SRINAGAR: An elected government. Denial of support to militants. Decreasing involvement of locals with any form of militancy. Increasing control by security forces - changes which ought to have had for-reaching consequences for people, but have not.
Despite the vast changes in the nature of insurgency in the Kashmir valley, disenchantment with the State remains a pre-dominant sentiment that shows no signs of receding. While the collapse of delivery systems is not specific to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, what is specific to it is the impact of this failure. Disenchantment with the process of governance is not merely an anti- incumbency factor here but is also an anti-India sentiment.
What worries observers is the fact that the disenchantment has now spread to include even the pro-India element. "People are no longer involved with militants directly. They merely want peace. But the hatred of India has increased. Nationalist forces are also feeling alienated now. Those who made peace with the establishment in the hope of some change feel there is not much pointing remaining committed to a peace process which yields nothing." "Sukuun" is the most common word offered by people to describe their hopes. While the literal translation of this word is "peace," it also encompasses the hope of a more tranquil and better life. "Sukuun", however, seems to be a far cry still and at this crucial turning point in the situation, the government is rapidly running out of time, unable to make the difference that matters.
Village Gulgam is Kupwara is a case in point. For residents in this town in the border district, the army remains the most real face of the Indian state till today and disenchantment with the administration is the predominant sentiment.
The tale of Habibullah exemplifies the situation. A National Conference worker, Habibullah is now the butt of good-humoured chaffing by other villagers as his dreams of good governance turns sour day by day. Having poured in his efforts into campaigning for the National Conference, he is now in the unenviable situation of having nothing to show for it and has turned it fiercest critic.
The only face of the government Habibullah encounters on a daily basis is that of the security forces stationed in the vicinity. Habibullah has spent the previous night in the army camp nearby and has bruises to show for it.
Gulgam, identified earlier as a pro-militant village, saw nearly 100 young men joining the ranks of terrorists. Today the gradual process of disengagement of overt support of militancy is nearly complete. Talk of the past struggle for separatism is met with silence and the village claims it is "clear" of any militants.
The nearby village of Kunnan Poshpora has yielded what the army considers good dividends. The village, which was fiercely anti-India earlier, was responsible for handing over two militants in September this year, says the army. A local army officer, barking our commands on the phone, tells his junior "remember, good conduct yields good information". A far cry from even a year ago when every resident was a suspect.
The process of bringing about normalcy has, however, not helped the villagers obtain a share of the benefits of development. The High School of Gulgam, burnt down in 1989, is yet to be reconstructed and the MLA does not visit, say villagers. "Only those who salaam him get some help. The tube wells sanctioned for this village are in the courtyards of his supporters."
Habibullah is not the only one with a recent brush with the security forces. "Yesterday, there was a raid by the BSF battalion stationed nearby and around 50 households were searched on the basis of misleading information". The women of the village were also recently beaten up by the security forces for wandering in the forest. The army claimed they were going there ton feed the militants while the villagers claim they were collecting firewood since the village is devoid of power for five of the seven days in the week.
"The terror of the army still exists" says Rafiq. It is true that their actions are not as severe as they were in the past. But a dog which bites once will always be feared."
Agreeing with this sentiment, an army officer says bluntly "people do not like the army". He also feels that disenchantment with militancy has not seen a commensurate decrease in alienation from India.
The story of disenchantment is the same in other villages across the valley. In Nusu in Bandipora, the complaints run through a similar refrain. No jobs. The road hardly exists except for a patch of rubble and there is no power. Instances of harassment by security forces are less severe but still a predominant cause of anger. While one villager complaints that the renegade militants are supported by the police, another refers to a recent instance of highhandedness by the army. "When the National Conference came to power, there was some hope. People thought there would be someone to listen to their woes. All that has completely been belied. With a few exceptions all are busy lining their own coffers" says a senior officer.
Control over the security situation is the benefit being reaped by the government as a result of the people's fatigue with militancy. This fatigue, however, could soon turn into a fatigue of peace that does not deliver, that does not provide development, security or freedom from harassment. Once that takes place, what will happen is anybody's guess.
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Copyright Md. Sadiq, All Rights Reserved, 1998