Will Indian Army’s Charm Offensive Work In Kashmir?24 February 2011
Srinagar: When thousands gathered in an Indian army camp in Kashmir recently, people started asking questions: Is this another protest against New Delhi’s rule? The answer came as a surprise to many and as a shock to some. Nearly 10,000 youth had gathered to try their luck in a recruitment drive by the Indian army in the disputed region and not to protest against alleged excesses by security forces. A BBC report said that by taking part in the Indian army’s recruitment rally, Kashmiri youth have disregarded the region’s “struggle for independence which has been ongoing for the last 20 years.” Tens of thousands have died since 1989 in Kashmir, which is claimed both by India and Pakistan. “The week-long rally is being held barely a few months after last year’s widespread public unrest during which more than 100 people were killed,” the BBC report said. Last year, the death of a teenage boy by a police teargas shell triggered massive protests, the biggest since a separatist revolt against Indian rule broke out. More than 110 people were killed, most of them by bullets fired by government forces during months of unrest. But a few months after the massive demonstrations against Indian rule thousands of unemployed Kashmiris, braving militant threats, are queuing in hopes of impressing officers running an army recruitment drive, and bagging a job with the military. The rebel groups, which in the past have warned Kashmiris against joining Indian forces, describe local recruitment as an Indian ploy to make the people of the region fight each other. But the Indian army says its recruitment drive is to improve the lives of unemployed Kashmiris and create a niche for itself in a region where Indian forces are accused of grave human rights violations. “The huge turnout implies that the army has created a niche for itself in the hearts and minds of Kashmiris,” the Indian army’s Colonel Sanjiv Sirohi said. Overwhelmed by the response of Kashmiris to its week-long recruitment rally, the Indian army has assured many more similar recruitment rallies across the region. By wooing youth from the troubled region to join the army, is New Delhi trying to end separatism and militancy in Kashmir? Will the Indian army’s charm offensive work?