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India’s Kashmir Outreach Must Focus On Winning the Youth’s Trust

Security forces can only tackle violence. The solution against Pakistan-backed hate has to be political.

5 min read
India’s Kashmir Outreach Must Focus On Winning the Youth’s Trust
Hindi Female

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The Kashmir imbroglio is complicated. There are wheels within wheels and there are many stakeholders in this conflict dynamics, all with varying vested interests. Pakistan and its deep state provide ideological, financial and emotional support to the proxy war. Unable to get the better of India in conventional terms, they have identified with the region on the basis of religion and radicalised the Kashmiri youth wilfully.

Over three decades have passed, and though the levels of violence have been reduced considerably, terrorism still prohibits normalcy. Various instigators in Jammu and Kashmir have a nexus among themselves and with Pakistan, mainly Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), their spy agency.


How Pakistan Exploits the Deep Distrust

Pakistan is not likely to relent anytime soon, more so now that it is politically and economically in a weak moment. There are a host of other problems that plague Pakistan, and India-bashing, particularly on Kashmir, serves to distract their population. Therefore, we should improve things in Jammu and Kashmir to a degree that makes it difficult for Pakistan to exploit the situation to their advantage.

Over the years, the Army, security forces and intelligence agencies have successfully brought down the levels of violence and shrunk the area of operations of terrorist groups, but a solution to the problem still eludes us. There have been good time windows when the Army has brought down the levels of violence adequately enough for the administration to prosecute development, like the 2003-2008 period and the years between 2012 and 14. But the governments of the day did not seize the opportunity to move towards the resolution of the problem.

Security forces can only tackle violence, but the elimination of terrorists in itself does not lead to the resolution of the problem, as more terrorists will take their place. The solution has to be political.

The administration of the Union Territory is instituting several measures for development. In the last two years, 100 per cent electrification has taken place, and surpassing the national average, 53 per cent of rural areas have a drinking water supply. As many as 15 power projects have been inaugurated and 20 more have been started. The new All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Management (IIM), and about 50 other new educational institutions will benefit 25,000 additional students. Grassroots-level politics has also been empowered by putting a three-tier panchayat in place. Approximately Rs 3,800 cr has been allocated through this route to meet local aspirations.


A Healing Touch Is Needed

But meeting the growth aspirations of the youth, as anywhere else, cannot be done by government jobs or the public sector alone – it needs private sector participation. In the last two years, the private sector is stepping into Jammu and Kashmir, which was hitherto rather limited. Investment proposals worth Rs 20,000 crore have been received from 40 private sector companies in fields such as IT, defence, renewable energy, tourism, hospitality, education and infrastructure. Two huge IT parks are being set up in Jammu and Srinagar, respectively.

One also gathers that some corporate hospitals are coming up in Jammu & Kashmir, Haldiram is setting up shop and Emar group of Burj Khalifa fame is constructing a mall or two. As many as 39 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) have been signed with big real estate entities. We should soon see BPOs and call centres in the Valley. This will give a fillip to the economic aspirations of the common people. Such private sector ventures will also enhance the image of India in the mind of the youth.

However, in addition to growth opportunities, some other intangible steps are needed to erode the alienation amongst youth and provide a healing touch to the people and the civil society, especially the youth.


The Real 'Azadi'

For two main reasons, the requirement to connect with the mind-space of the youth is imperative. Firstly, it is youth that will shape tomorrow’s opinions and attitudes. Secondly, it is very difficult to change the mindset and attitude of the older generation. We need constructive engagement with the youth and children. This will be effective if we have a good and credible narrative that can supplant the hate narrative that the other side promotes.

Such a narrative may be able to counter alienation and radicalisation as well. We must get back into the mind-space of the youth. Youth are the key to integration. The idea of azadi (freedom) must be supplanted by the idea of India.

Winning hearts and minds and constructive engagement with the awaam (the public) is something that the Indian Army engages with through the medium of operation ‘Sadbhavna’. While there is scope for the other organs of the government and even the private sector to follow suit, this is, by no means, enough in itself.

Learning From Kerala and Maharashtra

A change in approach is warranted as far as dealing with youth is concerned. They are misled by vested interests. A healing touch is the need of the hour. During encounters with terrorists, the Army always gives the terrorists a chance to surrender and several of them have availed of the opportunity. Similarly, security forces, including the police, should engage with stone-pelters and their families as well. They should be treated like our misguided children, something that I have said often when I was the Corps Commander in Kashmir. Prolonged interrogation of errant youth and their families leads to alienation, and the ISI has its minions on the watch for such candidates. They reach out to such young men and their families with financial assistance and moral support to draw them into militancy.

States such as Maharashtra and Kerala have successfully used de-radicalisation as a counter-terrorism strategy. It’s time we followed the example of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which has been able to pull back many youngsters from the edge. According to Maharashtra Deputy Commissioner of Police, Dhananjay Kulkarni, the three-year-old de-radicalisation programme has “reintegrated” at least 114 young men and six women who were being wooed by the IS. The policemen-turned-counsellors in the ATS also counselled 200 others. The youth in Jammu and Kashmir also need such a healing touch.


Civil Society Must Also Stand Up to Hatemongers

Civil society, too, has an important role to play. They need to stand up to hatemongers who incite their children to take the wrong path, while their own children and wards are prospering in safe locales out of Jammu & Kashmir or abroad. Whether it was Punjab or Mizoram, terrorism could only be contained with the active assistance of civil society. There is a great potential waiting to be unlocked in the Kashmiri civil society. This assumes more importance amid the latest trend of the hybrid terrorists, who live within the society and indulge in targeted killings of soft targets.

In order to connect with the people, it is imperative that the state puts out a coordinated, credible narrative, one that is based on truth. There have been shortcomings in building a good narrative, a space that was quickly filled up by the other side with hate.

There is an urgent requirement to reverse it. This strategic communication is needed to dispel uncertainty and the fear of the future from the minds of the people and to instil hope in their minds.

We won’t achieve this in haste. It will take up to a generation or two to affect mindset changes. We have to be patient. As Kashmir is a Union Territory, the Central government must ensure that this change leads to a better state in all aspects. This will preclude Pakistan from exploiting the situation to its advantage.

(Lt General Satish Dua is a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, who retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. Views expressed are personal. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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