In a post-Balakot world, alienated youth in Kashmir is India?s biggest challenge

By Faisul Yaseen

When 19-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a convoy of the CRPF, killing 40 Indian soldiers, he must have had an idea of the scale of destruction he was causing. But he probably didn’t know it would set off a chain of events that would bring India and Pakistan to the precipice of war.

Now that both sides are done with their “intelligence-led” air strikes across the Line of Control, the doctrine of “offensive defence” seems to have been established. The effects of this doctrine however remain to be seen. Have the events of the past two weeks frightened both countries with the idea of how close they came to war or have we made it worse?

The recent skirmishes between India and Pakistan might in fact embolden some sections of the militancy. Leaving aside the most obvious argument that with attacks like Pulwama, Kashmir militancy has attracted the kind of international attention they have always craved for, the biggest challenge remains the rising threat of homegrown militants and the alienation of Kashmiri youth.

After the Pulwama attack, scores of Kashmiri students were hounded across the country, turning the mood in the Valley sombre. A student of Baba Fariduddin Institute of Technology at Dehradun was beaten to pulp by a violent mob of 15 to 20 people days after the February 14 attack, and asked to leave the college. “This is the tipping point,” he said requesting anonymity and adding that such instances force the youth to take radical decisions, some of which lead down the path of extremism. “Instead of investigating how there was such a huge lapse in security, Kashmiri youth have become cannon fodder.”

Another Kashmiri, studying at Dayabhai Patel Physical Education College, Maharashtra, who was beaten up by the Yuva Sena, the youth wing of Shiv Sena says, “It is clear that India wants Kashmir and not Kashmiris. It seems that the government only understands the language of protests and violence.”

These incidents of violence led even PM Narendra Modi to say during a rally in Rajasthan, “Our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiris.” Many students who have been suspended by college authorities have already found themselves pushed to the wall. Often these distrungled students consider militancy as an option – the rise of educated fidayeens is proof.

But the way forward is not aggression as BJP’s “Operation All Out” has proved. The situation in J&K has only deteriorated over the last five years with more and more youths taking up arms: In 2018, the number of local Kashmiris joining militancy touched 191, an increase of 50 per cent over the year before, Hindustan Times reported.

A former militant commander Firdous Syed, better known by his alias Babar Badr, says, “Peace in the entire subcontinent now hinges on the good or the bad action of a Kashmiri boy, and with a single attack, the two nuclear neighbours are in a state of war. So the key to peace also lies in the hands of the boys in Kashmir.”

How is it possible for peace to be achieved, if Kashmiri youth continue to feel alienated? With all efforts made to “eliminate” militants, there has been no focus on stopping the radicalisation of young men like Adil Ahmad Dar. The current generation in Kashmir has grown up on a heavy dose of violence. Their introduction to the rest of the country has been only through security forces. They have been angry and frustrated for too long and this anger and frustration pushes them closer to extremism.

Since the February 14 attack, militants have been actively on the move and Kashmir has been witnessing major gunfights in the Valley and shelling along the LoC. Ten militants have been killed in the past two weeks – but six civilians have also lost their lives. For the rest of the country this might be collateral damage, but for young Kashmiris, forced to return home after being thrown out of their rented apartments and hostels around the country, this is a travesty of justice.

Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who was once described by TIME Magazine as Kashmir’s “last and greatest hope”, says that the Pulwama attack needs to be seen in the context of what prompts young boys to take up guns and become suicide bombers. After the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016, many young men like the Aligarh Muslim University scholar Manan Wani took to arms. Every time a youth is killed, the militant leadership makes an example of it to recruit more youths. And the cycle of violence continues.   

After Adil Ahmad Dar’s suicide mission, the reaction has been no different. On the outskirts of Srinagar, young men reportedly burst firecrackers and raised slogans, “Adil tere khoon sey inquilab aayega [Adil your death will bring the revolution].” The glorification of such violence is a sign of things to come.

Adil was a local youth; so was Burhan Wani. Washington Post reported 2018 to be the deadliest year in Kashmir with 324 killed (100 were civilians), saying 2019 could be the worse. “The incident in Sirnoo (where a 14-year-old was killed in an encounter on December 15), in the district of Pulwama, illustrates the turn for the worse. As security forces carry out operations, they are frequently confronted by crowds of people who, rather than scattering, try to block their way,” the report points out. The complete breakdown in law and order in the Valley makes young Kashmiris believe that Pakistan is a better option than India. And over the years, we have done little to convince them otherwise.

As Ramchandra Guha says in his column, “If young Kashmiris are told that colleges in the mainland have no place for them, who does that help but the jihadis? If the governor of one state asks us to boycott citizens of another state, who does that help but the jihadis? If the president of India’s ruling party insinuates that all Muslims are untrustworthy, who does that help but the jihadis?”

Right now, militant groups are getting what they want – more and more disgruntled Kashmiri youth. And with that, New Delhi is playing into their hands.

Faisul Yaseen is the political editor of Rising Kashmir, a Srinagar-based publication.

This article was originally published on Arre.