New Echoes in J&K
Brig SK Chatterji

The undercurrents in Kashmir Valley, the covert and overt actions of Pakistan across the International Border and Line of Control (LoC) with India require to be analysed in depth if we are not to be reactive in our strategy to thwart separatist designs and Pak motives. A few new trends in the valley are cause for concern and require addressing before they snowball into another set of challenges. A lot of them are at the strategic level, requiring actions at Kashmir and also, Delhi.

To start with, the most conspicuous change in J & K is the emergence of a new political alignment. Two political parties, always viewed to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum, have come together to provide a government. However, beyond the precincts of the legislative assembly and the arithmetical logic of forming a government, the union of opposites has not triggered a greater cohesion in the Kashmir Valley. In fact, a few trends strengthen the contrarian view.

For decades, the percentage of local boys embracing terror as compared to foreign terrorists in J&K, has displayed a pronounced bias in favour of the latter. They formed 60 percent of the rank and file with the top leadership of most groups being almost exclusively from across the LoC. There is a demographic shift today. Recruitment has picked up on our side of the LoC. It’s 60 percent local optees now. There is a reason to introspect!
The backbone of insurgency has been broken. Their capabilities have withered. But, all too recent, a different story has also been written. The young Pakistani terrorist, Mohammed Naved captured alive in Udhampur apparently managed to find hosts for 30 days in the valley. Has the local support, the Oxygen for terrorists, diminished or is it a case of the terrorist threat and writ being the law? Two of his companions remain untraceable even after the NIA has put their sketches in the public domain. Is it also a case of a substantial body of sympathisers having found their way into the government machinery and police forces? When viewed in the context of hard intelligence being crucial for undertaking anti-terror operations, the episode also leads to scepticism about our intelligence capabilities in the valley.

While we talk of Pandits returning to valley, let’s take a look at the effect of periodic targeting of the Sarpanchs and Panchs. Around 80 Panchs and Sarpanchs resigned in Baramulla District after a Deputy Sarpanch was killed, according to a 12 September, 2012 report of Headlines Today. The killings in late 2014 may not have been so overwhelming, yet the panic was palpable. While we resonate that the valley is under control, do its residents repose adequate faith in the government machinery to protect them? Under the circumstances will the Pandits start the trek back home lured by promises being made by the political leadership? Targeted killings impact disproportionately. Statistics proving that numbers killed from the two pre-dominant communities in the past few years being almost equal, doesn’t help.

Pakistan’s dire conditions have negated whatever appeal the merger of the valley may have withheld for a segment of the populace. Its own doings have done-in its objectives in the Valley. But, the growing appeal of Kashmiriyat seems to be filling up the space. However, does this Kashmiriyat reflect the tolerance and liberalism that has been Kashmir’s heritage; is it inclusive and unbiased without differentiating between communities?
For long it has been touted that saturating military deployment and Armed Forces Special Powers Act are the major causes of alienation. Today, there is hardly any campaigning against these issues. The current drift seems to be powered more by non-performing governments that have failed to deliver inspite of massive central aid. It’s led to aspirations of people especially the young, not being met. The contrarian view is J&K’s GDP growth is amongst the top few states in our country. Aspirations of young Indians are not being met in most parts of the country and isn’t limited to J&K alone. There are also a substantial percentage of young people from the Kashmir Valley who have moved to the Indian hinterland and found gainful employment and educational avenues. Kashmir infact experiences the same brain-drain with its youth moving to the hinterland as India experiences with its educated youth taking the trail to the West.

Taking stock of the people’s attitude towards the current government is also an important imperative. Is Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) losing its support base in the valley just as much as Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) experiences erosion in the Jammu region? Do locals in both the valley and Jammu region feel that the party they brought to power has not delivered in proportion to the mandate they gave them.

There are reasons to take a fresh look at J&K and initiate a discourse to find new pathways. The start point is Kashmir being an indivisible part of this country. It’s the test of our democracy and its secular values. Notwithstanding the Agenda for Alliance that guides the J&K coalition government, a large percentage of Kashmiris residing in and beyond the valley are sceptics today. A Punun Kashmir press brief of 13 March, 2015 takes into account the PDP’s leanings towards self-rule and terms the formation of a joint-government as acceptance of soft-separatism. To quote the press release, “Another perfidy which has been unleashed on the nation during the making of the government in Jammu and Kashmir is that for the first time soft separatism has been accorded credibility as a legitimate plank for the government formation in the State.”

As a nation we have made limited attempts to shape the perceptions of disillusioned Kashmiris. While separatist leaders have been given space far more than democratic nations practice, the raison-d’etre to remain a part and parcel of the India has not been propagated forcefully by successive governments to the people of J&K. Political expediency has led to state governments not being vocal about Kashmir being integral to India and the benefits the valley populace accrues from it.

To start with there is a need to address the issue of Kashmir Valley and a few more districts being an independent entity. The people of Kashmir need to perceive the implications of such a status. The first and foremost fallout of independence, to whatever extent that be, will be the creeping forward of terrorist camps from POK, headed towards the LoC and beyond. Over a period of time they will find addresses in the valley. The valley will soon be a reflection of what the Swat valley in Pakistan - an unspoilt and idyllic tourist destination someday - a bloody mess where there are neither human rights nor human dignity, today. Such basic truths have not been propagated by governments that have held the reigns in Kashmir. There is a requirement of a perception management campaign by the PDP – BJP dispensation.

If there is dissatisfaction in the youth of Kashmir today, it will only be far lesser opportunities tomorrow if the state gets into the grip of terror outfits. The Kashmiri young people finding employment in the hinterland will also dwindle. They will be viewed with suspicion. The terrorists will dominate and valley politics will be unceremoniously buried. Independence, as the people in the valley understand and experience, will not be there. Islamist groups will want to enforce their interpretation of Sharia. It’s important to perceive that Kashmiri jihadist groups are no longer trying to liberate Kashmir, they are part of international jihad.

To meet the aspirations of the people, a prime requirement is to bring in honesty and accountability in governance. The Agenda for Alliance that guides the functioning of the J&K Government accepts this truth and states that the mission of the coalition government is to be the most ethical state in the country from the present day position of being the most corrupt state. The siphoning off of millions will need to be stopped. Corrupt officials will need to be booked and a transformation in the government’s image brought about. No amount of economic assistance to the state is of any consequence without being able to bring in integrity and accountability in governance.

The education system needs to be regulated. We cannot have another generation of Kashmiri youth coming under the influence of radicals in questionable madrassas. It’s the products of some madrasas who are the available recruits for terrorist groups. If UAE and India can agree to oppose radicalisation during Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit, surely its practice and enforcement in India is called for in Kashmir, too.
Our intelligence gathering machinery needs to be strengthened. Government servants sympathetic or actively colluding with extremists will need to be identified and dealt with under the law. People providing shelter and support to terrorists will also need to be similarly handled. We cannot afford to be soft with every element.

As far as the army and other central forces being thinned out and AFSPA is concerned, the process of handing over the valley to J&K Police is no doubt an objective. If the valley is rid of terrorists, AFSPA will not be required either. However, recently released figures indicate an approximate strength of 100 hardcore terrorists, mostly Lashkar – e – Taiba and Hizbul Mujahedeen. If 10 such terrorists were roaming free in London, Beijing or Washington they would have possibly declared a national emergency.

The best or perhaps worst example of being soft is the raising of Pakistani flags on Independence Day. We let such issues pass. We also let it pass when the ISIS flag is raised. As a nation we have to draw a line. If we don’t stop that ISIS flag from being waived in the valley, will we respond when we see it being raised in Jammu? Or, shall we wait till it’s raised in Delhi. Even in Delhi, will we still remain inert till the venue attempted is our Parliament/ Red Fort. As a nation, our responses cannot afford to give these radical elements greater conviction that they can do it, progressively.

Published Date: 26th August 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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