Winter of Discontent in Kashmir
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 Mar , 2017

It has been a winter of discontent in Kashmir, with things going from bad to worse. Earlier, the last summer had been consumed by stone pelters taking part in violent protests across the valley. The protests followed the schedule announced by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his Hurriyat- post Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter with the security forces on 7 July 2016. These summer protests had left over a hundred people dead and many injured seriously. The protests had ruined the complete tourist season, with bulk of the visitors keeping away from the strife torn valley during the peak period.

One had hoped that with the onset of winter, with the high passes, through which the Pakistani Jihadis infiltrate into India, closing due to heavy snow fall, the level of violence in the embattled valley  will drop; a phenomenon seen ever since the outbreak of insurgency in the State in 1989. But the militant activity, instead of weakening during the cold winter months, witnessed a spurt. What is even of greater concern is that two new factors, not witnessed during the past, have added a difficult dimension to the ongoing militancy in the Valley. The first is the willingness of the local militants to carry out attacks on the security forces with a greater degree of autonomy and taking far more risks in engaging the security forces, than they did before. The second factor is the level of mass interference by the common folk, living in the vicinity of an encounter site, while the operations against the militants are on.

Both these factors have made the task of security forces very difficult. Local militants, operating in their own areas to which they belong, are better equipped to obtain intelligence about the routine and movement of security forces, are well versed in the terrain and topography of the area and more importantly, derive greater sympathy and support from the local population. The second factor has even more serious implications for the troops actually taking part in the operations. Mass of unarmed people in thousands, throwing stone on the troops engaged in encounter with the militants, compel the troops to look over their backs while they are engaged in this life and death battle against the militants. They cannot turn around and shoot unarmed people. It is the job of the local police and civil administration to sanitize the area around an encounter site by imposing curfew and enforcing it, so that troops are able to carry out operations efficiently without getting distracted by the unwanted nuisance. This does not seem to be happening.

Both the above factors have resulted in the security forces suffering greater casualties, and what is worse, the gross interference by the common folk in the conduct of operations has resulted in the escape of 25 militants from the encounter site, so far. These escapees will surely fight the security forces another day, adding to the difficulties of the latter. It is pertinent to mention that escape of militants from the encounter site, once the contact has been established, has been a rare phenomenon in the ongoing counter insurgency operations in the State for the last nearly three decades. Needless to say, the security forces will have to find answers to both these new developments, before the summer sets in; for then, the centre of gravity of State’s politics would shift to Srinagar, the summer capital, raising the temperatures in the valley.

Politically too, the BJP-PDP alliance has found the going tough, particularly in the Valley. Hurriyat and its camp followers have termed the alliance of the PDP with the “Hindu Rashtravadi” BJP as anti-Muslim. The other two mainstream political parties, the Congress and the National Conference, not used to being out of power for too long, have shamelessly joined hands with the separatists to add serious woes to the government’s ability to deliver on its promises. The statement of the Army Chief, Gen Bipin Rawat, that those interfering with the ongoing operations will be treated sternly now onwards, was needlessly criticised/ condemned by the NC and Congress. This criticism completely exposed their double stand and dubious tactics of running with the hare and hunting with the hound, even at the cost of national interests.

It is ironic that at the international level, while India seems to be gaining a modicum of success, the situation in its own back yard is deteriorating, more because of the attitude of the two mainstream political parties, who have ruled the State for years, than by the actions of the radical/ separatist combine. Two statements issued by the newly appointed Chief of Pakistan Army, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa (“Situation on the Line of Control will soon turn for the better” and his directive to his officers to read Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence, written by Steven I Wilkinson, the Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies at Yale University. The book details the factors that kept Indian army apolitical. Perhaps, the New Chief wanted Pakistan Army to learn from Indian experience). This is a welcome development after the obsessively and fiercely anti-India Gen Raheel Sharief relinquished his command of Pakistan’s most important/ powerful institution. Besides, lately, Pakistan has, at long last, started to take some substantive action against the master mind of the Nov 2008, Mumbai carnage, Hafiz Mohammad Syed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, by taking some solid measures against his organisation, Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, and putting him under house arrest.

We must hope that Pakistan, in its own interests, seriously deals with the militants of all hues, without categorising terrorists as ‘good and bad’. The greatest impact on the situation in Kashmir will be felt not by what happens in Kashmir but what happens between New Delhi and Islamabad. Or more crucially, what happens in New Delhi.

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