Monday, December 8, 2014

Kashmiris Biting Bullet ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/December 07, 2014

Kashmiris Biting Bullet for Ballot Shows Their Resolve to be Part of India Growth Story

Kashmiri men line up to cast their votes outside a polling station

Special is the word t h a t d e s c r i b e s Jammu and Kashmir the best. It is the only state in India that enjoys Special Category status with over 70 per cent of its government expenditure being funded through Central grants. It has its own constitution, and even its own flag. With less than 1 per cent of India’s population, it occupies over 3 per cent of the nation’s geographical area. Encircled by snowy peaks, the land of shimmering lakes, golden chinar forests, dancing streams and the legendary Chenab should be a global destination for tourists looking for peace and paradise. However, despite New Delhi pumping in money like Dal Lake’s water, Kashmir has been converted into a battlefield, where jihadists from across the border and the Indian security forces are engaged in a macabre duel of death.

Last week, the guns were back in the Valley with a vengeance. In less than 12 hours, 22 people, including a Lt Colonel of the army, lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Professional doves saw the Black Friday massacre as an attempt to establish the supremacy of bullets over ballots. But the hawks in the establishment considered it as a growing threat to India’s stability and unity from a brutal force motivated purely by faith. The former would be distressed to learn that statistics show no connection between the spurt in terrorist violence and voter turnout. The people of J&K have broken all previous records by turning out in massive numbers during the last two phases of the polls. But in 2008, too, the turnout had broken records. It means Kashmiris have just been following the national trend of rising voter participation in elections. As they assimilate more into the national mainstream through education, connectivity and aspirations, they don’t wish to be stereotyped as the ones against the democratic process. Since the late 1990s, Kashmiris all over the state have been rejecting boycott calls by separatists. According to records, over 60 per cent of voters participated in choosing their government in 2008—a 17 per cent higher turnout than in 2002. Did it lead to an increase in terror attacks? The numbers tell the story. Of the 34 killed in November 2008 when the elections were held, 29 were terrorists. There were 541 fatalities in the Valley in 2008, of which 382 were jihadists and 90 were from the security forces. During the current state polls, in which voter turnout is expected to cross 70 per cent, 22 persons, including 10 terrorists, have been killed. In the first week of December alone, 21 have fallen to bullets. Significantly, more people were gunned down in August when elections had not yet begun. Sadly, 2014 seems to be the Year of Terror in Kashmir. With three weeks left for the year to close, 185 people have already been shot against 181 last year.

It is becoming quite clear that the revival of terror attacks has nothing to do with the elections. The combined might of the Pakistani establishment and jihadis consider stability in Kashmir as a threat to their unholy mission of spreading tenebrous tentacles throughout India. The conflict has become a war between medievalminded, gun-toting mercenaries and a democratic India. For the past few years, the terrorists have chosen the security forces—a symbol of Indian state power—to create panic in the Valley. Earlier they were striking at will and killing more civilians than securitymen. According to reports, around 15,000 civilians lost their lives as against 6,200 members of the armed forces in J&K since 1988. The maximum number of civilian deaths (1,333) occurred in 1996. This fell to just 20 in 2013. Even the number of security personnel who died in terror action declined from 376 to 61 during the same period. But this year, more army men lost their lives than civilians. It is a sobering thought that despite killing over 23,000 terrorists in the last 25 years, there is no let-up in their resolve to demolish India. It is a matter of record that the maximum number of jihadists killed (2,850) was in 2001 when NDA was ruling the country. The credit for quelling militancy goes to our security forces. If fewer and fewer civilians have fallen to bombs and bullets, it is due to better intelligence inputs and effective use of the military establishment.

Despite the exemplary performance of India’s security forces, numerous NGOs and political leaders have been mounting pressure on the Centre to dilute the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which empowers the Army to deal with jihadis with maximum force. As one officer put it, “Our jawans are getting killed so that civilians can live in peace. Imagine what would happen to unarmed ordinary people if we are locked up in our barracks with our hands tied behind our backs.”
It could be argued that diplomatic pressures and a favourable environment for dialogue have led to diminished tensions on the borders. But that doesn’t explain the rise in unprovoked incursions and open support given by Pakistan’s political leadership to Hafiz Saeed, the prophet of holy war in India. A section of Pakistani civil society has been providing financial and strategic support to India’s enemies while simultaneously demanding dialogue.

Last month, over two dozen wise men from Pakistan and India assembled in Delhi to push India for talks and encourage commercial and cultural exchanges. They hardly mentioned LeT or other terror outfits which are openly working against India’s interests. India and its neo-secular liberals have so far been more than indulgent in ignoring national interests while pleading for jaw-jaw. During the past two decades, ersatz peaceniks have compelled various Indian governments to appoint commissions, special groups and even Union ministers to deal with Kashmir affairs so that separatists and terrorists can run the state with guns and primitive laws. But PM Narendra Modi doesn’t look like a pushover. While Manmohan Singh wanted to create dubious history by converting the LoC into international territory, Modi is determined to hoist the saffron flag at Lal Chowk and chant Vande Matram in the J&K Assembly. The Valley may witness more blood spilling in the weeks to come, but the growing faith of Kashmiris in the Indian state is encouraging them to walk through the torrent of bullets to reach for ballots to become an equal partner in the unity and growth of the nation. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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