May 11, 2018 (DESPARDES Report) — New Delhi has asked its security forces deployed in Indian-held Kashmir to focus on arrest of militants, rather than elimination (search-and-kill operations) — the death toll has mounted from a low of 117 fatalities in 2012 to 358 in 2017, and 132 so far this year.
A senior government official told Indian daily The Hindu that according to an assessment by the Central agencies, the emotional upsurge at funerals of militants killed in encounters was inspiring further support for armed resistance to Indian occupation of the Valley.
What happened in Shopian district in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir on the first Sunday in May was a stinging example: hundreds of villagers had gathered at the scene to try to protect 11 militants who had been ‘searched-and-encountered’. During the incident and in subsequent protests, police gunfire killed six more people, all civilians. Dozens more were hospitalized, many with shotgun pellets lodged in their eyes. More than 1,250 people have been treated for similar eye injuries over the past two years.
The Shopian “martyrs” all turned out to be local Kashmiris and not, as has often been the case in the past, “infiltrators” from Pakistan. Tens of thousands thronged their funerals. One viral video showed a woman, said to be one of the militant’s mother, standing on a rooftop before a chanting crowd and firing an automatic rifle in a gesture of defiance. It emerged, too, that one of the slain militants had been a popular teacher of sociology at the University of Kashmir. He had earned his doctorate only in November, and had joined the militatns just two days before his death. As inexorably as Indian security forces are hunting down militants, Kashmiris concluded, new recruits are joining them.
Modi’s government is therefore set to roll out a calibrated policy for the occupied Himalayan valley, with security forces asked to “arrest” newly recruited members and go after the hardened ones. The police, the Army and the CRPF are being asked to ensure that militants surrender during encounters.
Observers say that in the absence of any political initiative from Delhi to respond to Kashmiris’ concerns– they seek self-determination, the heavy-handed efforts of half a million soldiers to crush the protesting youths and militants are compounding a growing sense of alienation.
The Indian military chief recently revealed that more than 500,000 troops have been deployed in the occupied Kashmir to wrestle the situation. The victories against militants in Kashmir are largely pyrrhic though, as Indian army’s tactics only serve to alienate ordinary Kashmiris, The Economist recently wrote.
Gen Bipin Rawat has admitted that the encounter of Hizb commander, Burhan Wani in summer of 2017 incited people after which ‘everything was turned upside down in a few days’ time’ in the occupied Valley, whose 7m people are nearly all Kashmiri-speaking Muslims.
Announcing that he was ready to suspend military operations to avoid civilian casualties, the top Indian general wondered who will guarantee that there won’t be fire at his men in uniform and their vehicles.
Gen Bipin Rawat said there is no military solution to the Kashmir issue, urging politicians and political representatives to talk to people, especially in south Kashmir– its four districts bear the brunt of what is called “operation all-out”.
“But they are scared that they will be attacked. It will happen once there is calm. And we are hopeful that people will soon realize that all this is futile and start thinking differently,” he said.
Rawat’s statement implied that neither the forces of the state are capable of suppressing militancy, nor could militancy be expected to overcome state forces.
Since the independence of India and Pakistan from British colonial rule in 1947 called its fate into question, Kashmir remains disputed to date– an unfinished agenda of partition– Pakistan calls Kashmir its jugular vein. The two neighbors have gone to war thrice on the dispute. In the process, Kashmiris have been hostage to relations between the two.
In its focus on the bigger picture, India has often flouted the Kashmir issue and Kashmiri concerns. This trend has grown harsher since the BJP took power in 2014, vowing to end “appeasement” of Indian Muslims and to get tough on Pakistan.
Such a masculine militaristic approach by Modi as means of suppressing dissent in occupied Kashmir and resolving the dispute with Pakistan could remain a state investment with no returns.
As Mohammed Ayoob, an Indian-American political scientist, recently lamented in the Hindu, “If the political elites had the sagacity to solve or at least manage the problem ‘in’ Kashmir, the problem ‘of’ Kashmir would have lost its salience over time. Unfortunately, they did exactly the reverse.”
A geopolitical dividend for Pakistan!