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The Changing Security and Political Situation in Kashmir

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A number of rapid developments in Kashmir in the last few months – coupled with the gains of the Centre’s efficient policy of the last four years – reveal how the Valley’s politics is changing and also enables us to understand better why things went wrong in the past.

In recent times, the scenario after the PDP-BJP break-up – with the alliance becoming more damaging by the day, as Mehbooba’s high handedness, communalization and opacity in the Kathua case showed, coupled with her party’s intense nepotism and corruption – has been particularly positive, laying the foundations for the emergence of a non-dynastic third political front. The front is led by Sajjad Lone of People’s Conference (PC) and supported by the BJP and a about a dozen rebel PDP legislators.

Most recently, with Governor Malik dissolving the assembly and rejecting the claims to government of both Congress-PDP-NC and the BJP-PC factions, speculation is rife about where politics in the Valley is headed – naysayers can detect nothing but confusion. Yet, we are at a point where things have been their best.

A closer scrutiny of the Governor’s actions, combined with political developments over the last few months, shows that the centre – irrespective of the state BJP leadership – is following an intelligent and systematic strategy of not only sidelining the PDP and NC, but also not letting Lone emerge as a parallel power centre, even as it keeps the pillars of the ‘third front’ strong in order to check the old parties. Instead of going after expected short-term gains by installing Lone as the Chief Minister and risking turning him into another Abdullah or Mufti, the central BJP is clearly working towards bringing permanent, long term changes in Kashmir politics, whereby no single Kashmiri party will ever become too powerful for its boots, as has happened over the last few decades, thanks to Congress’s opportunistic power play with NC.

Combined with the security scenario in the Valley, both the situations show that the centre is very much on track to achieve its stated policy on Kashmir, in as holistic a manner as it can get.

That we need alternatives to the PDP and National Conference (NC) – and the Congress’s avatar in the Valley, which simply ends up clinging  on to whichever of the two parties is in power – should no longer be in doubt. We are all familiar with the history of NC since 1947 and of Sheikh Abdullah’s opportunistic politics since the 1930s. This does not have to do only with how the ‘pristine and untouchable’ Article 370 – with all its near-independent provisions – came to be, but also of how the Abdullahs and the Congress systematically alienated the people of the Valley and allowed terrorism to have its way, for the sake of their personal or familial gains and ambitions.

The level of people’s alienation was scarce in 1947 – much easily managed by a state that could control secessionism in the southern, north-eastern states and Punjab, all of which were much worse than Kashmir at the time –  and could have been managed, had the entrenched interests and political unwillingness not come in the way.

Since the outset, it can justifiably be said that Article 370 was negotiated not for the people of Kashmir, but for entrenching the dynastic power of the Abdullah family, and by the conditions put forward by the Sheikh himself. It is a myth that is often propagated that during the time of Sheikh Abdullah, his immense popularity and policies representative of Kashmiri people kept the populace close to India, negligible levels of militancy or rebellion. However, what is ignored is that fact that had it not been for the emergence of Sheikh Abdullah and his Muslim Conference in the 1930s, the sharply distinctive and rebellious articulation of Kashmiri Muslim interests would never have occurred in the first place. Certainly, Kashmiri politics after Sheikh Abdullah has become even worse and an open field was given to Pakistani terrorists.

The watershed moment when Congress and NC rigged the 1987 elections, conspired bloody conspiracies to further personal ends of individuals and did not care about ‘public opinion’ then showed that they viewed Kashmir as little more than their vassalage. Brutalize the people when it suits and, later, appeal to the Muslim identity and mollycoddle separatists and terrorists whenever convenient. The exceptionalism of Article 370 has performed an exceptional service, not for the people, but for the unholy marriage of convenience formed between Abdullahs, Congress, separatists and later – after 2000s – the Muftis. The money trails and hawala networks ruthlessly pursued by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) during 2016-17 showed the reach and exchange of money to sustain terrorists.

What has been labelled as ‘peace’ and ‘insaniyat’ by the self-proclaimed proponents of secularism is nothing but a monetary devil’s bargain with terrorists, designed to keep the Kashmir issue forever beyond resolve, so that material interests of few families like Abdullahs, Muftis, Geelanis, Maliks etc. could remain plush. Neither do these family fiefdoms want to join Pakistan, knowing that their separative interests would be crushed under that regime, and, at the same time, they want to keep India hostage to their perpetual blackmail, retaining the separative status of the state that has resulted in stifling all economic enterprise and given the lion’s share of corrupt proceeds to the Kashmiri parties. They already know that an ‘azad Kashmir’ in between India and Pakistan is a fantasy and would soon be invaded by either country. Therefore, the most practical and convenient option for them is to keep the Kashmir cauldron burning and the Kashmiris befooled – the moment it gets resolved in any direction, these selfish interests will lose their relevance and footing.

The current Kashmiri parties are continuing with the strategy of Sheikh Abdullah – romancing with India, Pakistan and terrorists/separatists, but wanting to remain with India, knowing their Pakistan will kill their interests and that the Indian government has always adopted a soft, dialogue-based approach, treating them with respect. It is important to understand these motivations to grasp why the Kashmir issue has remained unresolved. That the moral corruption and brutalization of successive generations of youth since the 1990s, is being termed a state of ‘peace’ now, is indeed a travesty of basic common sense.

It is in this context – without ever forgetting the historically brutal, greedy and corrupt role played by the current proponents of peace and secularism – that we should look at the failure that is Kashmir. It is to the credit of the present government at the centre that the approach to Kashmir has been so determinedly in larger national interest, rather than in the interest of some petty family or person – the facts show that the Modi government, at the Centre, has ruthlessly sidelined the Kashmiri parties, NC and PDP, stripping the false veneer of undeserved space that the Centre has always accorded them, and refusing completely to be taken hostage to their whims and blackmail.

The present government, in the first four years of its tenure, discarded the traditional ‘political’ approach – based on mollycoddling the separatists through illusions like dialogue – in favour of a ‘security’ approach. The latter is based on adopting a tough stand, directly targeting the corrupt networks of separatist preachers like Geelani, eliminating as many terrorists as possible and dealing toughly with all those local Kashmiri youth who become over-ground workers and informants for terrorists.

After the first four years and the lapse of the PDP-BJP coalition, the government decided to apply its own unique political approach, since a strong foundation had already been built – the terrorists were rattled and in a state of disarray due to both internal and external factors. The funding from Pakistan was not forthcoming, as revealed by Hizbul’s Riyaz Naikoo’s desperate public display denouncing their Pakistani handlers for not being able to supply money and arms.

Zakir Musa, founder of an al-Qaeda cell in the Valley, emerged as a dark horse and become popular, dealing a blow to the interests of the United Jihad Council (UJC) that has waged terror in Kashmir and directly threatening them. Musa broke away from Hizbul in 2017 and founded his own small terror group – owing allegiance to al-Qaeda, which has about near-zero presence in the Valley. Terror organizations of the Gulf – like al-Qaeda – have rarely targeted India and have been created mainly for the West. They are unlike the Kashmir-specific terror outfits. So, when Musa founded an al-Qaeda cell, it put him at odds with Hizbul and other Kashmiri terror outfits.

Musa was seen as digressing from the so-called core objectives of the Kashmir struggle viz. waging a war against the Indian state and overthrowing the latter. Musa, in a complete turnaround, rubbished these goals and said that jihad’s only objective should be establish the rule of Sharia in Kashmir. He publicly threatened to behead the Hizbul militants if they persisted with their political objectives against India. Incidentally, Musa went onto acquire a hero’s status in Kashmir, much like how Burhan Wani had acquired.

The Zakir Musa episode – in which the Indian state is also speculated to have daringly played a secret role – not only greatly weakened the terror organization in Kashmir, but also opened up cases of rising violence amongst extremists themselves. Thus, there were cases where rival factions of extremists opened fire on each other outside a mosque after prayers and where rivalry among extremist factions has gone up – the results of mutual intolerance in the Muslim world is now being seen in Kashmir too.

Combined with these internal dynamics, the Indian forces have been exceptionally successful in their ‘operation all-out’, having been given a free hand by the central government. They eliminated a record number of terrorists this year, even totally wiping out the JeM and LeT networks.

So, the successes – like NIA’s cracking down on money networks – are now more visible than ever, on both political and security fronts, enabling us to declare that Modi has had the most neutral, systematic and organized policy on Kashmir so far.

The Most Recent Security Scenario

Amongst the most outstanding successes of the Centre has been the wiping out of a record number of terrorists – through, both, outright force by the Army and the police, and, through deft foreign policy with the US and Arab countries (coupled with changing global political conditions) that has ensured a near-total drying up of Pakistani funding to the UJC.

Top commanders of key terrorist outfits – Hizbul Mujahideen, LeT, JeM – have been killed this year. From the JeM alone, around 50 terrorists and top commanders have been killed in 2018, including Massod Azhar’s nephews. And, recently, the killing of Naveed Jutt of LeT, responsible for the murder journalist Shujaat Bukhari, has created a situation where the LeT is staring at a near total wipe-out in the Valley. Concretely, terrorists have begun losing ground and support in what used to, previously, be their strongholds. Reportedly, only 5 tehsils in J&K account for between 60-70 per cent of violence – this concentration of terror activity is important (Sahni 2018).

A total of 206 terrorists have been killed in the Valley this year (Economic Times 2018), in less than eight months, if we count the Ramzan ceasefire. The numbers show that since the killing of Hizbul’s young Burhan Wani in 2016 and the immense outpouring of local support for militancy that followed thereafter, things have now reached a full circle. At present, militant strength is at its lowest in the valley, with reports suggesting nearly 90% of the top leadership of the terrorist organizations being wiped out, with the forces killing the militants on a daily basis and adopting the strategy of targeting the top leadership, thereby striking at the very roots (Firstpost 2018).

The result is that militants are in a state of complete disarray. They have started resorting to new tactics which are making them unpopular among the civilians – such as series of recent perpetual kidnappings of Kashmiri youth and their brutal murders after accusing them of being informants. This shows the desperation of the militants who had, for a long time, become complacent and started thinking of themselves as people’s representatives. Now, with their leadership gone, funding dried up and rising vulnerability to easily being tracked by the Indian forces, they are staring at an utter failure. Even the levels of recruitment have gone down, since they no longer have the resources or the conditions to recruit local youth. As the Governor recently reported, the recruitment level is at near ‘zero’ at present.

Naysayers often brandish meaningless figures to say that Kashmir is in a disarray because of the rising graph of killings – forgetting that such figures make no sense unless they are put in a larger perspective to see that the Kashmir policy is shaping up in a coherent and more successful way than ever before. Clearly, with India following a successful policy with the full application of force, there will obviously be a rise in cross-border incidents, a rise in soldiers killed on both sides and a rise in deaths of both foreign and Kashmiri militants. One fails to understand what is wrong with these numbers. More than anything, they show that India’s policy is actually working.

Radical Political Changes

Thus, on the security front, for the first time, one can discern concrete results and say that, yes, it is possible to permanently resolve the Kashmir issue. On the political front, things seem to be mobile, but here too, if noted carefully, the centre is following a shrewd and intelligent political strategy.

The dissolving of PDP-BJP coalition and the appointment of Mr. Malik as Governor has undoubtedly lent stability to the state and relief to the people. The Governor, being a political person and not a bureaucrat, is making sure that correct actions are undertaken, with a modicum of controversy being kept alive, from time-to-time, to keep the Kashmiri political parties on tenterhooks and confused and unable to launch any kind of attack on the centre. He has not behaved in a black-and-white way as a stooge of the centre and yet has got real work done, which has diminished the strength of parties like PDP, NC and Congress, and left them unable to launch any coherent attack on him or the centre.

The holding of successful and peaceful elections – first urban local body (ULB) polls and then the Panchayat polls – despite the boycott by PDP and NC has dealt a severe blow to the organization of these parties. While the ULB polls did not witness a major turnout, the later Panchayat polls – occurring in five phases – saw nearly 75% turnout in Kashmir and nearly 89% in Jammu. The boycott logic of NC and PDP was skewed, since in the past also, leaders like Farooq Abdullah have managed to cast themselves as ‘representatives’ and sit in the assembly with very little turnouts and popular votes.

This time their boycott calls were not welcomed by their party members and many of them deserted their parties to fulfill their political ambitions elsewhere. For instance, Junaid Mattu – a fresh young face of NC – joined Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference and became the mayor of Srinagar. Similarly, amongst themselves, BJP, Congress and People’s Conference managed to get ULB positions.

The PDP-NC boycott, irrespective of expectedly low turnouts – turned out to be a bad political strategy, making them lose vital governance positions and ultimately eroding their local power base. In the process, even if forcefully and persistently, the BJP managed to carve out a space for itself in the psyche of the people. That there are new permanent political players on the ground has now become established, thanks to the illogic of PDP and NC.

The aftermath of the polls has ultimately fed into the rise of the ‘third front’ in Kashmir politics, ostensibly led by Lone’s People’s Conference. Apparently, while Lone has just 2 MLAs in the assembly, the calculation that with the assured support of 25 MLAs of BJP and a dozen or so of PDP rebels – many of them prominent old PDP hands who can persuade others too – he can easily put together 40 MLAs. The needed number is 44 in the J&K assembly, which can be managed subsequently through independents and others.

With the coalition of Congress, NC and PDP staking claim to form government (with a total of 55 MLAs) and a similar claim being staked by Lone, the Governor has dissolved the assembly. The Governor’s term of six month lapses in early December. This was a intelligent step by the Governor and, most likely, a well-thought move by the BJP at the centre. The Governor could have easily invited Lone – with BJP’s support – to form the government, as the recent experiments in other Indian states show. And, Lone too had been, for the past several months, petitioning the central BJP leaders to facilitate such an outcome. But the BJP has not done this, as it could have easily done a long time back.

We must discern the reason behind this. Clearly, had the central BJP leaders – often at odds with local Kashmiri BJP leadership – allowed Lone to form the government with outside support, it would have resulted in only passing benefits to the national party. In fact, it would have permanently created another – third – Kashmiri power centre and entrenched Kashmiri political party, which could have, subsequently, gone the way of NC and PDP. Lone, let us remember, has no common thinking with the BJP. He has already made it clear that Article 370 is ‘sacred’ to him. The only common causes between Lone and BJP are political and temporary.

It is to the credit of central BJP’s political strategy that it discarded local-level ambitions of political power and deftly prevented Lone from becoming too powerful or bigger than his shoes. Yet, they want to keep this third front alive as a potent political force – to further erode the bases of PDP and NC and Congress – in the Valley, without allowing it to grab political power. This move has been a political masterstroke, which narrowly selfish parties like NDA-I or the UPA would never have been able to pull off. It is this that can reasonably explain why Governor Malik dissolved the assembly and what is the national BJP’s political thinking behind the recent political developments in the Valley.

Significant Policy Changes

Besides, significant strides made in the political and security scenario of the state, for the first time, concrete steps are being taken to roll-back harmful, anti-India policies that have operated in the state. While, certainly, it is a given that something as humongous as Article 370 or Article 35-A cannot be dismantled outrightly and immediately, but steps towards that ultimate goal have speeded up since Mr. Malik became the Governor. In terms of policy, it is a fact that the PDP-BJP coalition till June this year was useless. The PDP left no stones unturned in creating obstructions and Mufti’s PDP has had a single-pointed agenda of corruption and nepotism, which has been proven by how most of the old PDP leaders have now deserted her for allegedly promoting her own family members. In a basic PDP rally, even the workers refuse to turn up.

And this is a separatist party that emerged due to its stronghold in South Kashmir – the hotbed of militancy. Now that it has permanently eroded its radicalized support base, the recent actions of Mr. Malik’s State Administrative Council (SAC) cast a further damning light on it.

The most significant change by Mr. Malik, in recent times, has been the repealing of the ‘Roshini Act’ or The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001. It was passed in 2001 by the Congress-PDP coalition government, under the leadership of Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad. Its purported objective was to generate resources for power projects in the state and to give proprietary possession to those inhabitants who had been in unauthorized possession of government land. The government’s stated that it wants to raise funds to the tune of 25,448 crore rupees by selling 20, 64,972 kanals of State land under unauthorized occupation. The amount was to be invested for generating electricity in the State.

Not only did it turn out to be a huge scam unearthed by the CAG with only a few crores being raised and substantial portions of the land being given to influential people, but also had a more sinister motive behind it – in Jammu, it was widely wielded to alter the region’s demography by settling huge numbers of Muslims and Gujjar-Bakerwal Muslims on the state land.

The SAC, in taking a decision to repeal it, made a reference to the fact that Ankur Sharma of the Ikkjutt Jammu group had filed a PIL against this Act. According to data provided in this PIL, under this Act, in Jammu, over 90% of the applications were successfully processed in favour of Muslims, including Gujjars and Bakerwals. While corruption and nepotism may have dented this subtle Islamic invasion of Jammu, yet the intent behind the operation of the Act in Jammu reveals the motives of the then state government, led by the Congress.

The issue has taken centerstage with Mr. Malik’s decision, but it had become the bone of contention during the proceedings of the Kathua rape case, when Jammu residents widely began agitating to protest Kashmiri Muslim conspiracies against the Hindus, not just in the Kathua trial, but also by saying that things had reached a boiling point in Jammu ever since this Act started showing its diabolical results.

Besides this progressive decision by Mr. Malik, the Governor has also asked the bureaucrats to speed up the process of issuing Permanent Residency Certificate applications for Kashmir. For years, these applications have remained stuck. Thanks to the previous governments in the state, they never wanted to grant residency to outsiders for the fear of affecting the Muslim demography of Kashmir – stark opposite of the manipulations done through Roshni Act in Jammu. As a result, applications for permanent residency were rarely processed and this vested bureaucratic non-response was taken for granted – the politics behind it accepted by the centre.

But now with Mr. Malik trying subtly to get these applications moving, there has been an instant backlash, including from Sajjad Lone. All Kashmiri parties have united to state that they will never allow anything that changes the demography of the state.

In yet another related development, Mr. Malik’s SAC further, recently, granted a PSU (Public Sector Undertaking) status to the J&K Bank. That means now it will come under rules applicable to all state entities in the country viz. accountability under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and under the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

This comes at a time when Ms. Mufti has been accused of appointing thousands of candidates to the bank irregularly and routing dubious money transactions to her family members. The backlash of SAC’s action was immediate – not only did political parties and separatists like Hurriyat unite to condemn the SAC for interfering with the state’s autonomy, but even the Kashmiri Muslim businessmen who should have logically supported the step, spoke out against the SAC’s action which would target numerous ‘hawala transactions’.

These are commendable concrete policy steps which weigh more than two decades of secular deviousness displayed by all the previous governments and bureaucratic governors. They show that Kashmir was being systematically sold out and deliberately being alienated from India. The process needed to be ruthlessly stopped. For the naysayers, what more ‘proof’ is needed that things are moving at lightening speed in Kashmir?

Thus, on both security and political fronts, we can see concrete patterns and results. While, on the security front, the militants are facing a near total wipe-out and are handicapped due to the killings of all their top leaders, on the political front, the last four years, have seen a completely hapless, helpless and sidelined avatars of NC, PDP and Congress, for the first time in what are turning out to be drastic changes in Kashmiri politics.

Bibliography

Economic Times. 2018. Economic Times. November 19. Accessed November 28, 2018.

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/50-jem-militants-killed-in-2018-group-crippled-jk-police/articleshow/66687166.cms.

Firstpost. 2018. Firstpost. November 26. Accessed November 28, 2018.

https://www.firstpost.com/india/kashmir-militancy-huge-setback-for-hizbul-mujahideen-and-lashkar-e-taiba-as-forces-almost-wipe-out-their-top-brass-in-valley-5617511.html.

Sahni, Ajay. 2018. The Print. November 19. Accessed November 27, 2018.

https://theprint.in/talk-point/do-amritsar-kashmir-violence-signal-internal-security-crisis-like-90s-under-ajit-doval/151544/.

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