state and Pakistan being an islamic country will be able to deal with the state better. Notwithstanding the difficulties it is facing in handling Gilgit-Balochistan, this claim is nothing but laughable in every sense. Kashmiri Pandits are the last remaining Hindu native to the Kashmir valley. Article 370 of Indian constitution, reduced them to cipher and liquidated their population. Under the pretext of economic reforms, their jagirs (properties) were confiscated and distributed among the Muslim peasants. The administration of Shaikh Abdullah adopted malicious and pernicious approach towards the Saraswat Brahmans of Kashmir. They were taunted on one excuse or the other. Hindu temples were desecrated, looted and plundered. While their restoration would be a herculean task and might not find many takers in the liberal media , restoring Kashmiri Pandits in the valley will be synonymous to a breath of fresh air and will lead to migration of a large chunk of population which have no intentions to leave India and won’t be swayed by the jihadi propaganda so wilfully propagated by the separatists and terrorists. It is paramount that such a move should not be seen as an action against any particular community. It should be seen as a response to the certain section of Kashmir that flocked to Burhan Wani’s funeral and are at the forefront during stone pelting and desperately spreading Pakistan’s malicious agenda.
4. The BJP-PDP combine must work together
Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti believes PM Modi will be able to resolve the Kashmir conflict but is hesitant to toe the Centre’s line. While India has refused to talk Kashmir with Pakistan and has vehemently accused Pakistan of orchestrating the conflict in Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti still believes a dialogue with Pakistan is the way forward. Pakistan’s hand in the conflict is not difficult to detect and India has asked Pakistan to rein in anti-India forces, the decision to court Pakistan, Mehbooba Mufti has shot herself in the foot. The biggest problem is that Hindu right-wing controls Jammu and extreme right-wing PDP controls Kashmir.
Such paradoxical approaches to the Kashmir problem have always been obstacles to finding any solution. Successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir and the politicians of the state have always advocated making Pakistan a party to the Kashmir peace process because they believe it appeases a section of voters there, whereas the Indian government has made it clear that Kashmir is an integral part of India and if there is any problem, it is India’s internal matter and will be resolved accordingly.
5. Exposing the separatists
Intifada is arabic for uprising. The Kashmiri intifada is a copycat version of the Palestinian intifada. Unlike the Palestinian intifada which targets Israel over the dispossession of territory, it must be appreciated that India has legal, moral and constitutional tenability in Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947 while the people’s representative, Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah, dodged the Jinnah bullet till the end, opting for secular India over theocratic Pakistan. It’s imperative that the separatists like Yasin Malik, Masrat Alam, Syed Ali Shah Geelani etc are exposed to the people of Kashmir.
During the floods of Kashmir, Yasin Malik was seen throwing away essential supplies provided by the Indian army for the people of Kashmir. The 2014 floods rescue was a watershed moment as the Indian army was praised by one and all. It was no surprise when the Jammu and Kashmir elections were held after the floods over 70% polling was recorded in most of the constituencies.
Despite the popular sentiment, the separatists should not be arrested at present. Any action such like that carries a risk of a full blown civil war which will result in China getting involved. The security agencies in Kashmir have developed a detailed dossier in which they have detailed how the relatives and children of the separatists have been shifted out of India to safe havens. For e.g. grandson of Syed Geelani, Tabush Geelani, earlier used to work with Spicejet as cabin crew and now is comfortably settled in Abu Dhabi, The son of Mohammad Ashraf Ali, alias Ashraf Sehrai, who studied computer engineering, too joined a company in Dubai.
Geelani, who has destroyed the future of so many young people of the valley, has made sure that his future generation is kept out of this so-called fight for freedom. Geelani, because of his perceived hold on the Kashmiri youth, manages to arm-twist the government every now and then, so much so that he spews venom against the same police which provides him all round protection. They are treated like privileged guests, allowed to go to foreign countries whenever they want and yet they leave no chance to fan violence in the valley. Such privileges should be withdrawn immediately. This report alone if widely circulated in the valley would be enough to get parents of the local youth very angry but the Indian state has been slow to circulate it. The separatists used Mosque loudspeakers and pamphlets to spread their propaganda and warn people not to vote in the recently concluded by polls which recorded only 7% polling. Perhaps India should use the same strategy to expose the separatists.
It’s time to cut the hand that feeds the separatists. The government must crackdown on their sources of money and their sources of acquisition of arms. Sealing the border with Pakistan has already begun and it must be sealed on time, if not before, because as long as the borders with Pakistan are not sealed, Kashmir will never be truly safe. Like in the past, the tenacity shown by the security forces will ensure that this too will pass. The cost, as always, will be huge.
Kashmir represents the idea, ideal and idiom of India, and there can be no compromise on this aspect.