What Burhan-Wani’s death and its aftermath tells about State and its priorities

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Thirty two people have been killed so far in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s death.  The young man’s killing has unleashed bottled up anger that resides in the hearts of Kashmiris.  And all that powers that be in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have to trot out is that, “disproportionate force” should be avoided. What does this anodyne and meaningless statement mean under given circumstances? Nothing really. What would constitute the “ threshold of force” under conditions that are fraught and where emotions are on display and where the street has become the arena and theatre of Kashmir’s emotional world.  Nothing again. But these questions, in the nature of “ex poste” ones (that is, after the events/ incidents) are not the right questions. By dishing out its versions and making bland and anodyne statements, the state appears to be shifting the narrative and discourse that obtains in Kashmir to a different level – away from the nature and circumstances of Burhan Wani’s killing.  Wani’s killing raises a whole host of questions and issues that appear to reflect its understanding and take on the nature of conflict in and over Kashmir, how to deal with it and of course, the value that powers that be hold or apportion to Kashmiri lives.

Consider Burhan’s killing. Burhan was and has become an icon for Kashmiris- especially the younger cohort. Neutralizing an icon like Burhan would naturally and inevitably disturb and agitate Kashmiris given that he appeared to be the face of their yearnings and aspirations. Why then  did the state kill him (under suspicious circumstances it may be added)? And did not the state factor in the reaction that Burhan’s killing would engender? (This obviously would mean public display of anger morphing into violence).

It would appear that the state killed Burhan to eliminate his wide and deep appeal amongst the youth of Kashmir. In both hind sight and retrospect, this rationale is silly and myopic. The consequences of killing Burhan both from a short and long term perspective are, if conditions that obtain in the vale, are held to be a barometer, are negative from a peace perspective in Kashmir. The premise that appears to have informed the state’s calculus in killing Burhan is the same, old one: play the numbers game by neutralizing militants, deal with public anger by application of force and then play up the illusory patina of peace and sell it as resolution of the conflict in and over Kashmir. Or, in other words, play the attrition game by exhausting militants and public sentiment and support and hold the attendant condition as indicative or reflective of “peace” and conflict resolution.  Overlaying this military and hard power approach is the “political process”- sometimes engineered by the state itself – to create illusions of normalcy in  Kashmir.

What gives validation to the employment of force and projection of power onto the conflict in and over Kashmir? How long can this approach last? This  approach as cynical as can be appears to be premised on sheer might and power which, in turn, engenders arrogance and hubris.  Hubris makes powers that be blind and indifferent to people and their aspirations. But history demonstrates that, no matter, how strong and powerful the state and its various apparatii, the will of the people prevails and triumphs. All this is not to suggest that maximalist solutions are the antidote to the conflict in and over Kashmir. What Kashmir and Kashmiris need is a solution to the dispute that incorporates the wishes, aspirations and yes, even interests of all stakeholders to the conflict – a solution that is non zero sum and above all is sensitive to the emotive and emotional aspects of the conflict. Cutting through knots and layers that have latched on the conflict in and over Kashmir, the nature of the conflict is that of territorial religio-nationalist one – a dynamic where emotion is central and where emotion vests a certain sacrality to the dispute. This very nature renders the conflict resistant to the application and projection of force. In the ultimate analysis, the conflict is political and it is only in the domain of the political that a solution resides. Burhan’s killing and the reaction it has engendered illustrates this point. Force will merely metastasize the conflict and its scope and depth. If powers that be do not understand this or choose not to, then the trajectory of the conflict is obvious: it will grow, mutate and get transformed into something more deadly and perhaps fatal with Burhan’s killing as the lightning rod that catalyzed and fired the imagination of Kashmir’s youth to reject the status quo and opt for extremes.

 

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