The Indian government’s policy on Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has oscillated between tough talk and weak action. The Narendra Modi government’s decision to form an alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has delivered mixed results. Midwifed by BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav and the PDP’s Haseeb Drabu (a former managing director of J&K Bank and now the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government’s finance minister), the marriage of convenience, consummated in February 2015 after two months of tortuous discussions between two ideological rivals, has frayed, possibly beyond repair.
What keeps the partners together is a combination of fear and greed. Both are mortally afraid of fresh elections that could sweep Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) to power. The vote base of the PDP and BJP is deeply polarised. Both sets of voters resent their parties aligning with the other. Such disgruntled voters can only help the National Conference though its last six-year stint in government was marred by corruption and incompetence.
Apart from the fear of losing power prematurely—scheduled elections are due only in December 2020—BJP and PDP ministers are enjoying the fruits of power. The BJP has for the first time an administrative presence in the Valley. The PDP, after founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death two years ago, does not want to loosen its grip on a state it ruled with the Congress from 2002-08.
Three problems bedevil J&K. Each needs a robust response from the Modi government.
First, Pakistan’s continued abetment of terrorism in the Valley. While nearly 250 terrorists have been killed by Indian security forces over the last year, recent terror attacks underscore the threat Pakistan-sponsored terrorism poses in Kashmir. The PDP-BJP government has failed abjectly to de-radicalise the handful of areas in the Valley—and they are only a handful—infested by terrorists and their local separatist handlers. Pakistan-sponsored terrorists from the LeT and JeM have made these regions staging grounds for attacks on Indian security forces. Radicalised Kashmiri youth pelt rocks—not just stones—to help the terrorists escape.
Second, while attacks on Indian soldiers and civilians have been met with strong retaliation by the Indian Army, there hasn’t been a coherent strategy to proactively and unilaterally impose punitive costs on the Pakistani Army. Without doing so, terror from Pakistan will continue to torment J&K. Pakistan’s mortar and missile attacks across the LoC amount to an undeclared war. Indian policymakers must stop being in denial: you don’t fight an undeclared war by 2x retaliation. You do so by taking the fight to the enemy. The Generals in Rawalpindi know exactly where to draw the line—and the consequences for Pakistan if they don’t. The recent attacks on our Army camps serve at least one purpose: they will compel a somnolent NDA government to finally take the fight to the enemy.
The third problem that besets J&K is its tortured history. Ruled by Dogra Hindu kings for centuries, the Valley’s demographics have gradually changed. The Kashmir Valley in 1947 had a demographic mix of 70 per cent Muslims and over 20 per cent Hindus. Today it is 98 per cent Muslims and 2 per cent Hindus. The Valley’s Sufi culture has been replaced by a seething Wahhabism that emboldens stone pelters and alienates ordinary Kashmiri Muslims.
The government’s inaction on resettling Kashmiri Pandits, who gave the Valley its gentle, plural character, has convinced separatists that the NDA government has neither the political will nor the moral gumption to counter the creeping Islamisation of the Valley.
What then is the way forward? The situation in Kashmir could get worse before it gets better. The Army, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and J&K police have borne the brunt of the stone-pelting mob culture Pakistan has nurtured in the Valley. Kargil war hero Lt. Colonel Karamveer Singh, the father of Major Aditya Kumar against whom the Mehbooba Mufti government filed an FIR following the death of three men among a lynch mob which attacked the Indian Army’s convoy in Shopian last week, won a reprieve from the Supreme Court on February 12 in his petition to quash the FIR.
Colonel Singh says his son was not even present at the scene of the incident and has been falsely implicated. Soldiers in the convoy were protecting themselves from a 200-strong lynch mob that surrounded the convoy. Rocks were being hurled at this Army convoy of three trucks that had got separated from the main convoy. It was trapped by the stone-throwing lynch mob. Eight soldiers in the convoy had already received serious head wounds.
Verbal warnings to the mob went unheeded. Firing in the air too did not deter the mob. Only then were the lethal shots fired to protect dozens of lives in the trapped convoy. The Court’s final verdict on Colonel Singh’s petition will also have an impact on the debate over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which gives legal cover to Army personnel in a crisis precisely like the one Major Aditya faced.
Politicians have played malignant roles in J&K since 1947. It began with the delayed accession of J&K to the Indian Union in October 1947 by Maharaja Hari Singh, followed by Pakistan’s manic invasion of the state in 1947-48 and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s ill-advised reference of the “dispute” to the United Nations.
The rigged J&K Assembly polls of 1987, on the watch of Farooq Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi, angered Kashmiris and set the stage for the post-1989 insurgency. The PDP-BJP alliance of (mis)governance is the latest blight to descend on the long-suffering Valley.
The author is an editor and publisher