India must use the opportunity of turmoil in Pakistan to create lasting peace in the Kashmir Valley by launching a credible political initiative, giving no quarter to the armed jihadis.
EVER SINCE THE HURRIED AND UNSCIENTIFIC PARTITION OF the country in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed terrorism in one form or the other. The reluctance of Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the princely state, to sign the instrument of accession in good time, British lack of trust in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to protect its geopolitical interests in this part of the world (post World War II), the Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah’s obsession with seeing himself emerge as the unchallenged chieftain of post-partition J&K, and Pakistan’s unwillingness to accept the fact of accession of the state to India, created a situation of permanent hostility between India and Pakistan ever since the British left Indian shores in August 1947.
Portrait of Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, dated 1944. Photo courtesy: National Portrait Gallery, London, and Wikicommons.
India’s propensity for magnanimity, desire to project itself as a newly-independent model state that respects some perceived norms of international conduct, rather than following pragmatic policies (strictly based on its own interests), further resulted in reinforcing Pakistan’s belligerence towards India. To add to India’s woes, other powers, particularly Britain and the United States used the mutual hostility between India and Pakistan to serve their own ends at India’s cost. These historical factors combined to create a permanent state of uncertainty in Jammu and Kashmir.
After failing to snatch Kashmir from India in four conventional wars, Pakistan in the late-1980s embarked upon a new strategy of trying to capture Kashmir by creating insurgency in that state. It exploited the international situation existing at that time to its own advantage. The decade between 1979 and 1989 saw events of far-reaching significance taking place in the world. In 1989, the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan, and the end of the Cold War hastened its break-up in 1991. The religious parties in Pakistan, working in tandem with the military ruler, General Zia ul Haq, saw Islamist victories in Afghanistan and Iran as precedents which could be replicated in Kashmir.
Having been chosen as a frontline state by the United States and its allies for fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Pakistan was bestowed with civilian and military aid, particularly huge quantities of sophisticated weaponry. Pakistan utilised the resources of the war to serve its own core interest of capturing Kashmir. To accomplish that objective, it diverted a part of the weaponry, first to create an insurgency in Punjab as a test case, and thereafter, to Kashmir as part of a carefully planned proxy war in Kashmir against India. Preparations to start an armed insurgency in Kashmir started in earnest under the direct supervision of the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with a continuous flow of the Mujahideen cadres of Jamat-e-Islami to serve as foot soldiers.
Political turmoil in Kashmir after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 provided Pakistan a golden opportunity to fish in its troubled waters. By the end of the decade, the situation in the state had become tumultuous with the government having become defunct and administration subverted completely. Pakistan’s ever-present proxies in Kashmir filled the vacuum to run a pro-Pakistan agenda.
Pakistan’s strategy of using the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the slogan of azadi to gain public support for insurgency in the initial stages of insurgency paid huge dividends. The common man identified himself with the Tehreek (Movement). This phase, which lasted till 1992, saw insurgency spreading all over the Valley, both in the rural and urban areas. Within a short span of three to four months, the administration was not only paralysed but its every instrument of governance was subverted. Azadi became a junoon (obsession) of young men of all hues, even of those belonging to some mainstream political parties. The newly arrived cadres from Pakistani training camps were thoroughly brainwashed, trained to kill, loot and plunder in the name of jihad.
On their return to Kashmir, they did what they were trained to do. In the first phase, they killed the members of the minority community (Kashmiri Hindus).Threatened with physical elimination, or conversion, or forced flight from Kashmir, most chose the last option. Being the aborigines of the valley, they left behind thousands of years of history, culture, and ethos, and last but not the least, huge properties, both movable and immovable. Next on the list were those from the majority community who were perceived to be pro-India and those who did not agree with their worldview.
In the post 9/11 period, Kashmir got sucked into the vortex of international Islamic terror, thus overshadowing the basic causes that led to the commencement of the insurgency in the first place. Before 9/11, the world community had totally ignored India’s oft-repeated pleas that terrorism needed to be curbed by concerted and combined efforts of the world community. But after this watershed event, India’s voice on jihadi terrorism began to be heard in important capitals of the world, as Islamic terror took a heavy toll of people in many countries across the globe.
During the past few decades, the restored political process in J&K has led the shortsighted politicians to pander to the separatist lobby, giving them another lease of life. Pakistan, too, upped the ante by pushing in more jihadis into the Valley. To add to India’s woes, the radical Islam’s religious preachers succeeded in bringing the bulk of Kashmiri youth under their sway. Salafi/Wahhabi Islam, which used to be confined to few pockets in the Valley, has now turned into a mainstream force. Despite a widely representative nature of the existing government in place in the state, the situation within the Valley is far from satisfactory.
The current situation continues to be in a flux. On the one hand, the terrorists are getting neutralised at a rapid pace, with over a hundred of them having been killed in June 2017, and on the other, local youth are picking up the gun in greater numbers, particularly after the killing of the charismatic Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Commander, Burhan Wani, in an encounter with the security forces in July 2016. With the tightening of the vigil on the Line of Control due to the installation of modern means of surveillance in larger numbers, the infiltration during the current summer season seems to have slackened considerably. The demonetisation of November 2016 has also dried up the cashflow to the militant tanzeems, or organisations. Both factors have had an adverse effect on the freedom of action of the two main jihadi terror organisations active in Kashmir presently: the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
It is pertinent to mention that for the past two years, most of the terrorist activity has got confined to south Kashmir, where 90 per cent of the terror strikes have been recorded. With the security forces exploiting the intelligence being provided by the local people, as also by monitoring the social networking sites used quite often by the jihadis, the militants have paid a heavy price in terms of casualties suffered by them in 2017.
In the meanwhile, at the international level, the United States has added Syed Sallah-ud-Din, the Chief of United Jihad Council, living in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) for the last 25 years, to the ‘Terrorist List,’ and appears to have tightened its purse-strings to ensure Pakistan stops aiding the terrorists in Kashmir, as also in Afghanistan.
But China, after announcing the launch of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for its all-weather friend, Pakistan, as part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, appears keen to dirty its hands in Kashmir’s muddy waters. This is bound to add a serious dimension to an already complicated situation. China, despite knowing India’s strong opposition to a third party intervention in an essentially bilateral Kashmir dispute, volunteered to act as a mediator between India and Pakistan to resolve the issue. After being snubbed by India, China has become even more belligerent.
India cannot ignore the strategic cooperation that Pakistan has secured from China in many ways during the past three decades. The tight strategic embrace between China and Pakistan is reflected in the development of the CPEC, the showpiece of its OBOR project. A large part of this project passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, which will have a direct bearing on the Kashmir imbroglio.
China’s other action against India’s interests, i.e. vetoing India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a clear indicator of its desire to keep India engaged in low intensity conflict with some of its neighbours as a means of getting India bogged down.
It is quite possible that China’s rigid stand on the Doklam stand-off with India has its roots in China’s desire to come to Pakistan’s rescue at a time when international pressure on it (Pakistan) is building up to stop its territory being used by numerous terrorist organisations in order to hit at Afghanistan and India.
After the change of government in New Delhi in May 2014, India has used a different approach in dealing with the Kashmir issue, as compared to the one used by the earlier government. On the one hand, it has restricted the freedom of action that the separatist leadership enjoyed during the past many decades and, on the other, it has closed their avenues of receiving funds, which mostly used to come through hawala channels. With greater success being registered by Indian security forces in preventing infiltration along the Line of Control, the operational freedom of the remaining jihadis in Kashmir is likely to be restricted considerably.
Meanwhile, removal of the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 28 July 2017, by Pakistan’s Supreme Court following the Panamagate revelations, is likely to have a salutary effect on the situation on the Line of Control. Pakistan is likely to remain occupied with its internal political turmoil and instability. India must, therefore, make use of this opportunity to create conducive conditions for lasting peace in the Valley by launching a credible political initiative, while at the same time giving no quarter to the armed jihadis.
Colonel Tej K. Tikoo (Retd) was born in Srinagar and lived there prior to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from there in 1989-1990. Commissioned in August 1971 in the Naga Regiment of the Indian Army, he served extensively in counterinsurgency environments in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Punjab, Sri Lanka, and J&K. He is an M.Sc in Defence Studies from Madras University, and did his PhD in 2012 from C.C.S. University, Meerut. As part of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, he has evaluated national level projects dealing with internal security. He has served as Joint Director of the National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi. He is the author of the book Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus that studies the Kashmir imbroglio. Presently he is the Editor-in-Chief of Naad, an important community publication of the All India Kashmiri Samaj.