Kashmir -The Way Forward

Praveen Swami, Group Consulting Editor, Network 18, spoke candidly about the current situation in Kashmir, providing a historical perspective and talking about what the future holds for this troubled region.

Background

On 5th August 2019, the Indian government introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 in the Rajya Sabha to convert Jammu and Kashmir's status of a state to two separate union territories, namely Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh.  This threw the region into more uncertainty than ever before. 

It appears the stage is set for some very profound changes but there are no clear indications, as yet. It is also important to note that when we refer to J&K, it also includes significant parts of the erstwhile state, currently under the occupation of Pakistan and China. 

Analysis

Contesting a common perception held abroad that India had ‘annexed J&K”, Praveen Swami, Group Consulting Editor, Network 18, placed the Kashmir issue in the correct historical perspective.  He noted that no, Kashmir has not been annexed. He said that Article 370 has been de-operationalised and it remains very much a part of the Indian Constitution.  New Delhi has not acquired any new powers and highlighted that from 1958, Kashmir has been steadily integrated into the union. In essence, Kashmir’s ‘not-so-special status’ has been acknowledged for what it is, he said. 

Kashmir has been in a state of de facto war for a while now and no government has been successful in addressing it. The war of 1947-1948 was merely a prelude to covert war which has roots long before.  When militancy broke out in J&K in the late 1980s, the ground for it to nurture had been set long before through Pakistan backed covert campaigns. In 1998, changes in Kashmir polity created enabling circumstances for the informal war to escalate sharply, and breakout in an armed insurgency.

The violence levels fluctuate and reached a high in 2003 but then it tapered down. Terrorist violence ebbed in 2008 when it reached its lowest plateau.  But again it has seen a rise. With the youth explosion in J& K, and so many of them jobless has contributed to the one going violence. What is worrying is the rise in an Islamic movement -angry youths married to a jihadi Islam makes a deadly cocktail.

In 2008 the grant of land use rights triggered mass protests which were initially exploited by local politicians to embarrass their political rivals, spiralled out of control adopting a new Islamic centric approach with mass appeal and with stone-pelting as the main weapon. Mob violence dominated the political fabric for almost a year.

Swami also spoke about the rise of a “New Islamist” movement in Kashmir. He said that there was now a new crop of leaders who had become more wedded to a Jihadist thought. Local politicians sought to appropriate these developments and that proved to be a bad decision, Swamy noted. He also spoke about the rise in mass protests and civil disobedience and rued the fact young children were getting injured. 

As per Swami, the Indian handling of the problem has lacked actual seriousness.  Illustrating his statement with the example of crowd control measures being used- while adequate reports were available to the police about the crowd control measures needed, there was no clear effort to address it through non-lethal means. Conventional democrats of Kashmir have not been able to manage the youth rage.

Swami further elaborated that there is a crisis of legitimacy and that has been Delhi’s fundamental challenge. The youth rage is directed at conventional democracy which has allowed a corrupt contractors-politician nexus to prosper. The New Islamist resurgence successfully challenges India’s efforts to revive democratic politics in Kashmir and Pakistan began using these New Islamists to ensure an uptick in violence.  In the present culture, traditional political parties hold little sway and the political narrative has been highjacked by new Islamists supported by Pakistan.

Delhi’s masculine statements including cross border strikes have not led to any change in the ground situation.  

The New Islamists realise a war of attrition against the India state cannot be won and are looking at its other vulnerabilities- namely its cities. He said that it was now critical to see how identity politics will play out in Kashmir in years to come. The government is banking on turning the tide of public opinion in Kashmir by introducing radical developmental changes in the region. However, by all counts currently, India is at a fraught juncture when it comes to Kashmir. The infiltration has increased and violence levels have gone up in comparison to the past few years.

So what are India’s options?  Foremost is to ensure the abrogation of Article 370 shows some tangible result on ground-economic or otherwise- so that the violence levels and protests go down.  Infiltration has gone up and the security forces have to be prepared for more bloodshed once spring returns to the valley. Most important, the political vacuum that has been created due to the marginalisation of mainstream politicians should not be filled by ISI like jihadi culture.

All indications point towards a difficult time in Kashmir. When it comes to Kashmir, historically there have been many moments that have been considered “turning points” but they have all turned out to be dead ends. “However, I hope that is not the case this time around,” he said. 

Assessment

  • Under intense global scrutiny, with a desperate Pakistan indulging in an all-out informational war, Kashmir remains India’s Number one priority.
  • Having taken a bold step to alter the status quo, and also fulfilled an important electoral promise, it is incumbent on the part of the state to put its entire resources behind its efforts to make the Kashmiris feel that things have changed for the better. Positive and genuine people-friendly actions on the ground can only fight the counter-narrative being played out by Pakistan.
  • Notwithstanding the spike in infiltration from Pakistan, the Security Forces are well placed to handle the military situation along the LOC and in the hinterland. It is the civil mass movement which requires deft handling by the civil machinery under the newly placed UT administration, especially once the curbs are ultimately removed. 

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