On a Wing and a Prayer

2021 has ended on a somber note in Kashmir. The outgoing year again saw little difference in the routine of the Valley. The violence continued unabated. The militancy, despite the killings of a large number of militants, held centre stage now and then.  Once again a rising number of militant killings has led to corresponding replenishment in their ranks. According to estimates, the number of militants continues to hover around 200.  Militancy-wise, the Valley is poised precariously where it was at the start of the last year.

Going forward there is little hope that this state of affairs will change for the better. That is if the union government chooses to continue to deal with Kashmir through a security-centric approach. More so, when the changing geopolitical situation in the region might make such an approach more infructuous. For example, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has disrupted the geopolitical arrangement that with all its drawbacks had become a source of new regional stability. An Afghanistan without a US presence is teetering on the edge of a fresh turmoil if the world doesn’t help with the aid. The consequent disorder would further spill over into Pakistan which in turn could cross into Kashmir.

This unhelpful scenario will only be further set back by the continuing lack of dialogue between Pakistan and India. Even though the two countries re-affirmed the 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control in February and which has since held, they have failed to resume a formal dialogue. Such an environment has every potential to send Kashmir adrift unless both countries take concrete measures to pre-empt this possibility.

So, what would the 2022 Kashmir be like? Very uncertain, indeed. Shall we see the continuation of militancy in the UT? This is a distinct possibility even if Pakistan lacks the weight to support another cycle of insurgency in J&K. There is no underestimating the ability of the militant networks in Pakistan to act autonomously of the government. More so, when the US exit from Afghanistan is likely to offer them space and time to refocus their energies eastwards.

There is also a possibility that Kashmir could remain peaceful with a few sensational attacks occasionally breaking the calm. But we could also be looking forward to a very tumultuous year, considering the fact that the UT will likely be holding an election to Assembly. And elections over the past three decades have always brought the worst out of the Valley. The exercise becomes a bitter contest of contending political ideologies and conflicting sentiments and their most likely physical fallout is the sudden rise in violence followed ultimately – and this has largely been the feature of the past decades – by the participation in the polls. So, here we keep our fingers crossed but meanwhile welcome the arrival of new year.  May the new year bring peace to Kashmir that doesn’t have to be enforced but evolves out of a genuine process of addressing the longstanding issues and grievances in the UT.

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