The Kashmir Valley: Is The Die Cast?
Dr Ganesh Krishnamoorthy@
When President’s rule was imposed in J&K on 20 Jun 2018, most J&K watchers as well as the people of the State would have felt that it was better that the BJP-PDP alliance had ended. It was obvious to all that both had different ideologies and different goals. It did not seem sound or right especially for the Kashmir Valley because the BJP was a party that in its 2014 election manifesto had stated that “BJP reiterates its stand on the Article 370, and will discuss this with all stakeholders and remains committed to the abrogation of this article;”[i] a situation that the PDP cannot endorse.
But the alliance was an ‘out of the box’ solution because it enabled a Government in J&K which was not Muslim dominated — a situation which has polarised the State. With the continuously deteriorating situation in Kashmir and cases like the Kathua child rape which has the two alliance partners emotionally advocating two different narratives and means of investigation, it was clear that the alliance had ran its course and there was no point in continuing it any further.
But after the dust has settled, suddenly the Government of the day is appearing to stand for all that is an exact opposite of what it had campaigned. The expose’ about the exchange of families from terrorists and policemen in South Kashmir, the killing of three Special Police Officers (SPOs) of J&K police as a warning to others leave the police, videos of policemen distancing themselves from police, etc. are symptomatic of a deeper malaise that has set into the management of countering militancy in Kashmir. An apparently combative attitude and a gung-ho muscularity has shrunk the space for informed decision making that would place options for some progress in restoring civility and law and order in J&K. Now with an elected government not in place, the onus is all the more there for the Centre to handle the situation with a more hands on approach.
The appointment of Shri Satyapal Malik as the Governor J&K — the first politician to hold that post since militancy started—is a clear indicator that the Government preferred someone who could forge consensus in the State (Shri Malik though BJP, in the course of his career has also been in five other political parties, most of whom oppose the BJP ideology). Most people were speculating that the Governor after Shri NN Vohra would be a retired general, policeman or bureaucrat. However, the surprise appointment is indicative of the Government’s thinking. Post his appointment, the departure of Shri SP Vaid as the senior most policeman in the State is another indication of a policy rethink or another facet of the current dispensation’s blow hot blow cold approach.
Somewhere in the last four years, a critical switch has happened, perhaps because of drying up of international recruits and Afghanistan itself becoming a full attention demanding activity for ISI and perhaps because 63% of the Valley’s male residents are under the age of 30 and were born in an environment of militancy.[ii] Because of this Pakistan has been aided and successful in stoking local sentiments while the fragile PDP-BJP coalition was in power. Burhan Wani whose good looks and media manipulation created a larger than life image of him has led to terrorism acquiring a new ‘mojo’! Young unemployed Kashmiris are seeing dignity in death.
Yes, it was not the Indian military’s finest moment, when a bogeyman was placed on a bonnet of a military jeep, or now when a Bajrang Dal activist is doing a selfie over a terrorist’s body being dragged by security forces supposedly following a safety first protocol. The Major Gogoi episode itself was a break in SOP and it led to divergent views, one toasting him for an Israeli like hard-nosed tactic and the other berating him for tossing away the Army’s hard-won reputation as upholder of a higher standard of war. The Army has largely ensured safety of civilians caught in cross fire of over the decades. But in last couple of years the Army has been operating within areas where they are indistinguishable from armed police forces, including CRPF and J&K SOG. In countless cordon and search operations in the past, the Army never confronted the ire of local people, and in firefights previously there was no mob rooting for the isolated terrorists as is now being reported from the field. It is as if the alienated locals have now taken sides in the conflict, partly driven by the fact that it was now their ‘boys’ who were fighting and perhaps by the perceived fight in which the Army is seen as aligned with police forces and is no longer seen to be neutral and clinical, staying above the political fray in Kashmiri politics. This perceptive change on ground is not just because of the layering of ground forces in the Valley but also by the chatter across social media. Call them trolls, call them armchair adventurists, call them culture vultures, call them ultra-nationalist, in their din and damnation a dust has crept it, altering perceptions, hardening positions all round.
One has to follow social media very closely to understand that between 2015 and 2018, a dangerous drift has built up like never before, and the Army’s ‘Sadhbhavana’ Movement in the Valley seems to have lost its appeal for winning ‘Hearts and Minds’. Sopore, Bandipora and Kulgam were earlier too hotbeds for militant activity, but now the local involvement allows militants the safety of human intelligence and interference in their favour from security forces operating to contain them.
Nothing is more sinister than the lack of a coherent approach to the targeting of soldiers and cops who are local, ethnic Kashmiri, who are mostly donning their uniforms for jobs, but who are viewed by both Indians and Kashmiris as important symbols for their sides to target. For the Government it is upholding the Project Kashmir for integrating Kashmir. For Kashmiris and their Pakistani backers, these are folk with divided loyalties at best, and at their worst viewed as traitors to the cause of Kashmir. By allowing these individuals to be repeatedly targeted, the Indian Establishment has lowered the prestige of donning uniforms of the security forces of the State and the Union. Shrieking on social media by ‘Libtards’ or ‘Sickularists’ to condemn such actions by militants is a retrograde response. None of these armchair idealists are soldiering for India against the Kashmiri insurgency. So how does their view or espousal changes the ground scenario? Rather a robust policing and intelligence which could afford options securing the lives of the uniformed who are placing their lives in harm’s way are sorely needed. Yet we see no policy, no statement from the MHA or Kashmir’s own Unified Command and no plan for securing the lives of policemen and soldiers who are locals.
The recent incident is extraordinary. The militants approached the village, the villagers gathered to save their kin. The militants assured the villagers that they would be let off after taking them to be filmed, and then the bodies surfaced. The whole drama lasted nearly a day. And we see how clueless villagers and local law enforcement was about how to deal with this situation. Now there is no novelty in targeted assassinations of Kashmiri policemen and soldiers by Kashmiri militants. Its high time we came up with a coherent response.
Apparently when this whole saga was playing out, we have a Defence Ministry more concerned about a JNU student body elections, more distracted by a French aircraft deal and its Indian ‘partner interlocutor’. India’s mainstream politicians are too busy focusing on the Northern Indian plains which go into election mode this year and the next. India’s bureaucrats, the steel frame body of people who formulate, control and give continuity to Government policy are also apparently numbed as Kashmir smoulders and seethes from within. Speak to many former Army Generals who were in charge of Kashmir and they will tell you that it appears that we have lost the plot as the security forces have done all they could do and cannot do more while maintaining humanitarian concerns.[iii] Why should our policy positions in Kashmir implode into such a fracas?
The answers are not hard to find. Painstaking work done on ground is best without media glare, without pop up moments and hashtags going viral. A coalition has to be rebuilt with mainstream political parties to swing the ground swell back to neutral and then to coax it normal. Else, Kashmir has the danger of being an alienated populace held solely by military prowess into India, a kind of soulless union, purely material in harness, a colony of alienated people, somewhat akin to Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza. One is certain that this is not what India wants, a Kashmir boxed into such a situation of no return, to be run as a camp, walled off and an experiment in violence spiraling in a controlled manner and waxing and waning periodically.
What happens in J&K is also indicative of the events on a wider canvas of foreign policy initiatives in the Indo-Pak construct, which change with the frequency of a bipolar disorder. Lately the Government first accepted the Imran Khan offer for talks between two MEAs, and then cancelled it. The trigger was J&K again, where the slaying of a BSF constable on the Ramgarh border in the Jammu region by Pakistani forces/proxies, the killing of three cops of J&K in South Kashmir, and release of stamps by Pakistan honouring Kashmir’s home-grown militants gave logic to India’s action; but aided Pakistani machinations in casting the die to keep Kashmir on the boil.
Has India’s powerful Deep State given a thought to this?
[i] BJP Election Manifesto 2014, http://www.bjp.org/images/pdf_2014/full_manifesto_english_07.04.2014.pdf
[ii] Nikhil Raymond Puri, “Managing Kashmir’s youth bulge” , LiveMint, Mar 27, 2017, https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/qtleLNGIy8RKgh3o5i5LjN/Managing-Kashmirs-youth-bulge.html
[iii] For such views see Mohammad Ashraf, “View From Kashmir: Army Generals Give Sound Advice”, The Citizen, May 05, 2017, https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/4/10601/View-From-Kashmir-Army-Generals-Give-Sound-Advice
@ Group Captain (Dr) Ganesh Krishnamoorthy is a serving medical officer in IAF and writes on most issues in the news cycle, including occasionally on security affairs. His views can be described as fresh and candid.
(Article uploaded on 18 Oct, 2018)
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI.