Indian analysts are starting to refer to the street violence gripping Kashmir as the “Kashmir intifada,” a nod to the earlier uprisings of Palestinian stone-throwing youth against Israeli forces.
Tensions remain high in the Kashmir Valley, with the main city of Srinagar shut down today – a historical holiday known as Martyr’s Day – due to strikes and a reimposed curfew.
The use of the phrase intifada, which means uprising, highlights how the unrest in Kashmir has been led by rock-throwing boys, not the trained militants or political factions of the elder generation. It was that generation's earlier efforts that failed to end India's military presence in the disputed region along the Pakistan and Indian border where many Kashmiris simply want independence.
The root cause of boys throwing stones
Intifada also harks back to the cycle of violence unleashed in the Palestinian territories. The same dynamic has emerged in Kashmir this year: boys throw stones at security forces, those forces fire back and kill youths, protests start anew, more rocks are thrown, and more protesters are killed. In the past month alone, at least 15 people have died in the clashes.
“What we are witnessing in certain areas of Jammu & Kashmir is the beginning of an intifada,” writes B. Raman, former head of counterterrorism for India¹s intelligence service, in India¹s Outlook Magazine.
“The root cause is the growing perception among some sections of the youth that the security forces have been insensitive in performing their counter-insurgency duties and have been adopting objectionable methods … and using disproportionate force against the people.”
The language has also been picked up by some of the Kashmiri separatist leaders, says Yusuf Jameel, a journalist based in Srinagar for the Asian Age newspaper. It reflects the changed nature of the current unrest – which he says started in 2008 – from the bloody insurgency of the 1990s.
Today's opposition in Kashmir
“The difference is that, in the ’90s, you had people out in the streets, but at the same time you had militants fighting security forces, attacking them, exploding grenades, and things like that,” says Mr. Jameel. Now, there is virtually no militant activity in the cities, “but on the other hand, you have crowds out on the street chanting slogans like ‘We want freedom’ and ‘India get out.’ ”
The crowds are larger, and from within those crowds emerge the boys who have made rock throwing a pastime, he says. He is open to the notion that the boys are being put up to it by opposition political leaders hoping to regain power. But ultimately, he says, getting a handle on the situation means addressing the longstanding political tensions over who should control the territory.
Crowd and youth control?
Mr. Raman and others argue that now is the wrong time to focus on that discussion. Since the immediate anger has to do with police tactics, the Indian government needs to implement better methods of crowd control, seriously investigate human rights violations, and reach out more to youths.
“First of all, the government should try to contact the leadership of the teenage protesters about their grievances,” says Balraj Puri, director of the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs. While their leaders and entire list of grievances remain unknown, he says, they have demanded the release of all youths as a condition for ending their movement.
“As far as ‘Kashmir intifada’ is concerned, there is no clear model for teenagers. They are groping for their way,” says Mr. Puri. "Of course they are in touch with the events taking place elsewhere.
Raman uses the term intifada less in reference to the Israeli conflict and more to the vision of “jihadi intifada” outlined by Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in 2007. Mr. Zawahiri, he says, called for “leaderless street violence” and a mixing of violent and nonviolent tactics.
Intifada's complicated association
Still, the term’s association with the Israel-Palestinian conflict raises some hackles when applied to Kashmir.
“At a factual level, I would obviously disagree with its application to Kashmir,” says Sumit Ganguly, a professor at Indiana University at Bloomington. “The Indian state has committed many sins, but it has legal standing in Kashmir and a moral and constitutional obligation to the non-Muslim population of the state.”
There appears to be broad agreement among experts that the boys, for now, are not acting in concert with militants. Yet, much of the security apparatus in the state is focused on fighting insurgents, not managing protesters.
“The local police have focused on counter-insurgency duties over the last several years and can't cope with civilian mobs,” writes Mr. Ganguly in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.
He adds economic stagnation to the list of underlying grievances of the younger generation: “The coalition state government has done little to attract investment into the troubled state. Kashmiris, especially young men, have limited employment opportunities.”
For now, the economy has only worsened because of the violence. The valley is highly dependent on tourist dollars. The unrest has shuttered businesses in downtown Srinigar and scared off tourists from enjoying the mountain weather.
More articles on Kashmir and intifadas: