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Kashmir’s challenge: comprehending peace amid chaos and conflict

By Adfar Shah

An uncertain Kashmir is again moving towards instability. This time for the killing of yet another innocent youth Farhat Ahmad Dar. Farhat(18), a young boy from north Kashmir was killed when police fired on the protestors in the Bandipora district, triggering further curfews and protests. 

A protesting Kashmir
Photo: mfr_isb@yahoo.com
The killing of Farhat might go down the list of all the “probes awaiting justice in Kashmir”, but it stands out as a stark reminder of the constant failure of the security mechanisms in the state that the Kashmiris have constantly been falling prey to. 
Incidents such as this leaves one wondering that in spite of so much being said about crisis mishandling and about the need for showing greater restraint by forces in their crowd control mechanisms, how and why such brazen incidents continue to occur.
The clear dichotomy of security agencies and ‘returning to normalcy’, amid the myopic political elite and opposition of vested interests has only added to the socio-political chaos.
The agencies need to understand that the constant brutal oppression that an already conflict tired Kashmir has been subjected has turned it in to a sensitive and vulnerable place where protests as a culture are bound to continue and even a small mistake can culminate into an uprising. 
The reality is when conflicts prolong meaninglessly at the cost of human lives and human dignity, a single man can become an uprising.
                                                                 Photo: mfr_isb@yahoo.com
Yet, no serious efforts to counter such conflict situations, political chaos, have been made and any positive interventions have hardly been local friendly, culture friendly, people friendly and technically suiting and substantial. It is a pity that strategies of mob control, handling of protests, crowd control formulae remain unchanged, violent and brutal and the aberrations continue.
The question to ask here is why have the people of the state developed an acute sense of collective uncertainty and a sense of alienation? 
Clearly, ideas such as formation of a separatist brigade, charting of own road maps of liberation, talks, round tables, resolutions, mediations, interlocutions, etc. along with some short lived solutions such as autonomy, dual currency, achievable nation hood, Bijli, Pani Sadak politics, development slogans, panchayati Raj politics, safeguarding HR slogans, employment politics, etc, along with some personality based ideas like Musharaf’s formula, etc,  has changed nothing as far as violent bloodshed and prevailing uncertainty is concerned. Instead of seeing a plethora of changes in ideas for peace building, the very search for peace has become static.
On one hand even as a significant chunk of people today in the State still aspire for peace and development, seeking employment and avenues of economic security and desiring a higher education and avenues outside the valley, on the other hand the fact remains that amid the slogans of political development, participation, employment and education, conflict and the sense of being in the midst of conflict has never died down.
The situation is not all that bad, when it comes to border security (checking the insurgency from across the LoC) , setting up public welfare units like Sadhbhavana, Good-will education, drug de-addiction centers, organising seminars, exposure trips, sports activities, etc. , however, a lot still remains unaccomplished with regards to understanding what the public perception is of “peace in the valley” .
An incorrect reading of public perceptions; going by the same old unsuccessful ways of survey, sampling errors or poor follow-up action, the state has failed to develop a perception assessment strategy using local insights. It is a problem of not understanding the ‘Other’ and it only gets aggravated by a better competitive narrative being doled out by the enemy. 
Continued ideological divides, differences in opinions of security managers, shorter tenure and frequent transfers of visionary security experts, corrupt bureaucracy and dysfunctional Khaki and Khadi synergy further mars the whole situation.
The public has fallen prey to the experiments in national security and as a result bloodshed continues. A change in the ground situation to ‘normalcy’ demands an internal transformation in the belted forces. This has been constantly overlooked and jawans still keep messing up with the public.
       Civil society demands peace
Photo: Zafar Iqbal
The core interests of the stake holders in Kashmir, especially the military, appear to be tangential to the interests of the public. 
Brief tenure based experiments in internal security, especially perception management have kept peace out of reach of the public.
The lack of joint strategy for peace building, resulting from the false perceptions of self sufficiency of a single agency, is preventing the expansion of dividends of peace.  Statecraft has failed Kashmir in spite of a plethora of talks and proposals primarily because of their poor outreach, lack of sincere political will and absence of a   mass centered approach. 
Even the much hyped Interlocutors’ Report (Padgounkar, et al) still remains out of the public view. The fact remains that in absence of substantial outreach, peace building or “return of normalcy” has lost its pace. 
Those who label perception management as a waste of time should put some efforts to gauge public perception without philosophizing because currently, the mass perception is that, the main issue is not political emancipation (Azadi narrative) but, the riddance of perpetual chaos and terrorized cum criminalized atmosphere. 
Issues of livelihood, peaceful life, growth, progress, career consciousness, etc have slowly gained more relevance.
The questions that need to be asked are; why is peace for Kashmir becoming so tough to comprehend? What kind of freedom do the people of the state desire? Is it the freedom gained through perks, packets or projects (PM’s Rs 24,000 Crore package, scholarships, MNREGA, NRHM, Udaan, etc,)? Or is it freedom from the barrel of the gun (be it across the border or within their own State)? 
Is it freedom from the dense military deployment or is it freedom from mass transformation (into so called considerate beings who remain silent)?
Today, as the conflict continues despite democratic establishments, conflict resolution remains a distant dream to accomplish. To understand this whole conflict scenario objectively, we need more interactions with the Kashmiris and our interactions need to be based on intercultural and multi-pronged lines aimed exclusively at peace building. 
                                   Photo: mfr_isb@yahoo.com under creative commons
All organizations involved in conflict management need to revisit their tactics and tools.

An elitist or a theoretical pursuit of peace building puts the saddle on the wrong horse. 
The situation demands an understanding of the masses and also of the minority view points (vested interests, the resistant forces, separatists, etc). 
Security practitioners responsible for perception management (who are still  clueless about the real meaning of perception wars) should desist from using the much hyped and often repeated myths or reductionist beliefs of violence being encouraged from Pakistan, by paid stone pelters of Kashmir, by Ummah vs nationalism, the Saudi-Salafi (wahabi) growth spiral and associated social tensions, Islamism and Islamic terror, proxy war dilemma, etc, because dissent and dissenting voices are natural when people feel caged and perturbed about social inequality and selective exclusivity. 
Peace vanishes permanently when McCarthyism (practice of making unfair allegations in order to restrict dissent or political criticism) becomes the norm, violence becomes the weapon, masses become targets, when innocents are tortured and when trust deficit reaches its zenith. 
Dominic Strinati (1995:166) quoting Gramci fittingly argues;
“It can be argued that Gramci’s theory suggests that, subordinated groups accept the ideas values and leadership of the dominant group neither because they are physically or mentally induced to do so, nor because they are ideologically indoctrinated but, because they have reason of their own”.
The fact remains that, in Kashmir, there still continues a need for an unending dialogue between the masses, the security apparatus and the power elites. Perception management projects or peace building efforts can thrive only if things are paraphrased contextually and critically. An awful misreading of the conflict by people outside of Kashmir and by security agencies and, the vague public discourses about liberation (Azadi) and other dilemmas, has led to more confusion, distortion of facts and finally, peace deficit.
(Adfar Shah is a Delhi based Sociologist and Guest Columnist at Pointblank7. He can be reached at adfer.syed@gmail.com. Views expressed are personal).

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