‘Radicalisation of Valley youth is frightening’

Last Updated 23 February 2019, 17:22 IST

“There is no greater statement against New Delhi’s Kashmir policy than the Pulwama attack,” Amitabh Mattoo, a leading academic and thinker on international relations, who was till last year adviser to the chief minister of J&K, tells DH’s Zulfikar Majid in an email interview.

How do you see the situation in Kashmir in the wake of the latest terror attack?

The internal situation is extremely tense and there are signs of a massive crackdown against separatists. Externally, we have reached an impasse with Pakistan, with Imran Khan’s government unwilling to act decisively against terrorist groups, especially the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Keeping Hafiz Sayeed or Maulana Masood Azhar under house arrest is more symbolic than substantive.

But the real long-term danger is of the radicalisation of Kashmiri youth and the disaffection for Kashmiris in the rest of India. The indoctrination and radicalization of South Kashmir, particularly, is frightening. Almost all of South Kashmir has seen a slow and continuous radicalization, even as the more conservative religious teachings of the once-dominant Jamat-e-Islami (JI) no longer hold sway.

The PDP had been the natural party of South Kashmir, with a bulk of its leadership – including the Muftis – having traditionally strong roots in the area and with a de facto partnership with the JI. The National Conference cadre is believed to have targeted the Jamat after the assassination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan during the Zia ul Haq (who was seen as close to the JeM) regime and thus has a limited appeal in the region. The erosion of the PDP base, especially after the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, has contributed to the ascendancy radicalization. The attacks against Kashmiri students in the rest of India after the Pulwama attack will only worsen the alienation within the Valley.

Why do you think the situation has come to such a pass?

Each government has thought tactically and acted in its short-term interests, rather than take a long-term view which could have led to a comprehensive strategic policy. As an adviser to late chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, I travelled with him by road, in a Tata Safari, from Srinagar to Kulgam, through the length and breadth of South Kashmir, being greeted by hundreds of people through that four-hour journey. That was how it was even a few years ago, but this is now history.

No systematic, concrete or long-term steps have been taken to counter radicalization: the young men and women are angry, alienated and ideologically driven by local, national and global factors – including the social media. But while “all out” security operations have targeted the militants, no comprehensive program for addressing the radicalization of youth is obvious. A former DIG of Police, South Kashmir, vented his frustration when he said that all he could do was put teenage stone-pelters in jail, and they came out as hardened militants.

There were then few juvenile homes or any visible presence of civil society groups. The only encounter of the youth with India and the Indian State was through security forces. To be sure, there was a lot of emphasis on brick-and-mortar projects like sports stadia, but beyond just doling out money for construction, there was little imaginative software in place, in the most creative sense of the word.

What could the government have done in the past five years to arrest the slide?

There is no greater statement against New Delhi’s Kashmir policy and its strategy towards Pakistan than the Pulwama terrorist incident, the worst attack on the security forces since the onset of the insurgency. Consider this: a Kashmiri youth from south of Srinagar, with a history of minor grievances, is indoctrinated by handlers of a terrorist outfit based in Pakistan -- the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) -- to blow himself in a fidayeen suicide attack on the CRPF. Before the attack, he records a spine-chilling video message that talks about his imminent passage to paradise and records his vitriolic view of the ‘Indian infidels’. There are obvious failures that stem from the above that could be India’s biggest challenge in Kashmir in the months to come.

What’s next? Where is Kashmir headed?

Let us admit it, we have lost the plot on Pakistan. If surgical strikes worked even marginally as well as their depiction in cinema, the result is not obvious in Pakistan’s policies. Remember that Masood Azhar walks a free man, preaching his bigoted vitriol from the Banuri Mosque in Karachi and other parts of Pakistan. There is no evidence that the Pakistan army or the ISI has re-thought its India or Kashmir policy. Moreover, with the near victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan and with its all-weather friend China willing to throw all diplomatic etiquette out of the window, Islamabad, or more precisely General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, is gloating.

It is we who need to get back on the drawing board and figure out what combination of sticks and carrots can induce Islamabad to behave, at least, with less hostility. On present evidence, neither ignoring Pakistan, nor isolating it, nor confronting it (a la punishment through surgical strikes) seems to have had any impact on our troublesome rogue of a neighbour.

Finally, if the Pulwama attack is the beginning of new reliance in the Valley on human bombs and fidayeen, it will demand a dramatically new counter-insurgency doctrine, which is able to address this greatest of challenges

What must be done to pacify Kashmir and integrate it better?

Mis-governance, the politics of entitlement, all pervasive corruption and rampant rent-seeking, together with despicable babudom, have contributed to the erosion of faith in the system. As values of merit, honesty and integrity are seen as impediments to material success, a society loses its moral fibre: this has happened throughout Jammu & Kashmir.

The long-term answer is through a movement that genuinely seeks to resurrect the syncretic culture of Sufi Islam that promoted tolerance and helped create the space for Kashmiryat. Finally, only a culture that privileges non-violence and dialogue and institutionalizes traditional norms of tolerance and dissent is the best guarantor against violence and intolerance.

Ultimately, Kashmir needs a new generation of young leaders (and there are many around) who may not be compliant with the dictates of the Intelligence Bureau or meet the stereotypes of the security establishment, but are thoughtful, creative and brave young men and women who value their ideas as much as their self-respect. They are not separatists but are unwilling to compromise on their basic human values on the altar of New Delhi’s bureaucratic machine and seek dignity and peace for their people.

Is New Delhi up for the challenge? This requires not just a new level of military preparedness, but as much attention paid to human intelligence. Most important, a credible strategy of WHAM (winning hearts and minds) needs to be systematically promoted: not as a slogan, but as a comprehensive policy. In the short term, we need the security forces to act decisively.

(Published 23 February 2019, 17:07 IST)

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