--- Manoj Saxena
Map of the administrative subdivisions of Kashmir. The valley, marked in orange, is at the center of the 2016 Kashmir unrest while there is very little agitation in other areas under Indian control (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
On July 8, 2016 the Indian security forces killed Burhan Muzaffar Wani — a young militant affiliated to the internationally banned terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM) — in a counter-terrorism operation. This encounter was only the latest in a long series of Indian security operations aimed at quelling an armed Islamist insurgency overtly supported by Pakistan in Indian Administered Kashmir. As routine as the demise and emergence of militant leaders in the region may be this case stands out in particular due to the disturbances which broke out in the aftermath of the encounter.
Following the death of Burhan Wani provocative, and often violent, demonstrations broke out through much of the Kashmir valley although the adjoining regions of Jammu and Ladakh remained clam. This was predictable since the Kashmir insurgency is centered around the valley and border districts, which account for a small portion of the overall geographical area of the J&K state coveted by Pakistan but contain the bulk of the population. In their efforts to enforce law and order the Indian security forces responded through the use of tear gas, pellet guns and — in some cases — more lethal weapons. These disturbances have led to the loss of over 50 lives since the death of Burhan Wani, and have further resulted in lasting injuries numbering in the thousands.
State-sanctioned elimination of Islamist militants in Kashmir — and, indeed, much of South Asia — is not new. The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted killer of the Pakistani Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, was met with similar reactions of deep sympathy by a large segment of the Pakistani population. Qadri's funeral was attended by thousands of mourners in Pakistan and disturbances broke out in its aftermath. However, the matter was contained quickly by the Pakistani authorities before any lasting damage could be done. The atmosphere following the death of Akhtar Mansour — a Pakistan backed Emir of the Taliban — due to a US airstrike on May 21, 2016 was also tense but the Afghan authorities managed to contain the crisis despite Pakistani machinations. Credible management by the Indian state during the aftermath of the hanging of Yakub Menon in July of 2015 also led to successful prevalence of law and order even amidst tensions and disharmony.
The civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan lost no chance to reiterate its ostensibly principled stand on the Kashmir issue, and even declared Burhan Wani — banned in US, India and EU due to his HuM affiliation — as a martyr. Provocations intensified as jihadist leaders such as Hafiz Saeed and Sayeed Salahudeen, both internationally wanted terrorists, held open demonstrations in Pakistan and other territories controlled by the country, such as Muzaffarabad — threatening India with both jihad and nuclear war in full view of the Pakistani security establishment.
On August 10, 2016 Indian intelligence agencies released a confession video of Bahadur Ali — a Lashkar e Taiba militant from Pakistani Punjab who had infiltrated into Kashmir after the Burhan Wani encounter in order to 'create trouble' but was captured by the Indian forces on July 25. This is in line with Pakistan's long held policy of inciting Islamist sentiment and jihad in Kashmir in order to keep the Indian forces bogged down in the region, and further use the instability to turn the region into an international flashpoint.
However, what was truly surprising is that India failed to use all elements of its own state power to contain the disturbances and prevent things from spiraling out of control. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — usually quick to respond to crisis both at home and abroad — responded to the events in Kashmir after more than a month following the killing of Burhan Wani. The Chief Minister of the J&K state Mehbooba Mufti, another skilled politician known for her Healing Touch policy, was also found lacking in response. The reaction from much of the Indian media and general population was also marked with ill-advised apathy. Social media, in particular, turned into a battleground of sorts between the so-called nationalists and 'anti-nationals'. With a distinguished tradition of democracy and an experienced cabinet in place both at the center and state levels a better political response was anticipated.
Things appeared to look up on August 8 as the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared Prime Minister Modi's intentions to hold an all party meeting in order to address the ongoing crisis in Kashmir. Presently, the situation is eerily reminiscent of the disturbances in Xinjiang in 2015 even though the history and context of the two insurgencies are markedly different. However, it must be noted that since 2015 the Chinese authorities have been using diverse elements of their state power to bring the overall Hui Muslim unrest under control — including a recent visit by President Xi Jinping to a mosque in Yinchuan. If President Xi, an avowed Communist, can practice such deft diplomacy in favor of social harmony and national interest then it can be safely assumed that so can Prime Minister Modi.
Conjectures aside, India has not yet faced any pressing international outrage of severe immensity in the aftermath of the 2016 Kashmir unrest. This is partly due to the fact that the unrest was eclipsed by other international events of greater magnitude, such as The South China Sea Arbitration and The Turkish Coup d'état Attempt. The rise of jihadist sentiment has also led to recent violence in democratic countries across the West and this has somewhat curtailed international disapproval for the manner in which democratic India has handled its own Islamist insurgency in Kashmir thus far. But all that may change if credible corrective steps aimed at ensuring a political solution to the ongoing unrest are not taken in the right earnest. The situation will only become clearer in the coming weeks and the future of this unrest may very well define the efficacy — or the lack thereof — of the incumbent Indian government's Kashmir policy.
Manoj Saxena is the Editor of South Asia News Review.