Kashmir’s lost generation

August 28, 2008

Kashmiri children wait for gunbattle to end (file photo)/Fayaz KabliiOne of the more troublesome aspects of the latest protests in Kashmir, among the biggest since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989, is the impact on the younger generation.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Indian writer Pankaj Mishra writes that India’s attempt to crush the revolt in 1989 and 1990 ended up provoking many young Kashmiris to take to arms and embrace radical Islam. 

“A new generation of politicized Kashmiris has now risen; the world is again likely to ignore them – until some of them turn into terrorists with Qaeda links,” he writes.  Calling on India to take some first steps to ease the situation by cutting the number of troops in the Kashmir Valley and allowing Kashmiris to trade freely across the Line of Control – the military demarcation line which divides the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan – he says the past record does not inspire much hope.

“But a brutal suppression of the nonviolent protests will continue to radicalize a new generation of Muslims and engender a fresh cycle of violence, rendering Kashmir even more dangerous – and not just to South Asia this time,” he says.

It would be wrong to overstate the role of radical Islam in the revolt – the Kashmir Valley is primarily Sufi and the hardline brand of Wahhabi/Deobandi Islam followed by al Qaeda and the Taliban has never really managed to take root there.

And nor would it be correct to hold India alone responsible — many Pakistanis will admit privately that Pakistan played its own role in encouraging the separatist revolt, in part to use as a pawn against its much bigger neighbour.

But no amount of finger-pointing or bitter wrangling over history can take away from the fact that children who were born after the revolt erupted and grew up in violence, are now turning into teenagers as the troubles flare anew. What hope for them?

As the comments on my last post on Kashmir  showed, the Kashmir question is one that still stirs powerful and divisive emotions.

There is no “quick fix” solution. The former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, promised a plebiscite after partition in 1947, is an intricate mosaic of different ethnic, national and religious identities, now held in parts by India, Pakistan and China, and caught between the strategic interests of all three.

Woman holding a baby protesting in Srinagar/Fayaz KabliIt’s also hard also to see how India and Pakistan can now muster the political will to seek a solution on Kashmir when they failed to do so in the space that opened up after they agreed a ceasefire on the Line of Control at the end of 2003. In Delhi, the Congress-led government faces elections due by May next year, and would be vulnerable to accusations by the Hindu right of betraying India were it to give too much ground. Pakistan is stumbling through a chaotic transition to civilian government, whose leaders will be watched carefully by the powerful Pakistan Army for any signs of weakness in dealing with India.

But then again, what is the price of doing nothing? Children born when the Kashmir revolt erupted will be 20 next year. What will they tell their children? What legacy will they hand on to the next generation?



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