Kashmir is slipping into the stone age, literally and metaphorically. Literally because the terrorists and their hired goons have taken to stone as the easiest weapon to fight the security forces. Metaphorically because their lack of sensitivity is exposed in the fact that the terrorists are pushing children and teenagers to the forefront to fight their messy fight against India.
Earlier the Kashmiri terrorists used to post women in the front, and attack from behind, thereby tying the hands of the security forces. Women have probably become wiser. Now they are pushing children to the front.Teenagers, kids who should be in schools, not in the streets are the latest victims of their so-called holy war. These children are let loose on the security forces. The picture of one policeman surrounded and being beaten by six-seven lathi wielding, masked teenagers, published in all the national dailies on June 29, 2010 explains a lot about these hot-heads of what is going on. The protesters take to the street, provoke the police and security men. When they retaliate, and if any of the protester is killed, it sets the stage for the demonstration the next day. The out-of-power politicians cheer the teenagers from the fringe, blame the security forces and demand their withdrawal.
If the government and the politicians are interested in the safety and welfare of the people of Kashmir and want to protect the so-called local identity then they should appeal to the terrorists not to stoop so low and throw the future generations into the mouth of the cannons. Which is what Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister has done now. There was a phase when the terrorists used the mosques as their base and attacked the security forces. In one such incident, one of the holiest mosques Char-e-Sharif was partially burnt and was restored by the security forces.
What is more appalling is the huge price the security forces are paying in this. According to the CRPF, 1600 men have been injured and grounded in the past two years in different parts of the valley because of stone pelting. Imagine the enormity, 1600 men, equivalent of 20 companies, injured in about 700 days. Over 200 vehicles have been damaged. According to reports, 52 personnel have been injured in the last one week. If one person is killed in police firing, the valley erupts as if on cue. But when the security forces are maimed or killed in dozens by the terrorist attacks, the government and the society do not even murmer.
We have said it in these columns before and we repeat: What is lacking in Kashmir is the political will. The security measures need to be supported by actions by the governments at the state and the centre. The political forces out of power in the state and inimical to the interest of the nation should be marginalised. There is hardly anything called functioning economy in the valley. The local elected bodies are defunct. People who have visited Kashmir before and recently speak of the huge ecological degradation that has taken place there, Dal Lake being the biggest example. Once the pride of Kashmir, it is now plagued by weeds and stinking water. The Rs 300 crore loan sanctioned by the World Bank for clean-up was spent on it, but with little result.
Omar Abdullah made a warming gesture in inviting the Kashmiri Pandits to worship at the Kheer Bhawani temple. Over 40,000 Kashmiris worshipped there on June 18, 2010. The state ensured their safety. Let this be a beginning. Such measures should be repeated oftener, which would send out a strong message of India’s determination to restore the valley to the Kashmiris.
Every time there is violence, the PDP led by Mehbooba Mufti raise the bogey of excesses by the security forces. Her party has a myopic view, it does not wish to see the stress under which the security forces are. The Army Chief Y K Singh has categorically stated that time was not ripe to reduce forces in the valley as terrorists continue to operate from several hideouts. He is also of the opinion that political steps are needed in Kashmir.
Calming Kashmir is not an impossible task. After decades of violence that has taken them nowhere, the ordinary Kashmiri must be wanting to get on with life. People like Shah Faesal, who topped the IAS this year should be inspiration enough in the political, social and administrative processes to restore the system of local governance in the state. We have powerful instruments in our Constitution like the Panchayati Raj that can go miles in healing the situation there. The major stumbling block is the monetary and military help that the extremists and their hangers on receive from across the Western border, which needs to be addressed by Delhi. Pakistan has been following the diabolic Afzal Khan policy. The answer should be Shivaji’s.