Terrorism in Kashmir today is at a very critical juncture. The movement for the terrorism is directionless and mainly leaderless due to the existing dynamics of kinetic operations at ground level. However, we must put ourselves into acute realization that right from the initial days of militancy, the youth in Kashmir have grown up seeing a gun-wielding soldier or a militant. As a result, they have developed a mindset where the gun is perceived as the strongest and the only symbol of empowerment. The young boys are also fascinated by the thrill and glamour of gun culture. However, today’s Terrorism is mostly driven by ‘homegrown’ elements, though Pakistan-based controllers and operatives continue to play a prominent role in weapons supply, funding and directing the broad narratives, strategy and agenda for militant organisations. In addition the mainstream political parties has had apparently seem to lost their “connect” with the people and their credibility has significantly been eroded in recent times for various reasons.
In J&K the youth engagement programmes have so far focused on employment generation. However, when the cause is psychological, such a narrow corridor approach will hardly serve the right purpose. Definition of engagement should be widened to include addressing their sense of alienation and the trust deficit. The key lies in the right way of communication and creating the right perception.
Kashmiris by nature are scholars. Their natural skills in the minute & skillful aspects of life such as art, literature and emotions are very subtle and refined. We need to engage youths at the levels which meets their meanderings minds and put in use. We need to create political, social, intellectual and cultural outlets for the young generation to express themselves. Youth forums can be platforms where political, social and cultural issues can be freely discussed. They should also be encouraged to interact with youth from other parts of the country. The story of India covering freedom of expression, democracy, secularism, respect for diversity, multiculturalism and the liberty of pursuing various art forms, could sell well in this context. They should not see the gun as a source of empowerment. Alternatively new role models can be created in academics, sports, civil services, literature, journalism, and films.
Kashmiri youth must be exposed to a mindset where they are exposed to critical thinking. The curriculum should focus on teaching diverse religious and ideological thought processes. It can have six schools of Indian philosophy, western philosophy, and political philosophy, philosophy of religion, comparative religions and international affairs. The curriculum should also involve meditation, yoga and psychological counseling to generate positive thinking. The Kashmiri youth mindset needs to be internationalised and catapulted out of the perceived or real sense of victim hood. Sentiments of religious extremism and separatism are also strengthened due to lack of exposure to global developments. Through foreign exposure, they will have an interface with forces of post-modern globalisation, development and economic growth. They will see fruits of economic growth.
The narrative on social media needs to be challenged and replaced with an alternative. WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitterspaces, Clubhouses debates are being run by Kashmiri diaspora and its proxies like Jihadi Ideology, global jihadi organizations and militant organizations are very refined and sophisticated in terms of quality of content and their logical rigour. Facts and figures are manipulated and selectively presented to nourish a fertile ground for vulnerable minds which can be easy targets for Jihadi ideology and anti-India feelings. Alternatively new role models can be created in addition there is a need of creation new narrative in universities and colleges of Jammu and Kashmir to counter lies peddled by cross-border actors. Think-tanks, research forums, youth forums or inter-faith dialogue bodies and cultural interaction clubs can be created to challenge dominant online floating narratives of Jihad and the hypocrisy of Pakistan in political matters.The most important reason for youths taking up arms is poverty and unemployment. Jobs are hard to come by in J&K as there has been no scope for economic development through industrialisation. Due to non-existence of conducive environment for domestic & foreign investment the rate of unemployment has grown by many folds with increasing population. Education has taken a backseat as parents don’t realise its importance. This is a win-win situation for ISI and local political leaders. They have been exploiting this situation by offering handsome money to brew chaos and disorder.
However with the abrogation of article 370 and article 35(a), there is a promising future for the present generation of youth, girls and women will benefit to a great extent. With the influx of external investment and boost to tourism there will be more jobs. This means alleviation of poverty and guaranteed progress. Further recent investments from friendly foreign countries are opening a cluster of opportunities for the youth in order to translate their dreams and aspirations into realistic dividends.
While redefining the narrative of “Azadi” as “Azadi” from poverty, violence, nepotism, corruption, religious extremism and injustice our stand must be of “Azadi baraye aman-o-Ahatram” (peace with dignity). It has to be a multi pronged approach with multiple layers of engagement. We need to have a long-term political and economic vision for Kashmir. We need to ask the right questions to the youth what kind of Kashmir we want after 15-20 or 25 years and what is the roadmap for that. The state should have a dominant presence in the academic space and not in the religious organisations as they mainly focus on “deeni-taleem”, i.e., religious studies. In schools, the curriculum of Kashmiriryat and nationalism must be developed and taught. A committee of experts could be constituted to chart out a political, economic, educational, cultural and religious roadmap for Kashmir. It should define the underlying principles, objectives, the strategy and the steps ahead. There must be consistency in government approach. For some short-term gains, no compromise should even be thought of, with the core principles of UT’s or our long-term interests and objectives. There is a need to strengthen the mainstream in Kashmir and institutionalize democracy as a spirit.
Kashmiri youths are full of energy and to tap / channelize these powerhouse towards a positive direction nothing is better then the sports activities. Also it shall help to build in the bonhomie and positive attitude. Geographically and topographically J&K becomes an ideal playground for preparation for India genes for winter games to be held in international level. Government initiatives like ‘Khelo India’ and other corporate NGO partnerships are proving crucial in navigating the youth of J& K for a better promising life full of opportunities and laurels.