Not Gunning for Jobs

The militancy is one aspect of the life in Kashmir that has remained unaffected by the revocation of Article 370. But it can’t be resolved by offering employment to militants

LAST WEEK, the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha offered to provide jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to militants if they choose to surrender. Though there have been such offers to militants by the earlier governments as well, Sinha’s was unusual in that it came from a BJP-led union government appointee. BJP has invariably had an in-your-face hardline policy on security issues. Its solution to militancy is the elimination of all militants. Its politics has no space for rehabilitation of “terrorists”, let alone for an engagement with them. So, when the LG sought to accommodate the militants, it took many people in the Valley by surprise. Moreover, this was a first of such offer by the J&K Government since the imposition of the central rule in June 2018 and the subsequent withdrawal of Article 370 and bifurcation of J&K into two union territories in August 2019.

As was but to be expected, the BJP has reacted sharply to Sinha, saying the militants didn’t deserve rehabilitation but “bullet”. The party’s loudmouth regional chief Ravinder Raina said, “Who so ever picks up a gun against the nation will be eliminated”.

But at the same time, the LG’s statement is the position of the J&K Government, which in a union territory is an extension of the central government.  So, it can be safely assumed that the LG’s utterances speak the mind of the centre on Kashmir. Sinha may not have made it clear so far as the outreach to militants is concerned but he did tell the families of the three Rajouri youth killed recently in a staged encounter at Shopian that he was promising justice to them on behalf of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Centre has every reason to reach out to militants. The militancy is one aspect of the life in Kashmir that has remained unaffected by the revocation of Article 370. Over the course of the past fourteen months, the militancy has held steady despite an exponential increase in the killings of the militants. So far, 190 militants and around 50 security personnel have been killed this year.  Considering there were around 200 militants in Kashmir in the beginning of this year, there should have been no militancy left by now. But that is not the case. The depleted ranks of the militant groups continue to be filled by the twin local recruitment and the influx from across the border.

True, the number has often sharply declined over the past year but this has hardly lessened the challenge of militancy. In the past too, when the Valley had no more than a hundred militants (2012-13) and South Kashmir which now boasts of around 110 militants had just 15 of them, the Valley was not peaceful. Also, the militancy has often returned from the dead. In 2011, security forces had almost wiped out the Valley-based top Hizbul Mujahideen leadership with the killing of its senior-most commanders Mushtaq Janghi and Dawood, but this didn’t finish off the outfit.

Every year, over the past five years, security forces have killed an average of over 200 militants a year. But the militancy has still continued; earlier replenished mostly by the foreigners, now largely by locals. The pattern of the replenishment has only strengthened since the killing of the popular Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani. Most of the local  recruitment as the figures testify have taken place in South Kashmir  and the trend hasn’t abated despite the increase in militants killings – albeit, it may have reduced in past several months.

One reason for this is the overwhelming public support that the militancy enjoys in the region. Ever since Wani rose on the scene around 2014-15, thousands have continued to attend funerals of militants — that is, until the administration stopped giving bodies of fallen militants to their families citing Covid-19 pandemic.

True, erasure of J&K autonomy has ushered in new factors. It has in one fell swoop integrated J&K into India, passed the administration of the state turned union territory directly into the hands of New Delhi enabling it to control political dissent by disproportionately raising the cost for it. This has drastically narrowed the space for a viable mainstream political or civil society opposition to abrogation of autonomy and wiped it out for the separatist politics. The situation is such that whatever is visible to the state, it either tries to shape it in its own image and if it can’t, it suppresses it with all the might at its command.

But the militancy being underground escapes government’s controlling power. More so, the willingness of the militants to die in pursuit of their cause. True, the government can try and kill its way through the problem, but simultaneous replenishment of the militants’ ranks through fresh recruitment and the influx of foreigners has frustrated the government efforts.  And as the past three decades testify, it is unlikely that the factors animating the militancy, both sentimental and structural, will change. Only way the militancy can be effectively managed is if government can end the recruitment to its ranks. But this it is unlikely be able to do in the foreseeable future. Hence the offer of jobs. One thing that this government would not do is to embark on a meaningful political engagement to address the issues underlying the long-running conflict in the Valley. A permanent solution only lies therein.

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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