The arrest of five terror suspects in Delhi — two of whom were allegedly involved in the murder of Shaurya Chakra awardee Balwinder Singh in Punjab in October — has turned the spotlight on the embers of the long dead and buried Khalistan movement. The Delhi police have claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is seeking yet again to link up terror outfits in Kashmir with pro-Khalistan activists; three of the others arrested were from Kashmir. While these claims need to be investigated before any conclusion can be made about the presence of a link, the central government should not take the threat lightly. The Khalistan movement has long become moribund with the neutralisation of the threat and the ending of the Punjab insurgency in the early 1990s. The movement has lost support from the Sikh community within India and the Sikh diaspora across the world. The killing of Balwinder Singh is one of a few isolated and sporadic incidents that have occurred in the last decade but attempts to revive the movement from fringe groups have failed. There is also no truth in the allegation that there are pro-Khalistani sections as part of the large-scale protests led by farmers in Punjab. The irrelevance of the Khalistan movement notwithstanding, agencies such as the ISI have not stopped trying to foment such violence, either directly by funding fringe sections or by linking them with terror groups in Kashmir. Security agencies must therefore remain vigilant.
Even if the Khalistan movement has been interred, the threat of terror in Kashmir remains well and truly active. Terror incidents and fatalities since the revoking of special status and statehood for Jammu & Kashmir in the last year have remained high. Data from the terrorism monitoring portal, satp.org, show that there were 382 incidents related to terrorism and 302 fatalities in 2020 so far in J&K compared to 369 and 283 in 2019, respectively. While many of these incidents have occurred due to acts of terror emanating from within the Union Territory, infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan continues apace as well, which is also correlated with the increased ceasefire violations at both the Line of Control and the International Border. The lull in terror activities and the relative peace in the Valley from 2011 to 2015 are now a thing of the past and renewed violence besides disaffection have become a new normal, even if they have not reached the high levels of the 1990s and the early 2000s. The persisting disaffection in the Valley can only be addressed by a new political process that seeks to review the unilateral changes made to the region’s status and restores its full statehood.