On August 5, 2019, in a significant move, the Government of India (GoI) abrogated Article 370, ending the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). With that, a pronouncement was also done to bifurcate the state into the two centrally-administered union territories (UT) of J&K, and Ladakh. Alongside, the government also decided to repeal Article 35A of the Constitution that defined the permanent residents’ status in the state. It may be recalled that this provision was inserted in the Constitution in 1954 through a Presidential Decree. These decisions signaled a new phase in Kashmir’s history, encouraging the people of the state a future of development and peace.
It appears that for a vast majority, the concept of ‘normalcy’, largely evolves around the release of political prisoners, restoration of internet & phone connectivity, lifting of the curfew, normal functioning of schools, colleges, health services, government offices etc. For those who know the nuances of the conflict in Kashmir disagrees with the narrow interpretation of the state of ‘normalcy’ mentioned above. In this context, it would be pertinent to begin with Home Minister’s reply to the questions raised by Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad and Majid Memon in Rajya Sabha. If the indicators mentioned above are to be accepted as the measure of normalcy, then Home Minister’s detailed reply, with statistics shows that the situation is near normalcy. The main highlights of the debate are the following:-
(a) 20,411 schools opened and 99% attendance was recorded in school examinations.
(b) All hospitals and medical facilities functioning well.
(c) In Sept 2019- 60,66,000 OPDs (Out Patient Department) cases were attended to in Srinagar.
(d) In law and order, not a single person died in police firing after the revocation of article 370 Stone pelting incidents came down from 802 in 2018 to 544 in 2019.
(e) All restrictions under Cr. PC 144 lifted in 195 police stations.
(f) All Urdu and English newspapers and TV channels are working.
(e) Banking services became fully functional and significant rise in the sale of petrol, diesel etc.
(f) In October, out of 316 blocks, Block Development Council (BDC) elections were held in 307 blocks with overall 98% voting.
The internet ban was placed to ensure peace and security of human life and will be restored once the local administration recommends it. Closer scrutiny will reveal that Kashmir, over the last three decades, rapidly slipped into the most disturbed state in the country due to Pak-sponsored militancy, Jihadi radicalization, and Delhi’s ad-hocism, status-quoism, placing greater reliance on quick-fix solutions instead of the lasting political solution with a long-term vision.
The fact today is that Kashmir, known for its intellectual pursuits, became home to stone-pelters, suicide bombers, hawala money, massive drug abuse, and caliphate ideology. It is enough to make even a lay observer understand the extent of psychological, sociological, and existential crisis which the Kashmiri society is undergoing. Hence the definition of ‘normalcy’ to a set of numbers like telephone lines restored, internet connections extended, political detainees released would be misleading. Reportedly, on November 21, 2019, after things seemed to return to ‘normalcy,’ valley-wide protests erupted with shut-downs and hartals. Posters released by militant organizations threatening the shop keepers to keep the markets closed were put up in different parts of the valley, and some shops were also burnt. Pakistan’s terror, sabotage, and radicalization infrastructure are firmly entrenched in certain parts of the valley. And therefore, Kashmir cannot move towards full ‘normalcy’ unless there is a massive crackdown on Pak’s terror machinery in the state. For this to happen, political leadership should address broader issues.
Blow to Pakistan
In a Union Territory, directly controlled by Delhi, the scope of separatists in the functioning and decision-making even in internal affairs gets marginalized. Pak’s deep penetration in the institutions of the state also comes to an end. The risk of losing the trust of the people of Kashmir who, for years, were fed with convenient lies of Pakistan being a champion of their cause and Islam. Pakistan’s loss of goodwill among the people has been brewing up for the past some time. Earlier, militant commander Zakir Musa, parted ways with Pakistan while affirming his belief in the establishment of a caliphate. He also vowed to slit the throats of Pro-Pak Hurriyat leaders. Post-370, the leading sentiment amongst the pro-Pak syndicate is that to teach a lesson to India and do it’s supporters. The swift precautionary move by India before the 5th August announcement to arrest key separatist leaders, OGWs, and politicians capable of mobilizing people for protests, left very few options with Pakistan. The switching off the internet and mobile services, Pakistan found itself in a destitute situation. It failed in activating people into a civil revolt, the way it did in 2016 after the death of Burhan Wani. However, realizing full well that present India will not hesitate to strongly retaliate against proxy war tactics with surgical strikes, Balakot type air raids, Pakistan is clear that internationalization of the Kashmir issue is the last arrow left in its armor. Therefore, Pakistan’s future Kashmir strategy will mainly be aimed at internationalizing the Kashmir issue to pressurize and embarrass India at global platforms which were evident in Pak’s warning of a potential nuclear war with India, in his UNGA speech.
Security – Post-Abrogation.
A change in the security situation is also evident in the more recent trends in terrorist violence in which civilians have been targeted. After the restoration of post-paid phones on 14th October, four non-resident truck drivers and six Bengali laborers have died in terrorist violence. A grenade attack in Sopore on 28th Oct. injured 20 civilians. In the deadliest attack after the abrogation of Article 370, a grenade was lobbed in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar on November 4, killing one person injuring many civilians. As the list of terror incidents grows, informed sources believe that Pak-supported terror groups are likely to :-
(a) Engage a high-value target or stage a hostage crisis.
(b) Launch Fidayeen and random grenade attacks.
(c) Srinagar and North Kashmir are likely to witness the revival of militancy;
(d) Try to create a united front of Khalistan (Sikh separatist movement) in Punjab and Kashmir resistance front, not only in militancy but also in global diplomatic platforms;
(e) Force markets shut down so that there is no return of normalcy.
The long-term aim is to force a 1990-style migration of the local Hindu population to strengthen the Islamist and separatist constituency; It deserves to be mentioned here that the current phase of relative silence in militancy cannot be interpreted as a change in Pakistan’s attitude. Another reason for this silence was the fear of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sanctions February 2020. Hence, inactivity is strategic. However, it is not expected to be so in the future. There is also a likelihood of communal polarization and the resultant Hindu-Muslim riots in the Jammu region and other parts of the country. With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is a possibility of Pakistan using Taliban fighters in Kashmir to keep the situation tense. As per the intelligence sources, Afghan terrorists have been spotted in Kashmir. Large-scale infiltration in the recent past indicates that Pakistan once again will rely more on better trained and resilient foreign terrorists from Punjab. Terrorists are facing immense difficulties in logistics and communications due to internet lockdown. It may not be a coincidence that after the post-paid phones became operational several incidents of violence have taken place. To overcome internet lockdown, the militants are using primitive techniques like human courier and innovative methods like Cognitive Radio applications. Hence once the internet resumes, the likelihood of a significant spike in terrorist incidents is more.
First and foremost, there is a strong need to continue with the ongoing multi-dimensional crackdown on Pakistan sponsored terror machinery comprising Islamist organizations, terrorist groups, media groups, and anti-national and Islamist charities. The biggest unknown at the moment is how Kashmiris will respond to private investment. It cannot be gainsaid that large investment in Kashmir has been limited due to its status as an uncertain region and the security situation. The Kashmiris need to be convinced that a business approach is in their best interest. Kashmiris have to reconsider their centrifugal tendencies like autonomy and militancy and learn from other nation-states in the world that are adopting a more rational approach.