Political Outreach Needed

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SECURITY forces in Jammu and Kashmir have killed 203 militants, 166 of them local youth in 2020. Forty three civilians have also lost their lives and 92 others have been injured in the union territory. The security forces have also arrested 49 militants and claimed the surrender of nine militants during the year.

South Kashmir expectedly has witnessed the maximum number of encounters where the highest number of militants were killed. Areas like Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama which have seen instances of more local youths joining militant ranks have recorded maximum encounters. But if we go by the new estimate of the number of the active militants in Kashmir, it is over 200, the same number it was in the beginning of this year.

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 somewhat in past several months.

One reason for this is the overwhelming public support that the militancy enjoys in the area. Ever since Burhan 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.

But if the past is any guide, the militancy has often returned from the dead. Many a Kashmir observer feel that the militancy can be brought down if engagement and dialogue gets going, not just with dissident forces in Kashmir but also with Pakistan. They cite the 2003-07 peace process between India and Pakistan which not only came close to resolving Kashmir but also for the first time since its beginning in 1989, militancy went through a progressive decline. Incidentally, the current period has witnessed a suspension of the engagement by New Delhi, both with Pakistan and Kashmiri separatist groups.

What does the near future have in store for Kashmir? A lingering uncertainty. Security experts had hoped that by the onset of winter they would have substantially reigned the militancy in. But this has not happened. Despite killings, the number of militants remains unchanged. In past, killings have hardly been a deterrent to militancy in the Valley. And considering public support remains at an all time high, more local youth will continue to be inspired to pick up the gun. This calls for the government to change its tack from a security centric to a political approach. An outreach is urgently called for not only with the political opinion in J&K but also with Pakistan.

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