The warning signs are loud and clear

Srinagar,09/12/2018:Kashmiri Muslim protesters use shields during clashes with Security forces near the site of a gunfight in Mujgund on the outskirts of Srinagar, on Sunday 09, December 2018. Three militants were killed and their bodies were recovered on Sunday after a gunbattle between the Militants and the security forces on the outskirts of Srinagar, which stretched for over 18 hours, came to an end. Photo:Nissar Ahmad / The Hindu   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

After remaining in suspended animation for five months, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was dissolved by Governor Satya Pal Malik last month. After the November-December 2014 elections to the State Assembly, which produced a fractured mandate, J&K had some years of a Peoples Democratic Party-BJP coalition government, interspersed with a spell of Governor’s rule. In June 2018, the BJP pulled out of this alliance. In November, when the PDP, the Congress and the National Conference had almost reached an understanding to form a government, the Governor decided to dissolve the Assembly.

Four years of mismanaged politics have plunged J&K into its worst ever cycle of violence and confusion. Kashmir today is not merely volatile, but is drifting inexorably into anarchy. Violence is the dominant factor. The numbers of militants and security personnel killed dominate newspaper headlines. Over the past three years, South Kashmir had been the main epicentre of violence, but more recently, North and Central Kashmir have also emerged as violence prone. This year has witnessed some of the highest levels of violence since 1989. Areas such as Srinagar which had previously been declared a ‘militancy free zone’ have again witnessed a series of militant attacks.

Growing divide

In addition to escalating violence, a distinct feature of the situation in Kashmir today is the divide between the administration and the populace, which is possibly at its widest today. The turnout in local body elections in urban areas dropped is a negligible percentage. Retrieving the situation in J&K would thus prove extremely difficult. J&K appears to be at a tipping point and needs to be handled with extreme care.

A series of miscalculations by governments in both J&K and at the Centre have led to the present impasse. The first was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s belief that his brand of ‘sleight-of-hand’ politics (which he used to practise with the Congress) could be replicated with the BJP, and hope thereby to sustain his legacy as a consummate politician. The hope, however, proved short-lived. After his death in January 2016, daughter Mehbooba Mufti had to be persuaded to continue with the arrangement, but increasing levels of violence after her takeover witnessed the coalition partners viewing the situation from very different angles.

In the wake of the growing political dissonance, other miscalculations have also occurred. One was a misplaced belief in the virtues of an ‘unilateral ceasefire’ during Ramzan 2018, replicating the Ramzan ceasefire during the period of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Atavistic reasoning is, however, no substitute for a carefully constructed and calibrated ceasefire. Militants used the ceasefire to regroup, just when the security forces seemed to gain the upper hand. Pakistan also acted as a spoiler, carrying out a series of border attacks during this same period.

Compounding this situation was the controversy generated over Article 35A of the Constitution, accompanied by demands that it should be revoked. It led to widespread apprehension that the Centre was trying to undermine the special concessions granted to J&K which were embedded in the Constitution. A crisis of confidence in Delhi’s intentions followed, precisely when the State was reeling under a wave of militant protests.

The gravest miscalculation arose on how best to deal with the rising crescendo of violence engulfing the Valley. Absence of political guidance, belief in the virtues of a ‘muscular policy’ to stamp out militancy, eschewing of all softer options, and an irrevocable breakdown in communications led to a widening chasm between the people of Kashmir and the administration. Once the PDP-BJP coalition collapsed under the weight of its inherent contradictions, reintroduction of Governor’s rule (that is, rule by the Centre) turned out to be a case of the remedy being worse than the disease.

A difficult year

Even as 2018 turned out to be highly violence prone, militants adopted a variety of new tactics to create fear. They targeted the families of policemen, in addition to concentrating on off-duty policemen, especially when they went home on leave. This led to a fear psychosis. The year has turned out to be the worst for the J&K police, with nearly 50 policemen being killed.

In many respects, the killing of militant Burhan Wani in mid-2016 has been a watershed in the troubled security situation in J&K. Additions to militant ranks went up, and 2018 has possibly seen the largest accretion of local youth into militant ranks. According to one estimate, every third day a youth took up arms in Kashmir. The profile of those joining the ranks of the militants is also changing, with many more educated Kashmiri youth (including engineering and other graduates) signing up.

Kashmir thus stands today at the cusp of a new and dangerous phase. Opinions in J&K have become further inflamed following the Governor’s decision to dissolve the J&K Assembly, without giving an opportunity to any of the claimants to form a government. The Governor’s reasoning that a government formed by parties with ‘opposing political ideologies’ would not be stable has been widely assailed as being tendentious.

It is too early to surmise when elections will be held. Attitudes are meanwhile hardening. The Pro-Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, has been anointed with a new leader, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai (a Pakistan acolyte and even more of a hardliner than Syed Ali Shah Geelani who stepped down recently).

The Pakistan-based terror outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad, has made a comeback in J&K after a gap of several years, and is poised to revive its terror attacks. The Hizbul Mujahideen has become stronger during the past year, and its ‘supreme commander’ based in Pakistan, Syed Salahuddin, appears confident of being able to revive the momentum of the struggle to the level that existed in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The profile of militancy in J&K is meanwhile undergoing a drastic change, with recruits to militant ranks increasingly being young educated locals. The approach of the latter to the Kashmir question is vastly different from those of the past. It would not be surprising if some among them are inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’ fervour that rocked West Asia a few years back.

The new generation of militants appears far more religiously inclined. This makes them easy fodder for ideologies propounded by terror groups such as the Islamic State (IS). Syria and Iraq witnessed young jihadis being attracted to the IS, since it was not a mere jihadi movement, but also encompassed the vision of a Caliphate. The educated and religiously inclined Kashmiri militant of today could well follow suit. As it is, the IS has made some inroads into Kashmir. Not to be lost sight of is that the map of Islamic State of Khorasan includes Kashmir and some other parts of India.

More research needed

The earlier there is recognition that Kashmir militancy is beginning to resemble a ‘black hole’ that is attracting more and more young militants, the better the chances of retrieving the situation. Not enough research has been done as to why the Burhan Wani killing in July 2016 became a turning point in the history of militancy in J&K. Similarly, a more detailed analysis is required as to why Operation All Out – an offshoot of the muscular offensive adopted in 2017 – altered the character of the insurgency in Kashmir.

Intelligence agencies also need to ferret out more details of what Pakistan is planning in J&K, even while talking of peace in Kartarpur and elsewhere. There are many stray indications that official agencies and jihadi organisations in Pakistan are collaborating in training recruits to be sent into Kashmir. The training curriculum includes: weapons training, survival techniques, high altitude acclimatisation, combat training and the like. India cannot afford to be caught off-guard with another 26/11 situation, which was the outcome of a similar combined effort.

M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal


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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 6:56:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-warning-signs-are-loud-and-clear/article25746136.ece

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