By Wajahat Qazi
What makes an SUV driving young man, from an upper middle class background, who had his life made for him, so to speak, take to the gun? And what makes another youngish man to give up a rather comfortable life to become a ‘compulsive’ militant? Whilst making individual judgments on the nature and circumstances which could be different and idiosyncratic in both cases, a common feature or theme binds the two- Adil Ahmed Reshi and Yaseen Yatoo- both in life and death. It is the conflict in and over Kashmir and the attendant complementary set of issues that the conflict has incubated and generated that structured the lives and deaths of Reshi and Yatoo. Reshi, it may be recalled died in an encounter at Pahalgam a few days ago and Yatoo is suspected of being dead after his ‘compulsive’ long drawn out stints with militancy spanning almost a couple of decades.
The former was the scion of a wealthy family and the latter came from a comfortable middle or working class background. Both Reshi and Yatoo could be held to be emblematic of a larger theme or phenomenon that derives from the conflict in and over Kashmir. The conflict, it bears repetition, structures the consciousness and psycho- emotional worlds of Kashmiris. This theme is cross and intergenerational. Readers might recall that in the heady days of early nineties, no section of Kashmiri society was untouched by the gale of sentiment that defined Kashmir then. The same holds true even now- albeit in a different permutation and combination. What appears to be another key and significant factor in the emblematic cases of Reshi and Yatoo and the generation of 90’s is what may be called as the ‘ tipping point’- the point that makes an individual or individuals to swap a cushy and comfortable life in favor of great danger and certain death. The nature of this tipping point could be manifold- a bad experience with the police or paramilitary forces, the killing of a friend , colleague or even family members, harassment by authorities in certain cases, perceived and real assaults against fellow Kashmiris and other related issues or themes- but the principal premise ,pivotal motivation and the decision making calculus – is the structuring context- the conflict in and over Kashmir. This assertion is not tautological but it bears emphasis and repetition given its centrality. This is the macro theme and context that gives rise to the micro phenomenon- militancy in Kashmir. Young boys and men- at the peak of their lives- when they should be thinking about careers, families and be full of ambition, willingly opt for the route of the gun and militancy. This is not only a travesty but also a tragedy. ( Obiter dictum, the nature and profile of youth joining militancy and then paying the ultimate price for their decisions gives short shrift to the theory that poverty and desperate circumstances breeds militancy).
However, what is remarkable is the state’s response: the state’s reflex( which has assumed the character of a pattern now) is to kill and thus neutralize militants. This raises the obvious question: how many will the state kill and will this resolve the issue of youth joining militant ranks? A resounding NO is the answer to this question. Neutralizing militant cadre amounts to attempts to snuff out the emanation of the wider phenomenon of militancy in Kashmir. And , moreover, as has been observed and witnessed in the Middle East and elsewhere, a focus on killings does nothing. In fact, it only exacerbates the underlying issue(s) and renders it more truculent. What is more prudent- especially in the conditions that obtain in Kashmir- is to create a structural context in Kashmir that leads to peace –within and without. This structural context can only be created by instituting a conflict resolution approach or even paradigm that sates and satisfies all stakeholders to the conflict in and over Kashmir- especially the people of Kashmir. This is not an insight but a statement of the obvious. However, instituting this paradigm is the essential pre-requisite and central axiom for lasting peace in Kashmir. Any other approach is doomed- rendered poignant by the fact that the sentiment that feeds the structuring context in Kashmir is not a sub-altern phenomenon. That is, it neither pertains to class or status of a person in society. This sentiment is so broad, wide and deep that it does not itself to dissolution by anodyne slogans of ‘good governance’ or economic up-liftment. The truth of the matter is that almost every Kashmiri is implicated in the crucible of this wide and deep sentiment in one form or the other. All it takes to shift from the domain of sentiment to either militancy or stone pelting is a ‘tipping point’. If nothing else, the case of Adil Reshi illustrates the point. What Kashmir needs is a healthy and salubrious conflict resolution paradigm whose benefits redound to all. Will this suggestion be heeded to? Unlikely is the sad answer.
—Wajahat Qazi can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org