Pushing for militarism instead of dialogue in Kashmir

On Thursday night, government forces killed a Kashmiri militant who, according to the police, belonged to the banned group Lash-kar-e-Taiba, near his hometown of Pulwama in Kashmir Valley. The unstated government policy is to kill a local militant as soon he is spotted. There is apparently no incentive in capturing an armed Kashmiri militant alive.

There will almost certainly be no media discussion around this latest killing, in stark contrast to when a Pakistani gunman was captured after an audacious attack on a Border Security Force convoy in the garrison town of Udhampur on Wednesday.

Members of a Village Defence Committee captured Mohammad Naved, the LeT militant from Pakistan, as he was fleeing the scene. The VDCs are controversial militia, perceived to be domi-nated by Hindus, armed and trained by the state police to fight militants opposed to Indian rule of the state.

Naved’s capture in Udhampur was celebrated in the media, particularly in primetime TV debates that hyperventilatied a vengeful nationalism because it “nailed” Pakistan’s involvement in “cross-border terrorism”, an eminently debatable subject.

But media consumers in India rarely get to know what happens after a Kashmiri militant like Talib Hussain Shah gets killed. Thousands mourned the killing as they took Shah’s body in funeral procession shouting, “We want freedom.” The army, using powerful explosives, blew up three houses near the encounter site and five were damaged to the extent that it would be impossible to live in them.

Media raucousness

There is no intimate minute-to-minute reportage around such incidents of armed violence in Kashmir because it might reveal the ground realities and generate a certain amount of empathy with the Kashmiri people among average Indians.

Compare this with a reporter asking the disoriented Pakistani militant after his capture in Udhampur, “Dihadhi kyon nahin kartey? (Why don’t you do daily wage-labour instead?).”

Every time an incident of armed violence happens, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, that has even a remote chance of a connec-tion with anything in Pakistan, sections of mainstream media in India slip into a tizzy. The commentariat in TV studios feed a dis-course of intolerance making it impossible for the reality inside Kashmir to reveal itself.

The captured Pakistani militant, Mohammad Naved, who is al-ready being referred to as Kasab-II, will join more than 200 Pakistanis and Pakistani Kashmiris already languishing in the prisons of Jammu and Kashmir. Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman captured during the deadly Mumbai attack of 2008, was hanged to death in a jail in Pune four years later.

Naved has been charged with waging war against the government of India, a charge incidentally often slapped on many protesters, including teenagers who are caught throwing stones on govern-ment forces, in Kashmir during frequent episodes of anti-India unrest. The media debate around Naved’s capture turned predictably so shrill that it seems like he might be the next one to hang to death in India.

Adding to the raucousness emanating from the press is insinua-tions that the Pakistani militants’ actual targets in Udhampur were Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir.

A close scrutiny of militant attacks in Jammu and Kashmir reveals that most of them target the state and its armed forces. The deliberate dragging of Amarnath pilgrimage into the realm of militant targets and then into the discourse adds ammunition to the communally polarised political situation in the state, and across India, despite the fact that not a single pilgrim has been harmed in over a decade.

Those Kashmiris from the mainstream political class who often face deep resentment at home for upholding the Indian flag in the state are derided amid the jingoist TV debates and asked to de-scribe political dissent, like the protest following Shah’s killing, as “terrorism”.

Militarism over politics

The noisy commentariat while debating “Pakistani involvement” in the Udhampur attack appeared pandering to the prevailing rightwing political climate in the country, conveniently ignoring that the political dispute over Kashmir has been on the table be-tween India and Pakistan since their freedom from the British Raj.

Wednesday’s attack in Udhampur was the first incident of mili-tancy in the garrison town in more that 10 years. But it was never-theless used to bolster arguments against repealing the draconian impunity law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which has attracted international criticism. It is another matter that neither the army nor the BSF but members of an VDC captured the Pakistani militant.

Every incident of armed opposition or radical political dissent in Kashmir is almost always used in the media to push for aggressive militarism over politics and dialogue.

A top police official in Kashmir once revealed to me over a friendly chat that during the 1990s they used to have what he called a “Pakistani body bank”. District police officials would lend and borrow Pakistanis held in lockups if they needed their bodies for rewards at critical times, he said. That kind of impunity has almost ended now. However, as recently as June 19 this year, a grenade blast inside a police vehicle killed a Pakistani prisoner while he was being transported from his prison cell to a court.

Many in Kashmir have been feeling an intensified sense of siege, humiliation and repression since the last general election handed the reigns of power to Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. The media is again pushing a militaristic discourse even as militancy has been almost crushed in Kashmir and replaced with open dissent. This new discourse, helped by Naved’s capture, could encourage return of the deadly impunity as dissent fills Kashmir’s prisons.

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