x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Time to reckon with Kashmir's difficult truths

Addressing Kashmir's chronic angers will require a far more comprehensive commitment than India's assurances over removing its hard-edge security measures in the state.

The Indian writer Arundhati Roy once said that "truth, in Kashmir, is probably more dangerous than anything else. The deeper you dig, the worse it gets." These words have been painfully resonant in the recent rhetoric from New Delhi, which has failed to resolve growing unrest in Kashmir. The Indian government has made verbal assurances on removing its hard-edge security measures in the state but addressing Kashmir's chronic angers will require a far more comprehensive commitment. Violent protests have erupted again in Srinagar, the state's capital, after yet another curfew was imposed by the Indian military on Saturday. Protesters burnt a Christian school, ostensibly in response to the desecration of Qurans in the United States. But that was merely the spark that ignited long-simmering tensions.

Indian security forces reportedly fired live rounds into a crowd of rioters, killing 18 civilians. Since the killing in June of a teenager, Kashmiris have launched what amounts to an intifada, bringing an end to two years of fragile calm. More than 85 Kashmiris have been killed since the summer began. These events have been the latest example of how India's Armed Forces Special Powers Act has given security forces too free a hand in Kashmir for 20 years. They have broad latitude to shoot, arrest and search the largely unarmed protesters and have shown little inclination to pull punches. The recent emergence of a YouTube video, purporting to show a "Kashmiri Abu Ghraib", in which young prisoners are abused while in detention, has launched a fresh volley of criticism by human rights advocates.

The Indian government has legitimate security concerns but its means of addressing them are flawed. Security forces have knocked down many doors but failed to open any new ones for the people of Kashmir, where development lags well behind many other parts of India. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has acknowledged as much. "The youth of Kashmir are our citizens and their grievances have to be addressed. We have to ensure better delivery of services and generate better avenues for economic advancement for the people of that state," Mr Singh said on Monday. The government panel charged with reviewing security policies in the state has offered talks with the separatists, although there is reason to wonder how far this will go. The panel is headed by a member of the BJP party, which is historically less sensitive to Kashmir's difficulties.

Paving a path to peace in Kashmir will require a generational effort, not a quick political fix. Unless structural solutions to underlying problems are applied, Kashmir's youth will have more reason for their restlessness. The politicians of India, Pakistan, and local officials in Kashmir must indeed confront the enormity of Kashmir's challenges and needs. For too long they have found the political dangers of doing so too great. If this continues, Kashmir's difficulties and its dangers will become greater still.