Homeland Security

Is Pakistan Reinventing its Kashmir Strategy?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 26 Apr , 2022

Pakistan appears to have been trying to reinvent its efforts to politicize and internationalize Jammu & Kashmir issue. The present Pakistani strategy appears to have adopted a more global approach with international legal process as its corner stone, with the sole intention to trap India. By doing this, Pakistan has signaled a shiftin its Kashmir strategy by encompassing war crimes and genocide angle by invoking international laws such as Universal Jurisdiction, which has not been deployed by it against India. Its earlier strategy was based on accusing India of human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir. Concomitantly, this shift at politico and legal level appears to match a narrative change at propaganda and operational level adopted by terrorist groups on the ground.  It is quite intriguing to understand as to what exactly prompted these changes, but nevertheless, this shift may pose a political and legal challenge to India and at the same time providing Pakistani stakeholders with the breathing space at a time of political crisis.

From Human Rights Violations to War Crimes and Genocide

In Jan 2022, a UK based law firm Stoke Whiteltd, filed a complaint with the Metropolitan Police War Crimes unit, London, against Indian officials seeking their arrest for committing war crimes in Jammu & Kashmir. A dossier was submitted by the firm seeking arrest of Indian Army Chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Minister Amit Shah. This is possibly the first time in the Indian history that such a complaint has been filed against India. The director of Stoke Whiteltd, Hakan Camuz has stated “This is the first legal action against Modi and his government officials and military officials for the war crimes committed in Kashmir”. This complaint has been filed against India, invoking the concept of Universal Jurisdiction in international law. Universal Jurisdiction is a potent lawfare (the use of law as a weapon of conflict) in international law and places an obligation on every country to try the perpetrators for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide regardless of territory and jurisdiction. In India’s case, the so called complaint can possibly be tried in United Kingdom national courts against Indian officials for committing crimes against humanity and genocide.

Not surprisingly, another watch dog Genocide Watch which documents genocides across the globe, strangely appears to parrot the same line. Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watchin an interview to an Indian news portal just couple of days before the Stoke Whiteltd complaint was filed, has claimed that “early warning signs of genocide is present in India”. He has further stated that, certain actions and speeches have already pushed India to a stage where it has “fulfilled” some of the stages that would enable genocide angle to be brought in. Stanton has claimed that he has recommended to the United States Congress to pass a resolution against India, warning India on genocide. Interestingly not only legal entities and institutions are toeing this new narrative against India, but some of the Pakistan sponsored terror groups operating in Jammu & Kashmir have also appeared to be redefining their anti-India narrative.

From Religious to Socialist Colour 

In Feb 2022, a terrorist group known as People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF) operating in Kashmir, released a video showcasing its field operations against the Indian army. This video also showed snippets of their cadre’s combat training in a remote mountanious region. This video appears to be a part of PAFF’s propaganda operations which had previously published messages and images of weaponry in its Telegram account and other social media platforms. Similar propaganda have been observed to be launched by other groups such as Kashmir Tigers, The Resistance Front (TRF). Both PAFF and TRF are pseudos of internationally proscribed Lashkar E Toiba. Both these groups initially started as online propaganda units in October 2019, after the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir.

Interestingly, these groups have now tweaked their propaganda, subtly suppressing their religious character. Some of the recent campaigns appear to be different compared to their earlier ones. Additionally, some of the content in these videos appear to resemble the content from Islamic State videos which show fighters undergoing close combat training.The current propaganda campaign appears to be a part of a well-orchestrated effort to rebrand Islamic terrorist groups in Kashmir to that of having a socialist character. This latest change in narrative at operational level has been brought about in the following ways

Firstly, since the revocation of Article 370 in 2019, the groups which were initially running online propaganda appear to have tweaked their campaigns with an objective of projecting their struggle as a resistance struggle and also projecting the Indian forces as occupying Fascist forces. Additionally, recent open sources inputs indicate that the groups such as TRF, PAFF and the Kashmir Tigers have all started using images, terms and phrases which appear to project their struggle as a socialist struggle fighting for resistance or liberation against Indian illegal occupation. For example, the TRF uses the slogan “Resistance Till Victory”, another group called United Liberation Front of Jammu and Kashmir (ULF) slogan reads as“Resist to Exist” and Kashmir Freedom Fighters uses the slogan “Resistance against Illegal Occupation” and Kashmiri tigers state“Indian forces are occupied forces”.

Secondly, to further showcase themselves as driven by socialist ideology, groups appear to have named their ground level operational units after famous communist resistance groups. For example, TRF has named its main operational squad known earlier as Falcon Squad, which undertakes assassinations as “Narodnaya Volya Revolutionary Front”.  Narodnaya Volya is a famous 19th century resistance group opposed to Russian autocracy.  By naming their hit team as Narodnaya Volya Revolutionary Front”, which assassinates sarpanches and government officials, TRF ostensibly appears to mask their religious character, wearing a socialist cloak and simultaneously, projecting terrorist activities as a struggle against an autocratic and Fascist regime akin to a “David vs Goliath” fight.   Incidentally, all these groups use the term “Fascist” consistently. For Example, PAFF uses a logo with an arrow piercing a saffron flag with a Swastika symbol indicating that the Indian government is akin to the Nazi regime.

The lexicon and terms used by these groups appear to be gradually aligning with socialist ideology. This change could possibly be attributed to two main reasons. Firstly, the international community has come down hard on groups which espouse extremist religious ideology. The global response to Islamic extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, and Pakistan sponsored Lashkar E Toiba (LeT) and Jaish E Mohammed (JeM) have been consistent. All these groups have been banned, their leaders jailed or killed and their funds frozen. Given these, it would be highly counter-productive for Pakistan to still sponsor Islamic extremists groups such as LeT, JeM and its progenies overtly. Secondly, LeT and JeM have not been able to achieve substantial gains in Jammu & Kashmir despite operating for atleast over three decades now. Concomitant actions by Pakistan supported political and apolitical entities which act as pressure groups seem to buttress the theory that there is a definite attempt to rebrand Kashmiri terrorism as a socialist struggle in order to draw the support of fence sitters and liberals elsewhere in the world.

Way Ahead For – Pakistan and India

These factors may have had an impact on Pakistan’s decision to not only to change the character or nature of the groups, operating in Jammu & Kashmir but also reinvent its global campaign against India accusing India of committing genocide and  war crimes as compared to previous accusations of committing human rights violations.In what appeared to be in furtherance of its new strategy, Pakistan attempted to highlight the Jammu & Kashmir issue comparing it with the Palestine issue in the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meet held in March 2022.

Pakistan may possibly improvise further to initiate a global forum focusing on genocide in Jammu & Kashmir in coming months. At the same time, there is always a possibility that an anti-India boycott movement which would target India and Indian companies economically such as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli products and goods, may also take shape against Indian interests as well. One such informal movement is believed to have taken shape in the Gulf, after a video of Indian policeman shooting a Muslim man in Assam went viral in Sep 2021. However, it did not have enough fuel to last for long with the Indian embassies in the Gulf countering this negative propaganda. Pakistan may attempt to institutionalize such a movement calling for Boycott of Indian products in order to hurt Indian interests economically.

On the other hand, Indian policy planners have their tasks cut out and have to address these challenges legally, politically and economically both at bilateral and multilateral forums.The primary task would be to impress upon the international community including the United Nations to recognize these terrorist groups masquerading as resistance fighter as Pakistan sponsored terrorist groups, albeit in their new avatar. As far as the challenge posed by the complaint filed under Universal Jurisdiction is concerned, India has to specifically address this issue in bilateral meetings with United Kingdom. 

These subtle changes in the approach indicate that Pakistan has silently accepted that it has failed to substantially dent India in the last three decades. This failure may have prompted Pakistan to adopt a different approach. However, one has to wait and watch whether Pakistani will hold on to the same line under new Prime Minister Shahbas Sharif.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr V Balasubramaniyan

is a subject matter expert on terrorism and terrorism financing, He is the co-author of Terror Funds in India (Lancer 2017). He is author of upcoming books on Islamic State in South India and threat financing in India.

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