It is about time that New Delhi stopped treating the crisis in Kashmir as a law and order issue and began to address the many genuine grievances that Kashmiris have against Indian rule in the Valley. A two-day curfew, the arrest of key Kashmiri leaders and the deployment of thousands of soldiers and other security personnel may have put paid to plans of holding a massive freedom rally in Srinagar on Monday, but this triumph is bound to prove short-lived for the administration. So long as state repression continues and India keeps up its present troop levels in the territory, it is unlikely that the protests, which have been continuing since June, will die down. The protests were originally linked to the disputed allotment of several hectares of land for accommodating Hindu pilgrims. But these massive demonstrations have now come to reflect the general resentment that the Valley’s largely Muslim population harbours towards the Indian authorities. Equally disturbing are the communal overtones that these protests have acquired.
India must recognise that it is a popular uprising and not a Pakistan-backed insurgency that it is dealing with in Kashmir. It can no longer point the finger of blame at Islamabad. The situation today is completely different from the events of yesteryear, when the popular Kashmiri revolt of 1989 was virtually hijacked by extremists who sought to give the struggle a religious hue. India, instead of cashing in on a period of relative peace in Kashmir following Islamabad’s about-turn on certain security polices post-9/11, has done little to assuage the political and economic woes of the Kashmiris or repeal the draconian laws that govern their lives. Nor has there been feasible progress on finding a solution along with Pakistani and Kashmiri leaders to a festering territorial dispute.
Whether New Delhi likes it or not, the Kashmir question is becoming internationalised more than ever before. With Pakistan safely on the sidelines, the pressure is mounting on the Indian authorities to deal with issues that are leading to anger and may be a factor in India’s home-grown militancy. However, coming down with a heavy hand on the freedom of assembly and speech in Kashmir can hardly be effective. It will breed greater resentment besides making India’s democratic credentials suspect in the eyes of the world community. A well-defined political solution, acceptable to the Kashmiris, is the need of the hour if further alienation of the Valley’s inhabitants is to be prevented.
[Editorial note-Dawn-October 8, 2008]