Pulwama Aftermath: How to Curb the ‘Conflict Ecosystem’ in Kashmir

One of the worst kept secrets in Kashmir is that the trouble-makers get paid by all sides, writes Sushant Sareen.

5 min read
Hindi Female

(This story was first published on 6 March 2019 and is being republished to mark two years of the Pulwama terror attack.)

The decision of the government to ban the nucleus of ethno-religious separatism and jihadism in the Kashmir valley – Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) – has come not a day too soon. If anything, it has come after years of skirting around the problem of insidious indoctrination of the people, especially the youth, which was being spearheaded by the JI.

Perhaps the Pulwama suicide bombing has woken up the Indian authorities from their slumber, and shaken them out of their hubris.

The hubris which made them believe that, merely by focusing on the kinetic operations against the terrorists and following a security-oriented approach would be enough to arrest, and turn back the fast-deteriorating situation in the Kashmir valley.


Kashmir Isn’t Just About ‘M&S’, But Also About ‘H&M’

Anybody who knows anything about Kashmir will agree, that while the anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency operations are necessary and unavoidable, they are far from sufficient in normalising the situation in the restive Valley, where the alienation is more a function of what has not been done, than of what has been done.

The bottom line is that, Kashmir is not just about M&S (muscular and security-oriented policy) but also about H&M (hearts and minds). Unfortunately, the focus has mainly been on M&S (and that too in fits and starts) and not enough on H&M.

Over the last thirty years, Kashmir has become a conflict economy, in which conflict entrepreneurs thrive. An entire ecosystem has developed that feeds into and upon this conflict economy. And the Jamaat has been one of the primary drivers and beneficiaries of this ecosystem.

Having been in the vanguard of the separatist movement, the Jamaat faced the brunt of the Indian state’s pushback against the anarchy and chaos that engulfed Kashmir in the 1990s.

Within a couple of years, the Jamaat disassociated itself from the separatist movement. But this was a subterfuge. Unfortunately, the security agencies fell for it. Not only did they lift their eye from the shenanigans of the Jamaat, they also adopted a sort of laissez faire approach to the organisation, pretty much letting them be.


Why PDP Demanded Ban on Jamaat To Be Revoked

The Jamaat, very cleverly, if also discreetly, used the opportunity to increase its influence. Operating under the radar screen, the Jamaat infiltrated educational institutions, government, civil society, media, even the police, which came in handy to not just indoctrinate a new generation, but also build support systems for separatist ideology.

Alongside, it established well-oiled financial networks that funded its activities. And while the Jamaat distanced itself from competitive politics, it provided the support structure and also influence to political parties like the PDP, which in turn protected the Jamaat, when it formed the government.

Small wonder then that even in opposition, it is the PDP which is in the forefront of demanding a revocation of the ban on the Jamaat.


A Deliberate & Sustained Propaganda Against Indian State

But Jamaat was only one part of the ecosystem that fueled radicalism in Kashmir. Shocking though it may sound, the government – both central and state – are equally culpable. One of the worst kept secrets in Kashmir is that the trouble-makers get paid by all sides. Instead of disincentivising separatism, Indian spooks have actually incentivised separatism by enriching separatists in the mistaken belief that they will be won over on the side of the Indian state. In the process, vested interests have been created and an entire industry set up which thrives on playing both sides of the pitch.

Equally bizarre is the policy of the government funding news organisations which fanned and peddled the separatist narrative and made it mainstream. The decision to stop government advertisements to these news organisation should have been taken years ago.

It is utterly disingenuous for anyone to argue that the government is curbing dissent by financially crippling the pro-separatist media. What the ‘jihadi’ journalists – including some in mainstream national news organisations with known loyalties to the Jamaat – were doing was not dissent, as much as it was a deliberate and sustained propaganda campaign against the Indian state. Simply put, it wasn’t journalism, but jihad to capture the mind-space.


Govt Lost Momentum In Targeting Separatism & Terrorism

Although the crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami is a welcome step, it is a little early to say whether this is just another example of the sort of knee-jerk and fits-and-starts campaign to dismantle the conflict economy and ecosystem of separatism or is part of a sustained, new policy.

When the NIA commenced its operations against the terror finance networks in Kashmir in 2017, it appeared that the government was finally getting down to the serious business of targeting the business of separatism and terrorism.

But within a couple of weeks, the momentum was lost. Instead of going systematically after the conflict entrepreneurs and profiteers, dismantling their networks, depriving them of their ill-gotten gains, much of the action seemed to be aimed more at demonstrating action than dismantling the ecosystem of separatism. This, despite the fact that the public at large gave a silent approval to the NIA raids, and were happy that these people had been targeted.


Reforming & Detoxifying System of Pro-Separatism

The WHAM (Winning hearts and minds) strategy is not just about holding medical camps, or running army schools, or even sadhbhavna tours for kids. These are useful initiatives, but not game-changing. After all, if the kids who study in an army school, pelt stones on the security forces after school, then clearly something is seriously wrong somewhere.

WHAM will have to be a long-term project which goes much beyond the current initiatives. It will have to include disincentivising separatism, dismantling the support system of separatism, disempowering and isolating those who support and sustain separatism, deradicalising an entire generation (which is a very long haul) through sophisticated, sensible and sustained counter-messaging and counter-narrative building.

It will involve occupying the mind-space of people and convincing them that their future, their identity, their well-being is protected in India. It will mean creating political conditions and opportunities that allow the anti-separatist voices to come on to the centre-stage, and challenge and marginalise the pro-separatist voices.

It means reforming and detoxifying the education system and cleansing the administration of supporters and sympathisers of separatists. Unless all this is done, all that we will end up doing is going around in circles, and doing what is best described as a holding operation.

(Sushant Sareen is a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. This is an opinion piece. He tweets @sushantsareen. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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