Situation In J&K: A New Reality

 By Maj. Gen. Vivek Sehgal VSM (Retd.)
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The abrogation of article 370 and the consequent clamp down in the valley is a subject that has been debated vociferously both within and outside the country since its institutionalisation on 05 Aug 2019. Opinions challenging the abrogation, perceived draconian measures instituted and the legitimacy of the decision have been doing the rounds. Pakistan too, has not left any stone unturned to garner support internationally in favour of holding India to account for its decision, though to no avail.

The State of J&K has been in turmoil for the past three decades plus. It is witness to a proxy war being conducted by Pakistan against the Indian State. It needs to be understood that every conflict situation develops its own eco-system with a variety of stakeholders heavily invested in it. The presence of Article 370 and 35A has been depicted as a damocles sword over the population of J&K, by all and sundry and has been touted as the persistent safeguard for the retention of a Kashmiri identity. The political parties and individual politicians have used the article for political mileage, the source of power and relevance for the Hurriyet leadership flows from its ability to use the articles as a crutch to create fear and thus motivate the gullible to continue with the conflict. Journalistic and academic reputations have been built on reporting and opining on the prevalent conflict, rights activists within the country have used the conflict to develop pressure on the government and increase their clout in the corridors of power, Pakistan too, has ridden the wave of fear prevalent in the conflict zone for the furtherance of its proxy war against the Indian State. In all this, the populace has been psychologically bombarded with a propaganda offensive, ensuring their allegiance to the designs of the stakeholders within the conflict eco-system for furtherance of stakeholder goals.

It is in this environment that the Central Government has abrogated the article 370.  A lot of people and institutions have lost their relevance and have suddenly become impotent. The local politicians have lost their political narrative, the Hurriyet leadership has been marginalised, the terrorists have to reinvent their narrative to remain relevant. Pakistan has also been called to account for its terror safe haven and the justification in continuing the proxy war. The loss of relevance by the prominent players in the ongoing conflict is going to be contested. It will be imprudent on anyone’s part to expect anything different. Unfortunately, the populace is the least consequential in all this.

Finding themselves marginalised, it is in the interest of these stakeholders to ensure that a reversion to the status quo takes place. Unfortunately, for them, the abrogation of Article 370 has overturned the apple cart and gradually a new reality of its permanency is dawning. The clamp down in the state was necessitated to avoid these stakeholders heightening sensitivities and orchestrating disturbances/violence. It is not that the lifting of the restrictions will now ensure peace and has permanently marginalised the ability of the stakeholders to mold opinion in their favour. The decision will be contested to the hilt and normalcy will return slowly.

Pakistan has been the nemesis of India since the two became independent.  The countries have fought four wars. Both being nuclear power states, the threat of nuclear overhang is real and persistently projected by Pakistan as a counter to the Indian edge in conventional forces. That apart, Pakistan has cultivated an image of an irrational power and hence a heightened sense of insecurity that accompanies the ingrained unpredictability in actions by Pakistan. However, it needs to be understood that Pakistan’s irrationality is premised on a rational approach being adopted by India. Such thoughts have been reinforced by the Indian actions during the Kargil conflict by a conscious decision to not cross the LOC despite the literally uphill task of pushing back the Pakistani forces in occupation of Indian territory. A major change has occurred, the surgical strikes consequent to the Uri attack and the Balakot  airstrike, followed by the abrogation of article 370 by the central government has upset the Paki calculus of a perceived rational and guarded response by India to acts of terror sponsored by Pakistan against Indian citizens. Hence the furore by the political establishment both within and on the international arena. Pakistan needs time to recalibrate its lines of operations with India.

The restrictions imposed by the Central Government in the state serves two purposes, one, it has denied the heightening of sensitivities and stemmed the spread of violence, and, two, it has afforded time for the people to reconcile to the new reality. The graduated removal of restrictions and a return to normalcy will result in a recalibrated response of the populace to the nefarious designs of the stakeholders. The signs emerging are an indicator of this reality as is evident from the recent meeting of the National Conference cadre with their leadership and the continued silence on the abrogation of article 370.

Having said that, it is time that the remaining restrictions are removed. Expecting the situation to be absolutely normal will be a fallacy. Return to normalcy will once again witness attempts at heightening of anti- establishment sentiments, though the response by the populace is likely to be more nuanced and guarded. What is of import is the fact that the terrorists and their over ground supporters are not allowed the space to gain an upper hand in the coming months. The initiative has shifted to the security forces, they must ensure a stringent anti-infiltration grid, proactive intelligence driven operations to neutralise the terrorist leadership, and afford space to the local terrorists to surrender and return to the mainstream. The Security Forces being the most visible arm of the State in the conflict zone, need to comport with empathy towards the locals, ensuring a graduated dispelling of the narrative of a force in occupation. They need to intensify patrolling to instil a sense of security among the local populace. These efforts need to be supported by an extensive social media offensive to highlight the benefits accruing to the region by the abrogation of the Article 370 and dispel the false propaganda initiated by the disillusioned stakeholders.

The government needs to be prepared to contest the institutionalisation of a reinvented narrative by the stakeholders. A display of empathy for the people, a visible reduction of the ‘say do gap’ of government actions, an accountable and efficient functioning of the civil administration, and encouragement to the development of an alternative leadership in the region must be the priority of the government. These measures in themselves will go a long way in ensuring that the inimical forces are not able to reignite the imagination of the people.