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The Kashmir Issue: A ‘Muscular Policy’ Alone Can Deliver

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The toppling of the PDP-BJP government in Jammu & Kashmir, with the BJP pulling the plug on the alliance, has provided an ideal opportunity to the central government to intensify anti-terror operations in the valley. In the recent past, these operations – which had been going strong since 2016, following the surgical strikes and the fallout from Burhan Wani’s death, killing more than 200 militants – had suffered. After taking a strong stand, the government went on a backfoot, in the wake of allegations about rise in local recruitment, alienation and Kashmir situation being touted to be worse than what it was in the 1990s.

All of these contentions were ill-motivated and the government, unfortunately, partially heeded them. The result was the appointment of an interlocutor along the same lines as was done by the UPA-II government in 2011. While it won a few relief points for starting the ‘dialogue’ process, the Kashmir situation has rendered all such attempts farcical. During the same period, Operation All-Out – the Army’s successful operation of weeding out and destroying the terrorists – had also taken a hit. Operations were suspended in the month of Ramzan and the 2003 ceasefire was re-invoked along the border with Pakistan, even though neither the terrorists nor Pakistan ceased their offensive.

To make matters worse, the government, particularly the J&K’s BJP’s leadership, had been on a serious backfoot over the Kathua rape and murder case. For Jammu, the BJP leadership has proven ineffective in tackling Ms. Mufti’s exercise of soft power to allegedly instigate demographic changes in Jammu and Ladakh. It was apparent that Ms. Mufti was being indulged by the BJP for a while, but has now been dropped. Governor’s rule has been welcomed in both Jammu and Kashmir and by the Army. The Army has already resumed Operation All-Out with greater intensity, while cracking down on funding networks of terrorists by NIA – which had succeeded in wiping out the terror networks of terrorist veterans like Geelani and others of Hurriyat.

All the counts on which the government had neutralized itself in recent months can now be re-implemented with greater intensity. It is clear that things have reached such a point that reconciliation is no longer an option. When civilians are actively collaborating with the militants, providing them information to kill security personnel and openly supporting terrorists, there is a clear message that no code of honour will be respected and no one will be spared. Yet, there is a popular perception that we should broker a dialogue with such a population.

There are three important things to be noted here – all of which relate to the Kashmiri people’s support for the imposition of Islamic rule in Kashmir:

*  The farcical and superficial perception that ‘dialogue’ works in Kashmir.

*  If at all, who can the government conduct a dialogue with? The entire landscape of militant leadership has been taken over by Pak-based foreign terrorists and their sympathizers among the locals. The existence of an indigenous separatist leadership fighting for the supposed freedom of Kashmir is a myth.

*  Kashmir is not a political issue. Under the guise of human rights and political freedom, the real agenda of all foreign and indigenous militants has been to facilitate Islamization of the Valley and establish the rule of Sharia. To pretend to engage with such elements under the guise of political outreach would be, and has been, most harmful.

In further elaboration:

First, in Kashmir, dialogue has never been more than a farce. The very idea of a dialogue undermines India’s basic position that Kashmir is an integral part of India and is not a disputed territory – Pakistan and terrorists are part of problem, not the solution. Previous governments have only supported this position through parroted words, but undermined it through their actions.

The Modi government has faithfully implemented its Kashmir policy in line with the basic Indian principle on Kashmir, unlike other governments who have undercut their own interests. There is a tendency – especially among circles of retired Indian diplomats and ex-servicemen who served at top positions – to fondly remember ‘moderate’ eras like those of Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, when, they claim that local recruitment was at an all-time low and a dialogue was underway with the separatist leadership of Hurriyat Conference.

What we miss is that fact that such periods of farcical peace never solved the basic Kashmir problem – a population, vested with special status, fundamentally wanting to break free of India and preferring the imposition of Sharia rule in the state. Our wise men say that development and material welfare will end the alienation of Kashmiris. What they fail to realise is that this alienation is self-imposed.

Therefore, all the social engineering and dialogues were bound to result in a situation wherein people would obviously utilize the material incentives dangled before them, without any fundamental change in their mindset. As a part of these material incentives, the local recruitment to terrorist ranks would fall as people would be in a more complacent mode – complacent but always with a fundamentally anti-India psyche – and there would be a lull in civilian killings and terror operations. But this is no proof of success. Because at the next opportunity, they would again start demanding ‘azaadi’. It is like pushing a problem under the carpet – never solving it – and then calling it successful diplomacy.

So, the arguments of Kashmir being better-off during the Vajpayee and Manmohan era fall flat in the face of reason. It was always a compromise and evasion of reality. As soon as the present government took the initiative of permanently resolving the Kashmir issue by attempting its irreversible integration with the Indian Union – that should always have been the objective towards which previous governments should have strived – the revolt was quick to rise. The previous approach was covering the Kashmir issue with pleasant diplomatic platitudes, broking a ceasefire with Pakistan and assuming these temporary measures to be constitutive of a permanent solution. But for how long? Even now there is an unhealthy clinging to the perception that the Kashmir issue has to be resolved only through dialogue and peaceful means – an impossibility, given that nobody there wants any solution except the rule of Sharia. The issue is no longer about Kashmiri right to self-determination but of their popular support of integrating with Pakistan and Islamization.

Second, advocates of dialogue do not realise that the entity they want to conduct a dialogue with, no longer exists. Kashmir is no longer what it was a few years ago. Kashmir was a political issue only during the time when Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah jointly mismanaged it. After that, and especially now, the entire scenario of militant activity and engagement of civilians as over-ground workers is being spearheaded from Pakistan. The Kashmir of 1960s no longer exists. To view it fondly as a political and not a security issue has been suicidal for our Kashmir policy. The so-called indigenous terror networks – who claimed to be against both India and Pakistan and insisted they were only fighting for self-determination, like JKLF – are no longer there. Even this was a farce. Geelani’s Tehreek-i-Hurriyat was openly allied to Pakistan. Hurriyat and JKLF – who many idolize and view as moderates – had presided over the massacre of Kashmiri Hindus during the late 1980s – at the same time when Pakistan had actively sought to provide material support to Kashmiri insurgents.

They would go to Pakistan for training, wanted Sharia imposed in Kashmir and received all their material support from Pakistan. Yet we bought into the lip-service they paid to ‘political self-determination’ in Kashmir. What has now changed is that these local outfits like Hurriyat and Geelani’s – with their corrupt monetary roots attacked by the NIA – are a new spent force. People also no longer support Hurriyat. The people of Kashmir no longer support Hurriyat because they have found better alternatives directly in hardcore Pakistani terror outfits who have become popular in the valley – like LeT, JeM, Al-Badr, Hizbul Mujahideen etc. They no longer support indirect Pakistan proxies or the self-certified ‘indigenous’ militants, but are now openly in favour of ‘foreign’ terror groups who owe allegiance to Pakistan and promise radical Islamization.

And yet, look at the irony – some of us – retired personnel with their outdated attachments – still advocate a meaningless dialogue with the failed Hurriyat. That the Modi government even issued a statement saying it is amenable to dialogue – only to be snubbed by the insignificant Hurriyat – was a negative strike against India. What ‘healing touch’ shall we give to a population which is openly supportive of Pakistani terrorists? It is flabbergasting that a dialogue is being advocated with Pakistani proxies. There are no indigenous networks in Kashmir – only Pakistani terror groups and civilians who overwhelmingly support them. No dialogue is possible with either of these foreign elements and any attempt in this direction would now undermine India.

Third, we must recognize that the militant networks operating in the valley – including the so-called somewhat ‘legitimate’ indigenous ones like Hurriyat Conference – have only the imposition of Sharia as their principal aim. They only claim that they treat Kashmir as a political issue and one of self-determination. But the words of terrorists and militants cannot be taken at face value. They derive support from groups like Dukhtaran-i-Millat, whose only aim is the rule of Sharia in Kashmir. And the Pakistani terror networks are openly advocating for Sharia law. Indians ignore this situation and stubbornly continue to want to treat Kashmir as a political issue. Instead of countering militants at their own level, by recognizing the reality, we seem to want to ground our approach in baseless intellectual theorizations of the past.

The Modi government has followed a ruthless approach to Kashmir. It recognized the reality and responded as such. Nobody liked it. All vested interests wanted the status-quo of NDA-I and UPA to continue. But the present government’s Operation All-Out had been such a success that it had struck at the very roots of militancy. Even local recruitment had fallen in 2017.

In fact, a lot of allegations are being brandished about today, with everyone harping on the idea that for one terrorist killed, 100 more are born. This is a myth. It is not happening but not because of some imaginary change of heart among the ranks of terrorist sympathizers.

During the previous years, the control in local recruitment could happen because the Army had much superior intelligence and covert operations capabilities. In 2010, after 26/11 terror attacks the year before, the Army had formed a strong Technical Support Division, under the then General V K Singh. This division was meant to provide foolproof intelligence to the Army and gave it an edge in Kashmir (Sharma 2018). It led to a reduction in local recruitment to terrorist ranks. It was mercilessly dissolved in 2012, after allegations of political snooping and paying money to topple the state government, after which the Kashmir situation deteriorated rapidly. Its dissolution – having fallen prey to political ambitions – struck a blow at Army’s covert operations and intelligence capabilities, making it heavily reliant on the J & K police, as is the case now, and leaving it dependent on overt operations – like surgical strikes – only.

Even then it has done well with its Operation All-Out.

Since 1989, the number of civilians killed has fallen from 8640 between 1989 to 1998 to 312 between 2009 to 2018. The number of security personnel who lost their lives has also fallen from 2326 between 1989 to 1998 to 558 between 2009 and 2018. Despite all allegations, terror incidents have gone down dramatically, while the targeting of terrorists has become much better during the last 4.5 years of Modi government, with 701 terrorists being killed. The Army, for the last 4.5 years, has had some undeniable signature successes like Operation All-Out and cracking down on funding networks of terror veterans, as well as targeting top terrorist commanders to strike at their roots. Hence, the desperation of terrorists and their random killing of civilians has become clear as day.

Notice that unlike the past times, these new breed of terrorists no longer try to gain local sympathy through propaganda or by talking about false theories like azaadi. Instead, they are clear about their Islamic agenda and the intention to topple the Indian state. All their sympathy comes from these bases. Those civilians who don’t toe their line are killed or threatened. This desperation has made it easier for the Army to go after them. The success is undeniable. For the first time in decades, one can actually hope that there will be a change in status-quo and the Kashmir issue can reach some solution, instead of suspended in mid-air, thanks to past political ambitions and expediencies.

Not many like this strategy – as is obvious. As soon as the Modi government gave an inch of space in trying to appear ‘moderate’, the enemies were quick to pounce, hoping to weaken and corner the government completely. The outrageous UN OHCHR (United Nations Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights) report on human rights – penned by a sympathetic fellow Muslim High Commissioner, who has had a controversial tenure of support to Rohingya militants and Pakistan – along with wisdom of Congress’s Saifuddin Soz and Ghulam Nabi Azad came in quick succession. The UN’s temerity to issue the report is the first instance of its kind, and this shows that Modi’s ‘muscular’ Kashmir policy had been giving sleepless nights to many, unlike the complacency displayed by the previous governments.

Under no circumstances can the government afford to make the mistake of lapsing into the false political lull of the last few months. The Governor’s rule provides an opportunity till 2019 to make some permanent headway in Kashmir. The opportunity cannot be squandered away to accommodate voices that insist on false policies of engagement with terrorists.

Bibliography

Sharma, Madhur. 2018. Swarajya. June 19. Accessed June 27, 2018. https://swarajyamag.com/politics/a-lost-opportunity-for-kashmir-why-scrapping-the-armys-intelligence-unit-was-a-blunder.

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