To salvage Kashmir, Modi needs three strategies plus an end to the brashness

Emerging from the foothills of the Pir Panjal range in Jammu and Kashmir, river Jhelum is known for the speed and ferocity with which it barges into Srinagar before entering Pakistan.

Yet when seen against the rapid developments in the state in the last fortnight, Jhelum appears to have been outpaced.

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Former CM Mehbooba Mufti addressing the press following the day’s developments on June 19 in Srinagar. Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times

The experiment of the BJP aligning with the PDP, termed as the coming together of two poles, now lies buried.

Yet that is not the subject of this essay.

In Lucknow on May 29, on the eve of the Narendra Modi government completing four years, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh offered a one-liner when it came to speaking about his ministry’s achievements in Jammu and Kashmir. He said, “Our Government has successfully eliminated 619 terrorists in four years, compared to 413 terrorists killed during four years of UPA Government for the period 2010-13”. http://www.pib.nic.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1533815#.Ww1iKItJck4.twitter

Matters on the ground however are hardly as simple.

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Scenes from the aftermath of the floods in Kashmir in 2014. The author was witness to the massive exercise launched to rescue everyone stranded, whether tourists or locals. This one was taken at Srinagar airfield.

From the summer of 2014, when New Delhi deployed its might towards pulling ordinary Kashmiris out of harm’s way during the floods and the Prime Minister’s subsequent Diwali in Srinagar to a historic voter turnout and the coming together of the BJP and PDP to form the state government.

From the peaks of optimism of a ‘development-oriented’ agenda for alliance to the depths of darkness in eruption of public anger following the killing of militant Burhan Wani and the 7 per cent voter turnout for Lok Sabha bypoll last year.

From the ‘jubilation’ over the retaliatory surgical strikes and the killing of over 200 militants in a single year by the security forces (213 in 2017) to the subsequent announcement of the Ramzan ceasefire.

From the death of that ceasefire to the death locally elected governance in one of India’s most troubled states.

Things have been anything but simple, anything but predictable.

The only constant has been the intent of the Pakistani state, consistently accused by India of fomenting trouble in the state.

How is it to live in a literal state of flux?

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Image from my visit to the valley in 2016. This was the scene in north Kashmir’s Handwara town.

Muneeb Mir, a businessman based out of Pampore in the volatile region of south Kashmir told me, “On the ground, there is only confusion and chaos, with no one seemingly in control. We all want something to cling to, something to hope from but there is nothing. We are rapidly going back to how bad the situation was when militancy first erupted in the 90s”. One of the residents told me they spend days wondering where next has violence erupted and at which moment the government would suspend internet services.

With the state set to witness the Governor’s rule, what is the hope they have from the centre? “A further hardening of stance at least till 2019 elections,” Muneeb added.

Another resident of the state who I spoke said even before the collapse of the state government, governance had all but stalled. Elected representatives are no longer able to as much as address their constituents forget about getting work executed.

Within the society, many say, the space for conversation has shrunk. Tempers run high and divergence is not liked. A young freelance journalist from south Kashmir said, “The sentiment of alienation has never been addressed. Woh sentiment zinda hai (that sentiment is alive) and the grouse erupts in different ways. I have seen people losing it, sometimes some demand azaadi even when they face a traffic problem in Srinagar!”

The deterioration of sentiments came along with that of the security scenario. Levels (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/jandk/data_sheets/annual_casualties.htm), whether in terms of civilians, soldiers or militants killed in 2017-18 have regressed, they today mirror what was seen nearly a decade ago.

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Though taken in 2014 in the RS Pura sector on Jammu region, matters have only worsened thereafter. Courtesy: Indian Express

Coming to the population along the state’s border, whether the Line of Control (LoC) or the International Border (IB), data shows their plight has seldom been as bad after India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire in 2003. Violations of the ceasefire agreement, as recorded by India, have seen a massive spike in 2017-18. While there were four civilians who died out of these violations between 2004 to 2013, in the period thereafter, 67 deaths have been recorded. Similarly, whether it is the Army or the Border Security Force (BSF), if 35 fatalities were recorded from 2004 to 2013, the number has shot up to 94 as on February 2018. (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/jandk/data_sheets/CFAViolationsoffical.htm)Ever since the state election in 2014, the BJP has been actively involved in the governance of both, the state and the centre.

What has been its strategy?

In September 2016, months after Burhan Wani’s killing evoked outrage which took Delhi by surprise prompting many to seek a dialogue, BJP’s General Secretary Ram Madhav had famously said ‘not talking was also a part of strategy’.

Instead of normalising ties with the society and isolating those who profess violence, where has this lack of engagement taken us?

The BJP’s professed approach in fact flies in the face of classic counter-insurgency practices.

Lieutenant General Rostum K Nanavatty who retired as the chief of the Northern Command in his book Internal Armed Conflict In India gave us a sense of where the blame lied. He wrote, “Protraction of conflict is essentially because of the government’s inability to capitalise on the successful conduct of operations by the security forces – to build civil counter-insurgency capacities within the state; to provide good governance and to arrive at a mutually acceptable political solution to the problem”.

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Former Director of the IB, Dineshwar Sharma has been meeting the stakeholders. Courtesy: NDTV

Former Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB) Dineshwar Sharma appointed last year as Delhi’s point-person on the ground recently said, “There are historical facts about the Kashmir dispute, nobody can deny that. But the main cause of unrest today is that over the years more negative kind of influences have gone into the minds of the youth; may be this has come from the internet, social media, the way politics is played, the way people keep publically airing their views, I think that has affected”. (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/dineshwar-sharma-jammu-and-kashmir-interlocutor-militancy-dialogue-5204169/)

More than ever perhaps, Delhi needs to substitute brashness with boldness.

Bravado, as is said, may stir the crowd but courage needs no audience.

As things stand, the security set up is no longer bound by a ceasefire.

Yet three clear strategies need to be incorporated.

First must be a robust counter-radicalisation strategy that works towards ensuring that the youth do not fall prey to what they receive on the open web.

Second, the wheels of governance in the state need to move. The state alone can lend confidence to its teachers, students, doctors, traders and citizens that normalcy can and will arrive.

And at the end comes the question of trust.

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IG Traffic in J&K, Basant Rath. Courtesy: New Indian Express

Muneeb Mir from Pampore cited the example of Basant Rath, the Inspector General of Police in the state and said, “Why is he able to go to the heart of Srinagar and play cricket with the youngsters whereas no one else from the government goes there without massive security? It’s because people trust his intent. For a long time, everyone has suspected Delhi’s intent. Its actions till date have only re-affirmed this suspicion”.

 

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