There might soon be something missing from the memories that tourists bring home from Jammu and Kashmir. One of these is the ubiquitous presence of bunkers all over Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir valley. Over the past two years, as many as 44 bunkers have been dismantled in Srinagar alone, many from places such as Lal Chowk and Batamaloo, which are symbolic of Kashmir’s long history of resistance. The one to go most recently is the bunker on the Amirakadal bridge, which had been a constant reminder of the security paranoia of the Indian State. The removal of these obvious signs of military presence in Kashmir undoubtedly adds to the confidence of the Omar Abdullah government. Since the summer uprisings of 2009 and 2010, the chief minister had assured the people of reducing the army’s footprints in the valley. The steady removal of the bunkers from prominent places cannot but point to the moderate success of the state government. And yet, the development also symbolizes a larger failure. The facts that concrete bunkers are being replaced in places with mobile ones and that bunkers are coming up in unexpected places in Srinagar show that even with the bunkers, the Abdullah government has not been able to script a success story. As Mr Abdullah’s struggle to get the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act revoked from his state shows, the plot and direction of the unfolding story in Jammu and Kashmir continue to rest with his political masters in New Delhi and their advisers in the army. None of them believes that the time has come for the state to be relieved of army presence or is willing to risk an experiment in a phased withdrawal that Mr Abdullah had suggested.
What is even more unfortunate is that despite Mr Abdullah’s apparent activism, nothing has changed the human rights scenario. High profile cases such as Pathribal, which has implicated the army in human rights abuse, are still stagnating in court while a more recent report from a people’s tribunal has shown how the police and paramilitary forces have gone unpunished for atrocities perpetrated by them. Unless this area is worked on, mere cosmetic changes such as the removal of bunkers will not remove the deep insecurities of the people, nor create the momentum necessary for larger changes such as the repeal of the AFSPA.