What is Delhi cooking for Jammu and Kashmir? This question is being raised at many a place these days, following the all-party meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted recently.
This meeting’s ostensible purpose was about the ongoing delimitation exercise in the Union Territory. Apparently, this has to be completed before the elections that have been promised by the Modi government. But many participants want that to follow the elections, not before, particularly when national level de-limitations of the electoral constituencies are due in 2026. Many participants in the above meeting will also like the restoration of the statehood prior to elections.
Whether these leaders posed these questions to the Prime Minister in their three and half hour-long meeting is not known. They have asked these questions outside the meeting premise, and mostly after few days after the meeting.
One thing, however, is pretty clear. And that is that nobody is now demanding, officially at least, and this includes former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, that undoing the abrogation of the Article 370 is a prerequisite for political discourse or election in Kashmir. But, whether this is a real change of heart on their part or just a tactical ploy for a pause till the emaciation of Modi’s power (the process of which is widely perceived to have begun) is something that one has to wait for.
In fact, this is the reason (weakening of Modi) why many observers were not surprised that these leaders and other “separatists” were invited by Modi for a talk. After all, most of them had been incarcerated for prolonged periods after the abrogation of Article 370. These included former chief ministers like Farooq Abdullah, his son, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti. They were all put away as a ‘threat to public order’ and they had hobnobbed with hostile elements, including foreign powers, to subvert Indian democracy.
But what was really surprising was the exclusion of the representatives of the Kashmir Pundits and Sikhs, the most persecuted communities of the valley in the meeting. All told, post-abrogation of Article 370 has not seen significant improvement in the ground situation for the Kashmir Pundits to return to their homes in the valley with honour and security. There has not been any noticeable step towards de-radicalising the people in the valley who continue to hell-bent upon “Islamising” Kashmir.
In fact, this author has been on record to have said before that clubbing Jammu with Kashmir does not make any sense. So when Article 370 was abrogated, it would have been quite prudent to divide the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into three distinct administrative units. Ladakh has been rightly made a Union Territory. But Jammu should have been a separate state and Kashmir another. But by clubbing Jammu and Kashmir still together does not do any good to either the Jammuites or Kashmiris.
Let us remember that “Jammu and Kashmir” became one when a Dogra ruler from the Jammu region became the ruler of Kashmir as well. The two regions, otherwise, have been as different as chalk and cheese historically and culturally.
I find here the similarity of Jammu’s case with that of Crimea. Russians say with great merits that the US totally overlooked the history by imposing sanctions to cripple the Russian economy after Russia took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Crimea was part of Russia until 1954. That year the then Soviet government transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics (RSFSR) to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). It was a change of administration from one part of the country to another (Ukraine was very much a part of the then USSR) for administrative reasons. People in Crimea are essentially Russian in language and culture; they do not share much with Ukrainians and they loved returning to Russia, something that has been confirmed by major independent surveys.
Of course, there are merits in the argument that Jammu’s detachment from Kashmir will make the latter a state of mostly Muslims, further strengthening the centrifugal tendencies there. This will also tarnish our secular character. But then the fact remains that the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir always behaved as a state of Muslims. People from Jammu were always denied their dues. It was impossible for a Hindu or Sikh to become the state’s Chief Minister, whereas in independent and secular India, in predominantly Hindu-majority states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Bihar and Assam, Muslims have been able to become Chief Ministers. And let alone in states, the Sikh community, a tiny minority in India, has also given the country a Prime Minister. Can a Hindu become Kashmir’s Chief Minister? That explains why I have been for Jammu as a separate state.
Coming back to the aforesaid meeting and Modi’s political initiatives, it is said that New Delhi wants to give a message to the international community that it is responsible, that it is committed to restore democracy in Kashmir and that it wants that democracy to be inclusive one by accommodating dissent. Few will find fault, if this is the case.
There could be also a security angle behind the talks. It is true that Pakistan’s overt activities in promoting secessionist terrorism in Kashmir have been reduced, of late. But that is because of Pakistan’s compulsions. Because of the continuous pressure from the international Financial Action Task Force and keeping it on grey list that denies international financial aid and assistance, Pakistan intends to maintain plausible deniability of any role in Kashmir.
On the other hand, the final U.S. withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan offers a golden opportunity to Islamabad in shifting Kashmir-centric terrorist outfits to what is going to become a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
And what could be worrisome for India, post-U.S. withdrawal, Pakistan may divert many battle-hardened and highly radicalized Taliban fighters to Kashmir. Analysts have pointed out how this process has already begun as Pakistan has been reviving Al Badr, a defunct terror group of the 1990s, in Kashmir since 2020. Al Badr has a strong base in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and reportedly has ties with the Haqqani Network, the sword arm of Taliban.
Let us accept the gruesome fact that today’s Kashmir is highly radicalized on jihadist lines and Kashmir’s radicalized socio-cultural milieu will offer a congenial environment for Afghan jihadis in Kashmir.
It is true that the Modi government, like any government believing in “realism” in international politics, has opened avenues to talk to the Taliban. Spokesmen of the Taliban have given public comments that they would not interfere in affairs in territories beyond Afghanistan and would not allow hostile activities against India by foreign elements based in Afghan territories. But, there has always been a credible gap between what the Taliban says and what it does.
All told, all indications are now available that the dreaded Al Qaeda is quietly recovering and making a come- back. Not getting the attention it deserves, this development has ominous implications for South Asia in general and Kashmir-region in particular.
That Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) – one of the five major affiliates of the al Qaeda [other four being Jabhat al-Nusrah in Syria; al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen; al Shabaab in Somalia; and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa] – has signalled its plans to focus on Kashmir is well-known in intelligence circles.
It may be noted that the announcement of the formation of the AQIS was made by al-Qaida leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri in September 2014. But the group was not that active, particularly after the establishment of the Islamic State (IS) by the renegade al-Qaida Iraqi militia head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The IS announced its expansion to the Khorasan region in 2015, which historically encompasses parts of modern day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and parts of India, including Kashmir. This new country dreamt by al-Baghdadi was called the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), which subsequently declared to include Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka as well. It did attract many militant Youth in Kashmir. But then with the killing of al Baghdadi in 2019 and the subsequent decline of the IS, elements associated with the IS-K looked forward to the AQIS.
In any case, the book “The Islamic State in Khorasan” written by Antonio Giustozzi and published in 2018, has revealed that the IS-K was handled by the same ISI of Pakistan which was equally friendly with the al-Qaeda, that despite the known rivalry between al-Zawahiri and al-Baghdadi, IS-K and al-Qaeda or for that matter AQIS had good ties and that there was a very thin wall of separation between them.
In their goal to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Indian subcontinent, many militants in Kashmir do support the broader goals of al-Qaida’s central leadership. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, AQIS’s targets are military and security personnel, political parties, foreigners, foreign aid workers, university professors, students, and secular bloggers. It uses small arms and improvised explosive devices, as well as crude weapons such as machetes. It is believed to receive financial and material support from AQ senior leadership and also engages in kidnapping-for-ransom and extortion to raise funds. The terrorists’ activities in Kashmir display this pattern very well.
What may be ominous in this regard is that the declaration of the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan has added further momentum to the Al-Qaeda’s revival.
On June 1, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the United Nations, in its twelfth report, has observed: “the Taliban and al-Qaida remain closely aligned and show no indication of breaking ties. Member States report no material change to this relationship, which has grown deeper as a consequence of personal bonds of marriage and shared partnership in struggle, now cemented through second generational ties.”
The report finds that al-Qaida continues to operate under the Taliban umbrella. “Al Qaeda is resident in at least 15 Afghan provinces, primarily in the east, southern and south-eastern regions, and are led by Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat-al-Nasr wing under the direction of Sheikh Mahmood,” it says, adding that “a significant part of al Qaeda leadership remains based in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the core is joined by and works closely with Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.”
Saying that, “al-Qaeda maintains contact with the Taliban but has minimized overt communications with Taliban leadership in an effort to ‘lay low’ and not jeopardize the Taliban’s diplomatic position vis-a-vis the Doha agreement,” the report suggests the member states to have “a longer-term Al Qaida core strategy of strategic patience for a period of time before it would seek to plan attacks against international targets again. This scenario is untested against stated Taliban commitments to prohibit such activities.”
One hopes that the Modi government has taken note of all this.