In an era of unrestricted warfare, being oblivious to various conflicts surrounding us is not an option. Moreover, influences over these conflicts are not restricted to geographical boundaries and social media plays an important role in managing and channelising the narratives. Stakeholders of these conflicts, both individuals and organizations, use this comprehension as per their own vested interests either to work towards conflict mitigation and peace building or to prolong conflict resolution.
Quite clear then, that it becomes crucial for men in uniform to understand the role of various stakeholders and their mechanics of functioning, to understand the course of conflicts and how it is impacting people.
The scope of this article has been limited to prolonged conflict in Kashmir. The issue continues to remain contentious even after multifarious approach by government to maintain peace and security in the region. The masses have lost lives, property and peace of mind in this environment of conflict while prominent stakeholders have grabbed property and power as products of the conflict. Hence, while the locals suffer, the vocals on the issue have gained, by not allowing the embers to douse from the region. This article aims to bring out the role of stakeholders in funnelling the narratives of Kashmir issue, especially in the national and international discourse, to keep the conflict alive and not allow peace to settle in the region.
The question that arises here, is that who these conflict entrepreneurs are after all. Conflict entrepreneurs are people who inflict conflict in the lives of general public or a group of people for their vested interests. They benefits from the conflict in ample ways sustaining on a parallel economy generated through conflicts. They often mobilize individuals, groups and organizations using various tactics such as appeals to ethnic, religious and/ or ideological solidarity. Over the past decades, Kashmir has developed as a case study on how a political issue can be magnified into a conflict economy, in which conflict entrepreneurs thrive. An entire ecosystem has developed that feeds into and upon this conflict economy. They are the ones who are vocal in the media houses indulging in selective reporting. They are the ones who mint money by painting a grim picture of the society for a vulnerable audience they are the ones who are least interested in damage control or social stability, however, would open their coffers for such negative images because it helps them propagate their ideological interests.
They are attention seekers who choose their targets well and they can be from any strata of society; viz. politicians, government servants, media persons, teachers, religious preachers etc. And they can be best identified by finding their relevance in conflict generation and irrelevance in conflict termination.
While understanding the conscience of conflict entrepreneurs, very commonly the stress is laid on the aim of creating fear, repulsion and outrage in a population through the systematic employment of terror and brutality through them. Such conflict involves different degrees of dehumanisation. The distress, death and loss of lives may be perceived with indifference by the conflict entrepreneurs, on the other hand it is extremely frightening and nerve-wrecking for the victims who are left with no hope for a peaceful solution in the near future. These conflict entrepreneurs lust for power, stature and of course money. Their actions are directed towards somehow being able to continue the violence and they may venture into dangerous fields to satisfy their lust. If we see the case of Kashmir issue, we may find that the reasons for present state of terrorism in the state is attributed to political riggings in the late 80s, however, no one discusses in public discourse that election rigging of 80s wasn’t the first of its kind in Kashmir. It was, however, the last of such incidences. There have been periods of politically stable governments in the state, periods of high percentage of voting and mass political participation. Yet, terrorism continues, and the simple reason behind the conflict to continue, albeit in new form of radical terrorism is the role of ‘conflict entrepreneurs’ and ‘vulture journalists’.
Everything from hasty road crime to cold plotted violations against humankind rises out of the aggregate of collaborations between the brains of these conflict entrepreneurs and the weapons in hands of radicalized youth on ground, giving ample evidence that this relationship has been represented as aggression, frustration or trauma. A human brain is more vulnerable to malicious encounters and false information, as compared to more benign inﬂuences. Naturally the conflict entrepreneurs find it easy to incline towards the malicious side and lose empathy when it comes to the lives of people.
All the conflicts in the past have led to the generation of hidden fear and trauma amongst the Kashmiris. Conflict entrepreneurs in Kashmir are disguised as human rights activists and under the pretext of betterment of people and voice for their rights, they brainwash them and use them to create unrest. The authorities, in turn, resort to various means to curb this and bring peace. In this process, the Kashmiris suffer and pay the price whereas the conflict entrepreneurs, the catalysts, sleep in harmony. As a result, Kashmiris have come to feel unwanted and betrayed. They get brainwashed to the level that they see no other enemy bigger than the state itself. In the entire bargain, the development of these individuals and the union territory of J&K as a whole get compromised. A lot of government resources, that could have been used for development are spent on measures to calm down conflicts.
Education plays a very important role in the conflict ecosystem of Kashmir. These vultures have attacked the education system to brainwash the youth of the state to an extent that they find solace in aggression against the state and celebrate death in the name of seccession and religion. The society has been secluded from logics and propaganda machinery has occupied the space. Even political and social resentments are converted into conflict against the state. The conflict entrepreneurs trace out aggrieved youth and plant seeds of resentment in their mind who then proceed by illegal means to express their rage against the state. As a result, they end up losing their life with no one to look after their families. The conflict entrepreneurs pay no heed to the family’s loss and this perpetual process of identifying individuals and brainwashing continues. As a result, it is the loss of innumerable young, aspiring, vastly capable and perhaps innocent lives.
The most important action to weed out conflict entrepreneurs is to make the cost of conflict heavy for them. As of now, they gain out of conflicts while the poor masses pay the price. The ‘Vocals’ earn while the ‘Locals’ suffer. The situation should be reversed to a condition where the supply chain of these conflict entrepreneurs gets jeopardised while locals continue to get the support of the government agencies. It has to start from grass root, from schools, from fields and from every single house by empowering the women of the society.
At the same time, these conflict entrepreneurs should be segregated from society, marginalized and made to pay the price for the disturbances they bring to the society. While the anti-terrorism and anti- insurgency operations are necessary and unavoidable, they are far from sufficient in normalising the situation in the Valley, where the alienation is more a function of what has not been done, than of what has been done. The bottom line is that, Kashmir is not just about muscular and security-oriented policy but also about hearts and minds of people. The way ahead out of this is development is only enroute job generation,infrastructure, tourism, hydro projects, education, etc.
Education will play a primary role in getting Kashmir to a better place. Firstly, it will emancipate the minds of people and their individual rationale will be activated. Secondly, it will help them fetch jobs to earn a livelihood and eventually the idea of resorting to illegal practices will not embolden in the first place.
Infrastructure development in the form of new schools, colleges, government learning centres, etc. will ensure lesser participation of Kashmiri society in the parallel academics of religio-politics. Job generation will ensure they dont resort to parallel conflict-centric economies like stone pelting, assasinations, weapon smuggling, social media propaganda or terror refuge.
Kashmir is rich in natural resources. Technological advancement and bringing in machinery to facilitate processing of the available resources will lead to flourishing trade. Also, given the wide variety of fruits that are native to the region, fruit processing could expand significantly. Kashmir has its own age old tradition of wooden furniture-making. It is no coincidence that Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen, the largest and most successful furniture business in the United States, is a Kashmiri. Sadly, the age-old craft of woodcarving is dying out, as young people are pursuing more lucrative professions and for that, they move out of Kashmir. If this age-old skill set is again introduced to youngsters, they will get employment within their homeland itself. This would be an appealing career option to the lesser literate sectionsof the rural society and an ecosystem will be estalished wherein the uneducated too, having a family to feed, would resort to sane ways of earning a livelihood. Also, Kashmir’s walnut furniture has been priced for generations for both the beauty of its texture and its exquisite craftsmanship, again adding on to the possibilities of employment in the valley.
Tourist attractions like Dal Lake, have played a central role in Kashmir’s civilisation. Throughout the centuries, it has contributed to the economy of the state by providing food and water and by attracting tourists. An ecosystem unto itself with floating gardens, marshes, lagoons, and forests, Dal Lake hosts its own unique species of flora and fauna. Revenues generated from tourism can be used for other development projects. The state’s waterways potentially could generate fifteen thousand megawatts of power. If this energy were efficiently harnessed, it could be used to supply power to northern India, and even to the new republics of Central Asia. This endeavour might well attract significant investment, again generating revenues.
To conclude with, conflict entrepreneurs will always thrive to find soft targets that they can use to cause unrest. However, not letting individuals become these soft targets and giving them the feeling of belongingness with the whole of India and making them believe in the state’s and the centre’s concern for them will pave the way for a peaceful Kashmir. To keep individuals from becoming soft targets, the only way is by giving them opportunities to excel in their areas of interest and thereby giving a sense of accomplishment.
When infrastructure develops and the youth is educated and employed, the general public will have faith in the authorities and will look up to them with hope of further enhancement, thus making them believe in the system. Celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir and showcasing it at national level will make people proud of being Kashmiri Indians and will instill feelings of belongingness and oneness with the whole of India. The armed forces also actively contribute in bringing about this change. ‘Iron fist with a velvet glove’ strategy is their policy, ‘Iron fist’ for the disturbing elements and ‘Velvet glove’ for the ‘People’ of Kashmir.