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Growing radicalization in Jammu and Kashmir

April01/ 2015

New Delhi, Apr.1: It is no longer necessary, as everyone knows, that radicalization of the youth occurs only in madrassas, temples or mosques. One’s surroundings – the family and school where one picks up role models or merely conforms to given norms of behavior and even thought, colleagues at work where peer pressure or competition is the trigger or bosses who inspire or inculcate fear and obedience, matter.

Circumstances – good or bad personal, experiences of insult, discrimination – real or perceived – make a difference to an individual’s outlook towards life or issues that matter. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a practicing lawyer in South Africa until he was thrown out of the first class compartment of the train in Durban. That single incident fired the man more than anything else and eventually converted M K Gandhi into Mahatma Gandhi. He did not become a radicalized firebrand but an apostle of peace and just as easily become a firebrand violent leader. Of course as far as the British Empire was concerned Mohandas Gandhi was radical enough and the British could not quite handle him right.

One of the most difficult aspects of a radical human being is that there is no single way to handle him and to detox an individual’s mind and it is that much more difficult to deradicalize societies.

In the days gone by, radicalization was the product of surroundings and society; ignorance and poverty were vulnerabilities to indoctrination which were removed through education and economic development. Added to this in India were the efforts from Pakistan through propaganda, magazines, journals, radio talks and rumors that convinced the Kashmiri that not only was accession to Pakistan desirable, it was possible also.

In the modern age of the Internet, one’s surroundings and societal interaction can be the small computer screen. Here, slick productions from advertisers to government propaganda to websites run by religious institutions and fundamentalists, from terrorist organizations to think tanks and NGOs, all seek to influence the minds of individuals, societies and even corporations and governments. Education and modernity are no longer guarantees against indoctrination.

This is a growing problem in India where the indoctrination and radicalized thought of the Left Wing extremists, the ethno-nationalism of several groups in the north east and the religious fundamentalism of groups in Jammu and Kashmir, have created different kinds of radicalization. Deradicalization is like detoxification and each situation will need specific answers forming a part of a government’s larger counter terrorism effort. Therefore, the goals may be political and national the means cannot be purely political; in fact, politicization of this and counter-terror efforts will ruin all chances of the effort succeeding.

Jammu and Kashmir would remain a special focus of all efforts to prevent further radicalization in the state following growing evidence of the activity of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and the ISIS seeking to make inroads into Pakistan and even with reports of ISIS related activity in J and K. In June and October 2014, masked youths in Jammu and Kashmir waved ISIS flags showing their support for the terrorist group. Later, in August Adil Fayaz, a Kashmiri youth with an MBA degree from Australia’s Queensland University, had joined ISIS, and had perhaps traveled to Syria from Australia via Turkey. In September 2014, Indian military officials revealed that several Kashmiri youths had disappeared earlier in the year and were presumed to have joined some Pakistan-backed terror groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen, if not ISIS. However, it does not appear that any youth travelled directly from Jammu and Kashmir to join ISIS.

The participation of youth in Srinagar in a demonstration in December against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is par for the course in Srinagar. Kashmiri youth have usual been the first to demonstrate any wrong doing against Islam and the most famous one was the demonstration against Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children. Political radicalization in Kashmir valley against the perceived machinations of New Delhi has had a strong pro-Pakistan and Islamic fervor. Deradicalization or stemming the flow will depend on solving or tackling the issues that create this situation in the first place; not all perhaps but some issues will have to be tackled. It is going to be generational effort and there are no quick gun solutions. A radicalized population will always be vulnerable to approaches from outside.

Kashmiri angst is a mixture of ethno-religious nationalism aided by pro-Pakistan sentiments and opposed to Indian presence either of the Army or the paramilitary in the Valley. Political parties seen to be close to New Delhi have always been viewed with suspicion. The Kashmiri youth has traditionally been prepared to believe the worst about New Delhi and just as easily swayed by false claims by Islamabad. However, the present state of affairs in Pakistan, the inability of Pakistan to deliver to Kashmiris what they were promised by them, the loss of lives in the Valley and the fear that the youth may be left behind if they do not catch up with the rest has begun to work on the Kashmiri mind. Clearly where India is seen as a success story, Pakistan is not.

In Kashmir there are other issues. The image of New Delhi which is epitomized by the Delhi-ruled political parties like the Congress, the Governor representing New Delhi’s interests, the Army as the strong arm and the oppressive arm along with the police and the para-military. Winning back lost ground from the radicals has to be a societal effort. If the presence of armed forces, its actions and the inevitable over reactions are a contributory cause to the radicalization, then efforts to use the same forces to win back the people are hardly likely to succeed beyond the short term.

There has to be a mixture of hard power and soft power; schemes that involve the state and the society; and programs and projects seen to be to the advantage of the people. Preventive and preemptive measures which have an element of denial and anticipation, will have to go along side rehab and other positive measures using the same techniques as used by the opposition. An imaginative and intelligent use of the various forms of media, print, electronic, social media are helpful. There has to be an element of plausibility and not barefaced propaganda; this means the truth must be told, mistakes must be admitted and the government criticized on occasions. Programs that merely laud government achievements and fudge statistics lose credibility and following. Issues like Article 370 are important for the Kashmiri, so also is the issue of the Kashmiri Pandit. These issues ought to be discussed on all such platforms.

Providing employment opportunities, investment facilities, education at all levels, facilities for women, better marketing for agriculture and fruit products of Kashmir, are far better confidence building measures than granting subsidies. Make in Kashmir could be a slogan worth pursuing to its fruition.

Moreover, the Pakistan establishment, having realized that the game is not succeeding, have started talking increasingly about the river waters and that Pakistan should get a larger share. Thus any project to provide better irrigation and more power to the Kashmiris is objected to by Pakistan. Obviously, Pakistani establishment pays only lip service to the aspirations of the Kashmiris when it is not even prepared to concede to them essential survival needs like water. When Pakistan seeks a revision of the Indus Water Treaty it essentially wants more water from the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers. Any increase of supply of this water will deny Kashmir of its legitimate share of the water.

Efforts to show how good India has been will continue to have less mileage in the Valley but subtle messages showing how Pakistanis treat their minorities -the Ahmedis, Shias, Baloch, Sindhis. This may not make them love Indians but will make them realize Pakistan is no longer the desired option. At present the Kashmiri youth has access to Pakistani propaganda which has to be countered by slick and subtle Indian productions produced in the local language and idiom. It has to be something the Kashmiri youth can relate to.

There are different manifestations of a radicalized society and anger and violence are the two prominent ones. No state can afford to assert it is governing if at the same time it allows uncontrolled or repeated violence. Its first reaction after a period of denial is usually to curb and eliminate violence. But this is usually never enough nor fully appropriate. A permanent solution for tackling radicalization is a battle of the minds where radical thought resides. Radicalization in one community, if not checked early, inevitably leads to reactive and competitive radicalization in other communities.

A smart intelligence network that is local in character and can anticipate events is the best form of defence and counter offensive. In the absence of this, the usual strong arm tactics of the police, para-military and the army create more radicals than they win over. Papa1 and Papa2 become the idiom for torture and interrogations. Counter terrorism becomes political and ineffective.

Therefore, apart from the state asserting its authority it needs to have systems in place, ideally that do not allow disruptive radicalization which encourages secession. Tackling radicalization is a long process that transcends generations. Winning over the radical or the disgruntled is slow and tricky. Propaganda slogans and tall promises not based on facts have limited success. Official wrong doing left unpunished is counterproductive. Authority is respected when wrong doing is seen to be punished quickly just as much the state is seen to stand by when there is no wrong doing. It is more important to tell the audience what it wants to hear and not what the authority wants to tell them each time. It is only when receptivity increases that the subtle campaign can begin.

In India, we have tended to use the armed forces for internal security duties whereas the first effort should have been through an effective police force that is seen as a force to be trusted by the people and looked upon as the protector. Instead, police in India has become a symbol of oppression and corruption. This cannot be cured overnight. Politicians and self-serving bureaucrats have prevented police reforms and modernization of the police. The lack of this police force has been sought to be made good through over-deployment of paramilitary forces which are ill equipped by training to handle counter-insurgencies and are either border protection forces or additional law and order forces with little ability or expertise to collect local intelligence.

The best agency to deal with the strong arm part of an insurgency/terrorism that is radicalized is a well trained and motivated police force and its special force component. India lacks this sorely. Deradicalization and building a strong police force are both generational efforts. The sight of a uniform in the Valley is perhaps the most disliked despite efforts like the Sadbhavna projects which have has their impact but the people need more. Films like Haider are closer to the real dilemma, feelings and the circumstances. And this is the battle.

Pakistan may not hold that kind of attraction among the common Kashmiri in the Valley as it did in the past except among the radical elements. But this does not mean that New Delhi is acceptable. The average Kashmiri is therefore confused and unsure. The battle is for the minds of these Kashmiri youth, men and women.

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