To attain the real phase of normalcy, the government needs to redefine the traditional understanding of governance and bring in entertainment and fun factor in the life of common Kashmiris
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
Having been in a tinderbox situation for 26 years due to externally abetted internal turbulence, normalcy in Kashmir is hard to come by. There are all kinds of notions about normalcy which prevent the establishment from perceiving what exactly needs to be done as the state moves from conflict stabilisation to conflict transformation. For the uninitiated who know little about the dynamics of conflict it is the absence of violence which is construed as normalcy. Sometimes even military practitioners gloat in this misperceived notion.
The state of J&K has been at virtual war besieged as it was by the presence of externally sponsored terror groups from Pakistan. The Jammu region, south of Pir Panjal is now almost free from acts of violence. In Kashmir the North too has seen a gradual fall in indicators except closer to the LoC where attempts at infiltration continue, leading to contacts. South Kashmir is where the battle is more intense with a largely home grown militancy spurred by a few young renegades. They too are kept on the run albeit some successes they have achieved through ‘hit and run’ against unarmed policemen. Does all this indicate normalcy; for a professional who understands conflict it does not.
To consider normalcy in a conflict zone as the absence of violence is sacrilege because such an absence is only a sign of conflict stabilisation. To truly transcend that stage and move into transformation of conflict the conditions which help the slippage back to the stage of conflict progression need to be arrested and in fact overcome. Currently fiveaspects may be considered as threats to the emergence of normalcy.
First, the deep set Islamic radicalisation which has crept in which is an abnormality in the social canvas of a region where the middle path and
tolerant Sufi Islam prevailed. Second, is a seething youth which is confused by its own sense of values, torn between modernity of the new generation and hurt by the inevitable social scars of conflict. Third, the almost complete absence of grass root political activity for 26 years which needs restoration. The politician is not in complete sync with the electorate due to the security situation all these years particularly in the Valley leaving the common man vulnerable with respect to his aspirations. There is little talk of patriotism and the need to move on and be a part of the mainstream. Essentially it means while the military campaign against terrorists may have been almost won the social and political domains yet remain rooted to the days of conflict. Fourth, there is a sense of foreboding arising from Separatist propaganda which is rife as much from the media which bears no sense of mainstreaming. This is so evident from the deductions which appear in all the analyses of the Kashmiri intellectuals. These invariably point towards political solutions bordering on the misplaced notion of Azadi, as final solutions. The question of returning to the past, the pre internal conflict period, appears nowhere in the thinking. Even the idea of return of the minority Kashmiri Pandit community which will add much to the notion of normalcy is contested although utterances on Kashmir’s traditional tolerance are touted. The new found resistance to everything cultural in terms of restoring the minority community’s historical practices and linking them to ecological threats indicates irrationality. Fifth and last is once again the mistaken notion that mobocracy can win the day. The obnoxious practice of flash mobs mobilised through social media to descend on militantencounter sites holds portends of an alternative form of internal conflict. Many of these ideas appear to have come from Gene Sharp’s famous book ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ and its appendix essay ‘The Politics of Non violent Action’ which spells 198 ways of non-violent revolt. These ideas drove the Arab Spring. Obviously when someone is still intellectually examining alternatives to sheer violence normalcy cannot be a notion.
For a tourist the understanding of normalcy would probably dwell on predictability; the ability to enjoy the Valley’s serene beauty in the company of loved one without having to be confronted with shut downs (bandhs) or cancellation of flights. For a taxi driver, tourist operator or restaurant owner normalcy means tourists around the year and not restricted to the season. Unfortunately, the proxy conflict has taken out the characteristic fun of a hill station from Kashmir. Happiness seems to be eluding its people and the new generation used to the gun and check point culture is brooding in this unhappiness.
The awkwardness which prevails in the psyche of the young Kashmiri today is that he is technically modern with access to information from all over the world. There are no outlets for entertainment, no burger joints which are open late in the evenings and no coffee shops the natural outlets for steam within the coffee and within the hearts. If Kashmir needs an outlet to vent frustration of the people it is coffee, tea and kahwa which must find place in its landscape at ‘nukkads’ and at Residency Road. I now hear something like this is emerging not in a transformative but a creeping way.The emboldening entertainment from stone throwing can then perhaps be stopped.
Frustration is rife when information of the world is at your fingertips but the occasion and opportunity eludes you. Many believe and preach that cosmopolitanism is against the tenets of Islam. Yet, nowhere does Islam ban entertainment. A casual search of the Net reveals the existence of cinemas in Tehran, Dubai, Djakarta and Kuala Lumpur. Indeed they do in Pakistan too. Is there any reason why cinema should not return to Kashmir? The desire for fun and family togetherness in outings is inherently there in every Kashmiri and the ‘mehmendari’ they are used to can even give some good Punjabis a run for their money. Mercifully, one does hear of an odd seminar being organised at Srinagar but the feelings are yet tentative and hesitant.
So even as security agencies debate parameters of normalcy by comparing figures of grenade blasts and terrorist criminal acts they need to realise that security considerations go beyond the physical domain. To secure a people you also need to create and promote an environment of happiness for them to thrive in. Given the challenge of ‘population control measures’ as an essential element of counter insurgency the Army and other security forces would find it difficult to dilute the hold they exercise through check points and other such means. However, if it is normalcy they wish to nudge then dilution in all this will be necessary. This will need to come along with full education of troops on dealing with sensitivities of a population emerging from internal conflict.
We cannot await the end of street confrontation to commence initiatives towards changing the narrative and we cannot be held hostage by Separatists who wish to play the religious card and keep a society from moving on towards its natural progress. Thus a difficult task for the government of the day; it needs to redefine the concept of governance from simply roti, kapda, sadak, makan to something more transformational which will usher more happiness among the common people, especially the youth.
It may yet be premature to praise a government completing just about 12 weeks in office. However, comparisons with the past do indicate a proclivity of the government to rise above the petty so far. There have been attempts at triggers which have been parried well. Both constituents of the government are sensitive to their vulnerabilities and have avoided any rancor. This augurs extremely well and this window needs extension to display to the common man just what he has been missing all these years in terms of governance. My personal advice – let this winter be the best ever managed winter in terms of logistics of the Valley and see the mood emerge the next spring. The march to normalcy will then commence in earnest, driven by the people not by circumstances.
For the professional security provider and for the political leadership perhaps here is food for thought. The attempts to establish normalcy in Kashmir must have a concept that is commonly understood by both. Discussing this in only Unified Command Meetings is not going to evolve narratives that are well understood. It has to be through brainstorming at the highest level and frequent meetings between the core agencies. This perhaps is the only way forward to break the vicious circle of violence in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
(The writer is a former GoC of Srinagar based 15 Corps and currently associated with VIF and Delhi policy Group)