Kashmir is on the boil again. Unrest has been on the rise for months now. The involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence can be safely assumed, but less than in previous flare-ups, if clashes along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir are used as an indicator. In any event, the ability of outsiders to make trouble is usually proportionate to the degree that Indian authorities mess up. As the Indian Express has editorialized, “the turmoil in the Valley has shown up the glaring absence in the present dispensation of a political approach to the Kashmir issue.”
A boiling point was inevitable, as Surinder Singh Oberoi confidently predicted in a talk at Stimson last May. The level of violence has spiked again after the killing of Burhan Wani. When I began following Kashmir and visiting the Valley twenty years ago, militant leaders were trained in Pakistan and took their cues from Rawalpindi. Burhan Wani reflects a new phase of home-grown militancy fueled by social media, as this dispatch from Srinagar, written by Wajahat Qazi, a former official of the State Government, attests:
“Burhan Wani — the young militant from Kashmir who had gained iconic status among the Vale’s Gen Next — is no more. Wani was killed in what the police have called an “encounter”. A heavy pall of gloom and an emotionally fraught condition hangs over Kashmir after his death. If a parallel may be drawn here or a metaphor employed, it seems that a wound has been reopened in Kashmir’s collective consciousness. This is evident and writ large on the visages of people and the outpouring of grief across the length and breadth of Kashmir.
“There is another parallel at work here. For the Gen Next of Kashmir, Wani was the iconic and emblematic personification of their aspirations and emotional calculus. For the older cohort of Kashmiris incubated in the eighties and nineties, Wani’s death recalls that of another young Kashmiri, Ashfaq Majeed Wani.
“A common strand runs through both Burhan’s and Ashfaq Majeed’s life trajectories and deaths. Both represented and reflected the deepest yearnings and aspirations of Kashmiris. And both were inspirational for a vast majority of the people. Eerily, both were in their twenties when they gained iconic status and died. The people of Kashmir sublimated and projected their deepest yearnings onto them. Both stuck their neck out and placed themselves in mortal danger. Both were willing to pay the highest price for Kashmir.”
Kashmir will always be crisis-prone as long as there is poor governance in Muslim-majority areas, the ISI keeps its hand in, and political leaders in New Delhi, Islamabad, and Srinagar shy away from seeking progress toward a Kashmir settlement. Their failure to try has been a rational calculation: to advance serious proposals, as opposed to maximal demands, is to invite serious blowback. So political leaders let things slide. And things slide downhill. The ineffectuality of the coalition government in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir makes matters worse.
As the violence builds, the U.S. media will catch up and start to take notice. The Obama Administration is assuredly watching closely, wondering how much the violence will spiral, and the degree to which Rawalpindi will seek to feed the fire.
Grievances in Kashmir linger because New Delhi views governance of the Valley as a management problem. Cynicism breeds resentment. Wars and crises over Kashmir have been followed by sharpened grievances rather than by diplomatic initiatives. When diplomacy has episodically been tried, it has been half-hearted and easily countered. Consequently, it’s only a matter of time between crises. Intervals vary, but now is the time.
Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in Arms Control Wonk on July 11, 2016.