The announcement of a panel of interlocutors by the centre has, most predictably, elicited a negative response from the separatists and their on and off partner the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This is not without reason since these elements are well aware that now a can of worms will be unearthed which will clearly establish their complicity in orchestrating the violence that engulfed the Valley over the last three months. Very soon the truth will be dug out by the panel and will be made public.
For those in the know of things, the fact that the form taken by the protests was fashioned by machinations of the separatists and their partners with considerable financial and other support from across the line of control, is not hidden. It is well known that post the fateful incident June, 11, which led to the death of Tufail Mattoo the protests slowly but surely proliferated across the Valley, and gained momentum as the cycle of violence set-in. What was most noticeable was that the agitations blossomed outwards from Srinagar and engulfed areas including Kupwara at its northern fringe and Anantnag, Bijbehara and Pampore in South Kashmir. The agitations concentrated largely along the National highway and in major population centre’s which provided the ring leaders an opportunity of melting in the crowds. The concentration was also by and large in urban areas like Anantnag, Bijbehara, Pampore, Srinagar, Palhalan, Sangram, Sopore, Baramulla, Handwara and Kupwara with limited or no activity in the rural hinterland. Districts of Bandipora, Ganderbal and Budgam remained relatively calm with people not responding to the edicts of the separatists.
There are some other characteristics of the agitations that merit attention. The average size of crowds ranged between100-150 and rarely increased to ‘thousands’ as has been repeatedly reported by the media. The approximate strength of the populace supporting the agitation mostly varied between 20 to 25 percent. A majority of the people (70 to 80 percent) participating were the youth, with about one/two percent women mostly confined to Srinagar. While taking the geographic extent into consideration it so emerges that there were no incidents of mass agitations simultaneously across North, Central and South Kashmir. These factors in themselves question the claim being made by the separatists that the agitation was and continues to be a homogeneous mass movement for ‘Azadi’ and ‘Plebiscite’. Apparently, it was being powered by a group of people who moved from one location to another.
The factions which were involved, including the Hurriyat and the PDP, each had their own agenda which was hastily cobbled together to elicit maximum impact and reap the benefits later. These opportunists came together in an unholy alliance since it helped their individual causes.
With the course of time the agitation gained a life of its own, as the cycle of violence took over. Crowds gathered to express sympathy and anger against deaths by firing leading to further aggravation due to orchestrated violence and this continued to spiral. The disturbances affected the life of the populace and day to day living was severely impinged upon. The losses which the Valley incurred by shutdowns/protests on a daily basis are estimated to be in the tune of Rs 161 crores per day. Education of children, the livelihood of daily wage earners, horticulture, the tourist and connected industries like transport, handicraft etc were severely curtailed. A very large number of cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were reported especially amongst the school children and their parents. All this further aggravated the situation and led to pent up frustration and anger. The resultant sense of despondency and frustration, on many occasions, also boiled over and came out in the form of more protests.
Yet another important aspect that merits the utmost attention is that these disturbances focused on population centre’s, by and large, and had very limited impact on the hinterland. There have been reports that people from villages who visited towns for day to day requirements, were targeted and told to show solidarity with the ‘Tehrik’. There are also reports indicative of the populace in villages refusing to listen to the edicts of the separatists. The long term ramification of this is that the Valley may be moving towards a rural-urban split which will add yet another security dimension to the already tense situation.
In the Valley stone pelting has become a lucrative ‘business’ with the unemployed youth offering their ‘service’ for a price. Organisations like the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar- e-Taiba, in concert with elements of the separatist segment, have reportedly formed groups each comprising of about a dozen committed cadre who are paid Rs five to eight lakhs as overall expenditure for orchestrating agitation in a particular district under their jurisdiction. Part of the money is paid to another group called the ‘initiators’ who pick-up stones and start pelting on the police/Para military forces. There are two distinct categories of persons who then get involved, the professionals who get paid for the job and the misguided youth in their teens who do it to show that they are brave and can hit the security forces. The professionals mask their faces and know their escape routes. They usually manage to escape leaving behind the largely innocent but misguided youth to face the baton and the bullets.
The interlocutors and others now involved in a post agitation analysis of the situation in Kashmir need to be sensitive to the manner in which the people and the events are being manipulated by vested interests. Along with the task of initiating talks, which in any case may not find any breakthrough, it is important to establish the facts guiding the aforementioned modus operandi and find ways and means of curtailing the same. Security in Kashmir cannot be reduced as long as such elements that are bent upon disrupting normal life for personal gains are not identified and neutralised.