The Political & Security Dimensions for the summer of 2016 in J&K
Lt General S A Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM (Bar), VSM (Bar) (Retd.), Distinguished Fellow, VIF

While much has been written and discussed about the situation in J&K in the last few weeks most of it has been contextual to events. The Handwara incident sent out ominous signals, the fallout wasn’t too psychologically endearing for the Security Forces (SF). The NIT incident wasn’t too positive either. When it comes to J&K, analysts including this one, tend to take every event apart and hardly concentrate on the big picture. Rarely do we have analyses and projections when things are quiet and especially when positive trends are in the making.

One of the recent most positive events on the J&K landscape has been the formation of the new government of the PDP and BJP under the leadership of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Observers have generally been skeptical about it given the fact that it took almost three months to arrive at some form of agreement between the two parties before its formation. Skepticism went further as the Handwara incident tested the new government which came into being even as the fallout of the NIT issue was creating turbulence in the environment. That the Dy CM rose to the occasion and played his role in keeping with the spirit of the coalition ensured that the fallout in Jammu was not as intense as I would have envisaged. Even the Handwara incident I am convinced was an expected manipulation to put the new government off balance. While the Valley’s environment may have been heated enough for all detractors to envisage a very hot summer of discontent on the streets through 2016, things appear to have temporarily cooled down. However, there is a simmer and the Separatist attempt to trigger a chain of protests has not really manifested. Of course, in the Valley it does not take time beyond a single breath for things to go out of hand and predictions are always premature. Indicators from the government’s initial moves appear to be more positive than most previous governments. That the Chief Minister found time to start addressing long pending issues on the economic front is itself a positive. I happened to attend a meeting a few months ago on the problems of Trans LoC trade which commenced in 2008 but floundered due to inability to go beyond a threshold. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that many of the issues discussed in that meeting with Ms Mufti have been quickly addressed within the first month after government formation. The durbar is to move shortly to Srinagar and many are expecting the welcome to be turbulent. The intent of the Separatists as assessed earlier is to disallow the government settling down. I suspect that they too realize that the agenda of this government is going to be different and are attempting to divert that towards the streets.

That in reality is the actual theme of this analysis. What should be the attitude of this government and its approach to governance? Mainstream print and visual media was more taken up by the events which morphed with the arrival of the new government. It prevented a more intellectual analysis and advice with the overhang of events such as Handwara or NIT.

The BJP-PDP combine this time seems to have learnt from the experience of the previous government. The BJP has effectively controlled its cadres and avoided triggering contentious issues. We are neither witnessing hyperbole on Article 370, nor on the Kashmiri Pandit issue; both are legitimate issues but not when a coalition government has come into being with major ideological differences and much give and take. The last time the late CM, Mufti Mohd Sayeed was embarrassed early in his tenure with the Masrat Alam case and some public statements about Pakistan. This time the constituents and the leaders are displaying maturity by desisting from any contentious comments.

Patience is a virtue in a volatile environment such as J&K. Sooner than later if patience starts running out and either political party starts to wrestle its way to garnering advantage in its core constituencies, much of what the government is achieving now will be compromised. Politicians are usually smarter people than we care to think. Prematurely raising contentious issues which have no easy resolution, just for the sake of flagging their concern tends to move the carpet under their feet. It is smarter to look at issues which are less emotional, more workable in the short term and related to daily lives of the electorate (read people). Playing down the emotions in the street will leave sufficient energy in the leadership to focus on issues where the people wish them to perform. The Chief Minister’s timely intervention in the LoC trade must be taken to the next logical step and similar initiatives, which obviously must come to her through consultation, must show early decisions and progressive monitoring.

I have long believed that one of the issues which any J&K government must focus on is the winter management of Kashmir and Ladakh. Let this government take it upon itself to make a material and perceptible difference to the lives of the people the next winter. Consultation is the key and that must take place with the lowest strata in the remote villages and the gentry in the semi urban and urban. The thing missing in the lives of the people has been grass root political consultation and activism because political leaders seldom felt safe to venture out on their own. Engineer Rashid, the independent MLA from Langaite (Handwara) may be a rabble rouser but he would put to shame many a politician with the kind of following he enjoys in his constituency only on the back of his honesty and outreach to the people. There are other examples too but largely Kashmir’s political landscape has only witnessed turbulence through emotive triggers. If this government can display a new leaf as it obviously is attempting to do it will be a win-win for the establishment and a dent on the Separatist agenda. The key for the government settling down well lies in focusing on a few issues in all three regions. No scope for accusations of favoring a region must be allowed to emerge. The government must also concentrate on some of the cultural aspects of all three regions to raise self-esteem about the richness of history and culture. The tourist season must also pan out without hindrances because that is the time money enters into pockets and emotions can be better managed. Lastly, on the governance front, much attention needs to be paid towards rehabilitation of the flood victims without total control on corrupt practices.

Everything can go well if the security domain remains dormant. This is unlikely. Across the LoC the United Jehad Council (UJC) and its cohorts in the Pakistan Deep State are unlikely to remain quiet. Infiltration attempts will be of a higher order. Hinterland terrorist activity will crop up from time to time along with the new tactics of mob surges to the area of contact with terrorists. Thus far the Army, CRPF and the JKP have displayed remarkable alacrity and maturity in the conduct of operations but sooner than later there will be incidents which are unpredictable and control of post incident events will be important. There must be no quarter given to the rumor mongering such as the type which emerged after the Handwara incident. There is no alternative to integration as none of the components of the SF can do anything on their own. This is not the time to reduce footprint of the Army but consciously and with JKP advice the Army could identify irritants which the Separatists may exploit to advantage. The common refrain of all who know the ground, is that having bunkers in close proximity of populated areas is no longer required. Yet, there has to be a degree of pragmatism in this. Much of the Army’s headquarters and units are themselves located within towns or their outskirts. This presence helps in many ways and limits the ability of anti-national elements having a free run.

The SF have now become quite adept at small cordon and search operations and must maintain the focus on these. The vulnerable towns must not be allowed to have a resurgence of terrorist leadership. It means the counter infiltration grid can have no let up. Nontraditional areas and those not activated for infiltration for long must also receive due focus. In North Kashmir, the forest tracts cannot be allowed to become havens and must be addressed. In South Kashmir reactivation of the Lidder Valley after long is being experienced. Some degree of redeployment may be necessary to control this.

The summer of 2016 may yet turn out to be different to what many have appreciated. It is good to expect the worst but continue to remain positive about the government’s intent and capacity to turn things around. It has shown promise in the first few weeks. Once ensconced in Srinagar it must balance itself between the need for security and the demand for governance. At the same time some traditional activities such as the Amarnath Yatra and a few cultural activities of the Kashmiri Pandits must receive attention to prevent any emotions going astray. The Separatists will attempt to raise triggers in relation to both these events which must be responded with care and without allowing emotions in the streets or in cyber space.

Lastly, the government and the Army must work in tandem on the management of perception. This can be a completely different trend since it was the Army alone which worked on this for long. Perhaps in the next Unified Command meeting with the CM in the chair, one of the agenda items must be strategic communication if not perception management.

Published Date: 29th April 2016, 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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