Imperilled Kashmir

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When a perception is created that there is no more liberty of conscience and thoughts and a tipping point between order and chaos has been reached, this illusion and perception often becomes reality. This is when the outliers decide to enter the equation by spreading disinformation and the power of rumour overrides everything. The outliers are both within the Valley of Kashmir and deep inside the Indian State in positions of pre-eminence, changing the narrative and queering the pitch for the security apparatus. By romanticising and glorifying a Hizbul commander like Burhan Wani, a dangerous and seditious game is being played out. A self defeating process of emasculating and undermining the security forces is being done systematically. The visual presence of the paramilitary and Indian Army has become a symbol of revulsion in the Kashmir division, but they are only doing their job, which is to ensure that there are no security breaches along the International Border and the Line of Control as also supervise law and order within the Valley. The security grid has to stand firm, for it is India which is being defended. There cannot be any compromise on India’s defence and security exigencies. Equally, there is no justification for use of excessive force, but when security personnel are imperilled themselves in the thick of battle, there will be the odd excess. Securing perimeters and borders has the highest priority for our security forces at this vital juncture in Kashmir’s dramatic journey through multiple rings of fire.

A distinction needs to be made between the counter insurgency operations that the Army is involved in as it deals with infils and their ‘death by a thousand cuts’ strategic imperative and the role of the paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir Police which is essentially there to manage crowd control and quell rioters and protestors. Somewhere all this gets mashed up leading to multiple problems for the security network. Once again Kashmir is fragile, once again the ‘game’ players are proactive and India has to be vigilant. Pakistan will continue to fish in troubled waters, keeping its hopes alive of India’s vivisection through the pouching of Kashmir. The Indian deep state has to be extra careful for the ruling party is an equal partner in the political conglomeration that rules the State. When the extreme right of Indian polity decides to get into bed with the extreme right of Kashmir politics, it is a marriage made in hell. Unlike her father Mufti Saheb, Mehbooba is pro separatist and actively seeks Pakistan’s participation in deciding the future of Kashmir. She believes that both are along with the people of Kashmir, not just stakeholders but credible answers to this gigantic riddle. The case in point is her amnesty for 634 stone pelters on the occasion of Eid. But Kashmir is not just Kashmir, it includes a sizeable Hindu dominated Jammu division and is crowned by a Buddhist majority in Ladakh. The BJP has to back its security apparatus to the hilt despite the fact that the PDP will test its resolve constantly and continuously. These are tenuous times and everyone needs to walk on eggshells.

Parts of a Unified Kashmir which existed on October 26, 1948 when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession are no longer with us. Pakistan has occupied a large chunk, including the northern territories of Gilgit and Baltistan which it snared with typical subterfuge. Similarly, Aksai Chin was handed over to the Chinese by Pakistan in 1963. The Kashmir that Pakistan covets is the Valley of Kashmir, north of the Banihal Pass and this is something the Indian State cannot and will not give away. By now, a lot of people have understood that there is a large constituency of people in Pakistan which wants to keep the Kashmir War Machine alive and going. The centrality of Kashmir in any narrative between India and Pakistan is an inescapable reality. For the Sharifs who are known to patronise the deadlier elements like Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, it was understood that the volume would be pumped up very quickly. No sooner had Sharif arrived with a thumping win in Pakistan that the Kashmir Valley became the epicentre of violence and bloodletting all over again. Till the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and, more so, of Afzal Guru, there was peace and tranquility in the Valley, with local militancy having been virtually crushed by men like IGP Kashmir S. M. Sahai.

What is baffling is that the Indian Army, which has redrawn Kashmir boundaries into tight concentric circles for better vigil and management, thereby exercising better control, is suddenly facing a brand new threat percept. The jihad factory has clearly upped the ante with a dramatic change in tactics and there is empirical evidence of that.The attacks against the maladroit Army and paramilitary have intensified in the last few months; the infiltration more active. Using the old tactic of fidayeen attacks, they are now targeting vulnerable and high visibility military and para military convoys, choosing the locations with precision and deflating morale by exacting high number of casualties. This new stratagem of real, deadly, dangerous and persistent attacks has the security grid in a twist.

There is a clear design that the Pakistan civil-military establishment is working on: use different elements of the jihad factory to unleash a continuous cycle of violence against India. A fatigued Army has to be constantly watchful, for there will be escalation in this ongoing summer of discontent. Pakistan always reckons it has a chance when local discontent peaks and 2016 has been a defining summer.

The Army has a grid that functions like a concentric circle right across the Valley starting from the LoC right into the innards of Srinagar city. There are over 300,000 Army soldiers both along the border and for counter insurgency operations in Kashmir Valley. While the northern army command is based in Udhampur, there are three Corps — 14 (Leh), 15 (Srinagar), 16 (Nagrota), with around 60,000 troops each. They are on the outer periphery of the concentric circle as it winds inwards. Add to this the counter terrorist force — Rashtriya Rifles, drawn from the ‘ghatak’ platoons of the Army which has 62 battalions (all told around 70,000 soldiers).

This is the dreaded element of the Army, which is involved in combing and search-and-destroy operations against insurgents. The Rashtriya Rifles itself has five division-like headquarters — Delta force: Doda, Kilo force: Kupwara and Baramulla, Romeo force: Rajouri and Poonch, Victor force: Anantnag, Pulwama, Badgam and Uniform force: Udhampur. Over and above this, the 26 Infantry Division (approximate strength of 20,000) is based in Jammu which comes under the Western Army Command headquarters in Chandimandir.

Data from the Ministry of Home Affairs reveals that from January to June 2016, the number of new local recruitments in the Valley stood at 39. The number of local recruitments to Kashmir militancy in 2015 were 76 in 2015, 56 in 2014 and 20 in 2013. So, to propound a theory that local militancy has gone up is erroneous, but it suits sections of Indian media to sex up this story. MHA data also reveals that from January to June 1, 2016, 36 militants were able to successfully infiltrate into India. For 2015, the number of successful militant infiltrations stood at 33. For 2014, the corresponding figure was 65. Even as JeM increased its activities in India — from 11 in 2014 and 5 in 2015 to 15 already this year — LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) remain the most potent outfits. LeT has the strongest presence with 76 militants operating on the ground while HM has 64 active cadres. Till July 3, 2016 CY, five civilians, 30 security personnel and 77 terrorists have been killed in Kashmir. Spiralling violence in the wake of Wani’s killing has changed these data points completely. June was the worst month with one civilian, 15 security personnel and 24 militants killed. That too will change with the July escalation. Since 1989 till July 3, 2016, the body count in the Kashmir strife is humungous — 14,729 civilians, 6216 security forces and 23,045 terrorists.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was part of the V. P. Singh National Front when his third daughter Rubaiyya Sayeed was abducted in late 1989, one of the cataclysmic moments in Kashmir’s tragic history. 1989 was the inflection point for the stampede of the Pandits, as a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing began. It was on December 8, 1989 that this inglorious chapter in India’s recent history unfolded. Within five days of Mufti taking over as India’s Home Minister, 23 year old Rubaiyya was kidnapped and in exchange, the dreaded Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) asked for the release of Sheikh Abdul Hameed, a JKLF “area commander”, Ghulam Nabi Butt, younger brother of the hijack mastermind Maqbool Butt, Noor Muhammad Kalwal, Muhammed Altaf and Javed Ahmed Zargar. The capitulation, however, was swift and a travesty. At 3:30 am on December 13, 1989, two Union Cabinet Ministers, I. K. Gujral and Arif Mohammad Khan, flew into Srinagar, believing that Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was an impediment in deal-making because he rightly held the view that abject surrender to the terrorists’ demands would open the floodgates. The plot, planned by separatists like Yasin Malik, broke the back of the V. P. Singh’s government, which had failed to hold its nerve. At 7:00 pm on December 13, 1989, Rubaiyya Sayeed was set free, two hours after the government released the five jailed militants.

Those dark days changed the contours of Kashmir’s future history forever. The elastic had snapped and stage 2 of the operation to exfiltrate Kashmiri Pandits was plotted soon after so that Nizam-e-Mustafa could be established in the Valley. The toxic ideology of political Islam and its dissemination through the worldwide web is arguably a more feisty adversary than actual gun toting militants. Dovetailed with the mass uprisings of 2008 and 2010 in the form and shape of the Intifada have altered the discourse somewhat amongst the dissatisfied youth, yearning for a better life. The Indian deep state and its security rig has to evolve to meet the requirements of a changing dynamic in the Valley. For the more things change in Kashmir, the more they remain the same. What is germane to the discourse is a political solution for the youth of Kashmir viz. employment opportunities and deradicalisation programmes to be scaled up rapidly. Almost in parallel, the Army and the paramilitary has to pony up and evolve from being seen as an ‘occupation force’ to one that is battling insurgents trying to pouch its jugular vein. Circa 2016 is once again defining and decisive, first Handwara, now Wani, the Pakistani puppeteers of the so called Kashmir uprising have to be vanquished at all costs. There cannot be any compromise on Iron fist, but at times with velvet glove tact.

(This article was originally published at the ORF website. Please click here to read the version.)

Sandeep Bamzai is Visiting Fellow at ORF. He is a media professional having held editorial leadership positions through his 32 year career.