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Mainstream, VOL LX No 26-27, New Delhi, June 18 & June 25 2022 [Double issue]

‘Muscular Policy’ or Policy Paralysis: The scourge of living in a conflict zone | M A Sofi

Friday 17 June 2022

by M A Sofi

Those having the good fortune of living their lives in relative peace away from ground zero in a conflict zone, have no idea of how people living their lives there under the permanent shadow of gun have to contend with so much uncertainty, unpredictability, insecurity and violence on a routine basis. Come to think of it, the news involving someone being caught in a cross fire, or of someone having been picked up by the police from his office or residence or maimed or killed during a militant attack in a busy crowded market in Kashmir is treated with such insouciance as if these are a part and parcel of daily life in a conflict zone. In this free for all use of violence as a means to ’settle issues’, it’s also true that it’s invariably the voiceless and the vulnerable who end up on the receiving end of such gratuitous violence. That has been the most unedifying spectacle of a situation that refuses to go away since it was visited upon this place thirty two years ago. With an uptick in recent weeks and months of such ghastly acts as of hate attacks by unknown gunmen, and matched to deadly effect by retaliatory action by the government forces – a reaction that’s no better than shadow boxing - the odds are surely stacked in favour of the current phase of uncertainly to continue. That’s hardly surprising in view of what is clearly an uninformed, lacklustre, unprofessional and a thoroughly counterproductive government policy of repression in Kashmir which, for all one knows, has achieved precious little other than what passes for as optics in the so-called war of perceptions by the government machinery and its agencies.

The recent spate of killings in Kashmir is a blot on Kashmir and its age-old syncretic culture. Highly condemnable as these cowardly acts indeed are, so are the actions of those calling the shots who have created conditions for the aggrieved/misguided Kashmiri youth to resort to and seek in acts of violence an outlet to express themselves and their pent up anger which have not been allowed to find expression through other legitimate and democratic means. The result has been that among other things, this place stands robbed of its unique culture and ethos in ways that reek of ill-will, rancour and contempt towards them on the part of those who could have done better than trade hate for love. It’s common knowledge backed by hard evidence on the ground that the manner in which Kashmir has been handled over the past eight years especially since 2019 when that gigantic betrayal on Kashmir was committed on Aug 5th that has led to more violence and bloodshed but also a new wave of mistrust between the two largest communities of Kashmir, the like of which was not witnessed even during the peak of militancy in the 90’s when KP’s had migrated en-masse from the valley to other locations in India. A policy framework that’s proudly being tom-tommed as ’muscular’ in many quarters - but that I see effectively as effete – has resulted in nothing but despair and a further drift between the two communities marked by mistrust, malice and hostility towards one another. And when recourse to a blatant and disproportionate use of force is taken as the preferred option to take on those being described as ‘misguided’ or ‘directionless’, such policies by the policy pandits are fit to be qualified as effeminate and reveal the extent to which the State is derelict to its bounden duties.

The question that stares us in the eye is this: what on earth are the reasons that have led to the seamless conflict going on in Kashmir all this while and why does the on-going mayhem not show any signs of a let up despite contentions of the high and mighty to the contrary? Is it perhaps the case that, by design or accident, the on-going kerfuffle in Kashmir may also be looked upon as part of the million mutinies jostling for space in the India of today to which the citizens of this land may have contributed, wittingly or otherwise? After all, how does one make sense of this relentless spate of brutal killings going on in Kashmir, mostly of Kashmiris for sure, but now also including those from other states, regardless of their language and religion, including this latest wave of target killings in Kulgam, Budgam and elsewhere in the valley? The irrepressible urge of the mandarins in the corridors of power in India is to do the easiest thing by choosing to apportion the blame on the country next door for fomenting trouble in Kashmir, and in mainland India too whenever similar incidents of violence are reported from there and the State is unable to go after those who had committed the felony.

That gets us back to the root of the problem that may be traced back to fifty years in the past when we were witness to the skulduggery involving the role that India had played in igniting trouble by resorting to what clearly amounted to acts of terror in the erstwhile East Pakistan when India had used its proxies in the shape of mukti bhahini to dismember Pakistan in 1971. The rest is history inasmuch as one is witness to how the ‘wounded tiger’ had vowed to return that favour in kind in 1990 to avenge the 1971 debacle in East Pakistan. There is thus a case for conceding - albeit grudgingly - that it’s India that has pioneered the use of violence in the region through non-state actors as a state policy to settle issues both within and without. As mentioned above, it’s these machinations by India that has served to provide Pak the carte blanche to use the same tactics to ’bleed India with a thousand cuts’ and, in the process, to hope for a final resolution of the K-issue which for all we know, lay dormant till then. There’s thus a case for contending that it’s India that has botched it up so egregiously all through its existence as an independent country since 1947 that it’s now caught in the quagmire of hostilities with its neighbours who have accumulated not only the resources but, whether we like it or not, the ’moral high ground’ too that they boast of for taking on India that has been handed down to its bete’noire on a platter, as it were.

Yet another manifestation of this ham-handedness may be read into the circumstances that had occasioned the Chinese ingress into Ladakh in March 2020 where they were seen to unobtrusively brazen their way to take possession of large swathes of land that India claims as its own. Though the border dispute between the two neighbours dates back to the Indo-China war of 1962, the fact remains that the chief precipitating factor in that standoff between the two neighbouring giants had been that monumental fraud, that great betrayal on Aug.5th, 2019 involving the unilateral abrogation of article 370 by India.

That’s only one side of the story involving how India has been conducting itself vis a vis its neighbours. At the domestic front, the situation is no less unpalatable considering how the State has been doing its bit to polarise and divide the society not only on caste and communal lines but also on regional and even on linguistic lines. For all one knows, it’s Gyanvapi temple today and it was Love Jehad, Hijab, Azaan yesterday. Soon it’s going to be Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura or ban on Halal (kosher) meat tomorrow. There’s no end to this monumental farce. No wonder that the continuation of these ill-conceived policies and misadventures have already led to further fissures between the two largest religious communities in India and now also in Kashmir where the two have had a long and centuries-old history of living together in complete harmony, peace and brotherhood, unencumbered by considerations of faith and rituals.

It strains commonsense why in its own interest and in the interest of its people, India should continue to remain intransigent and refuse to learn from its mistakes and thus put paid to the prospects of a new dawn of peace and security returning to this country and the region. Why should this great country continue with its hackneyed and thoroughly counterproductive policy of overkill while resorting to underhand tactics to force its hand in settling pesky issues with its own people and its neighbours? That would amount to nothing other than for India sowing wild oats for itself that would result in further discontent within and instability in the region without. It’s time that the effete and ineffective ‘muscular’ policy was allowed to give way to a willingness for dialogue, debate and rapprochement with those being seen as recalcitrant and thus deny them the moral high ground to play the spoilsport.

I pray and hope the "masters of our destiny" wake up to see the writing on the wall and get their act together, for once, which is to privilege dialogue and debate over intemperance and intransigence. Else this long reign of terror, violence and bloodshed shall continue unabated and more ominously, for ever, to the detriment of one and all.

(Author: M A Sofi Email: email: aminsofi[at]gmail.com)

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