Jammu & Kashmir

Prelude to a revolt

Print edition : October 22, 2021

Security force personnel walk past the grave of Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar on September 3. Contrary to his will expressing a wish to be laid to rest at the martyrs’ graveyard in Kashmir, he was hurriedly buried in a local cemetery. Photo: Sanna Irshad Mattoo/REUTERS

Shops remained closed on the second anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 in Srinagar on August 5. In Kashmir’s historic Lal Chowk market, the police were seen breaking open the locks of shops that were closed as Kashmir observed August 5 as black day marked by a complete shutdown. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

As New Delhi continues to lie to itself and the people of India on Kashmir, the engineered peace in the valley is likely to lead to a prolonged phase of confrontation.

As New Delhi continues to rule the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir with an iron fist, which seems to be working for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime on the face of it, a multitude of local, regional and international developments, including geopolitical factors, are pushing the erstwhile State into a highly volatile situation that New Delhi and the local administration will find too hot to handle.

While New Delhi continues to pat itself tirelessly on its back over the last two years after abrogating Articles 370 and 35-A of the Constitution with the State of Jammu and Kashmir turned into a military garrison under stringent clampdown and communication blockade, and disseminating a deluge of misinformation through blatantly pro-Hindutva sections of the media, the fact remains that these stories have no buyers in Kashmir or outside India. The truth is that the Indian government continues to rule Jammu and Kashmir through the barrel of a gun and a slew of draconian measures that include an unprecedented media gag and witch-hunting of civil society members, politicians and journalists who try to expose what is unfolding on ground zero.

Geelani’s burial rites

A glimpse of what exactly is going on in Kashmir was witnessed on September 1 when Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir’s senior-most and the most popular resistance leader by far, passed away. So petrified was New Delhi of a dead Geelani that it forcefully buried him, depriving his family and the people of Kashmir to be a part of his burial rites. A strict four-day curfew was imposed to prevent any mass convergence of people at his burial. Contrary to his will expressing a wish to be laid to rest at the martyrs’ graveyard in Kashmir, he was hurriedly buried in a local cemetery.
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Less than a month earlier, the State administration resorted to high-handedness on August 5, which New Delhi wanted to celebrate as the second anniversary of Kashmir’s forceful annexation. In Kashmir’s historic Lal Chowk market, the police were seen breaking open the locks of shops that were closed as Kashmir observed August 5 as black day marked by a complete shutdown.

As New Delhi continues to lie to itself and the people of India, Kashmir is slowly but steadily simmering, with significant geopolitical developments all set to have an impact on it.

Lull before the storm?

The relative calm that India has succeeded in forcing upon Kashmir by cracking down on dissident voices through a string of government orders and actions may in reality be the proverbial lull before the storm. And in the case of Kashmir, the longer the lull, the more violent will be the storm. When the BJP’s former coalition partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) formed an alliance with the Congress in 2003, it had the blessings of the A.B. Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA-1) government, and the Centre cooperated fully with the State to ensure peace and development. Pakistan, led by Pervez Musharraf, was also taken into confidence. Yet, in 2008, when everything seemed to be going in the right direction for New Delhi, an uprising broke out followed by two violent sequels in 2009 and 2010 that consumed many lives, bringing Kashmir back to square one. Those with an unjaundiced view on Kashmir know that as long as the people of Kashmir are excluded from any decision and the festering Kashmir issue is not addressed with sincerity, peace will continue to remain elusive.

New Delhi will do itself good by looking back at the turn of events over the last couple of decades to realise that forced or engineered calm in Kashmir is ephemeral.

Over the last three decades, Kashmir has never been a more fertile ground for militancy than it is today, something that Pakistan could have exploited but did not, perhaps because of its preoccupation with what it calls geo-economic pursuits or because it was far too tangled on its western border. And this is a grievance that some Kashmiris hold against Pakistan. They ask if Pakistan could play a key role in Afghanistan, why not in Kashmir.

With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan sending euphoric vibes across Pakistan’s Mujahideen ecosystem, a sudden fillip in militant activities in Kashmir cannot be ruled out. The potential influx of well-trained and heavily armed militants into Kashmir can cause a seismic shift in the security scenario.

Militancy in Kashmir over the last seven or eight years is, by and large, being managed locally, and most of the young boys who join the militant ranks are ill-trained or in many cases totally untrained. Forces have often been accused of picking up youths in order to turn them into informers and, as a result, many end up joining militant ranks instead owing to the deep-seated anti-India sentiment. Their commitment is their sole weapon. That does not bother the agencies much for whom these young men, many of them in their teens, are often sitting ducks. Most of the encounters with these ill-equipped rookies are a cakewalk for the Indian forces and an opportunity to claim medals and promotions.

A low intensity militancy also suits the BJP’s Hindutva narrative of eliminating ‘Muslim traitors’, which it exploits successfully for electoral gains and also to hide its colossal failures and weaken whatever little political opposition is left in India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emergence as a national icon.

But New Delhi, which is already beset by a host of internal and regional problems, cannot afford high-octane militancy, which seems to be very much on the cards. High-intensity militancy spurs the forces into panic and frustration and they subsequently take it out on the masses, which further deepens the anti-India sentiment among Kashmiris and motivates more youth to turn to militant means of putting their point across. And Kashmir has witnessed a lot of that during the ebbs and flows of militancy over the last three decades. Also, by smothering all the voices that may question New Delhi’s actions in Kashmir, however peacefully, India has sent a clear message to Kashmiris that it is ‘my way or the highway’. It would be too naïve to expect Pakistan not to make most of such ready-made conditions, more so after the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
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It would be too difficult for Pakistan to keep on leash the militant leadership given India’s posturing and rhetoric and the Afghanistan fallout. Also, many in the Pakistani establishment must be more than willing to give India back what it faced in the last 20 years via Afghanistan.

Pakistan has upped the ante against India after the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came to power in 2018. It has been aggressively accusing India of sponsoring terrorism inside Pakistan, a claim only substantiated by India’s jingoistic news channels on whose shows retired Army officers and former intelligence officials boast about Pakistan’s fault lines and how India exploits them and why it should continue to keep Pakistan on the boil.

Chinese interest in Kashmir

Perhaps the most telling and least talked about factor after the August 5 decision is China’s ever-increasing interest in Kashmir. Within days of the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A, the Chinese government’s media organ Global Times wrote in an editorial: “Reckless India’s unilateral decision on Kashmir is a geo-political trickery that may have actual consequences that India can’t control.”

And what we subsequently saw on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh can be attributed to the August 5 shenanigans too. And, if ever there was any doubt, it was cleared in an article published by the Beijing-based Institute of South Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a Chinese think tank, on June 4, 2020. It was written by Wang Shida, Deputy Director of the CICIR, which is affiliated to the Ministry of State Security, China’s top intelligence body. The article said: “India’s actions of unilaterally changing the status quo of Kashmir and continuing to exacerbate regional tensions have posed a challenge to the sovereignty of China and Pakistan and made the India-Pakistan relations and China-India relations more complex.”

This was perhaps the first time that a Chinese voice had so unequivocally mentioned the joint interests of ‘iron brothers’ China and Pakistan while warning India. This, by implication, also underscores the Sino-Pak military interoperability, which is a hard reality that many Indian analysts and observers are unable to wrap their heads around.

Unmistakable message

At the LAC in Ladakh and elsewhere, China is sending an unmistakable message not only to India but to the West as well: That China is a global giant that cannot be taken for granted or messed with and that its involvement in the Kashmir issue is not just rhetorical. To the Chinese, their territorial claims are sacrosanct and not a mere bargaining chip.

According to a well-placed source, at one of the meetings between the commanders of the two countries during the LAC crisis, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leadership made it clear that China was not at all amused by India’s August 5 move. Some of the recent statements by the Chinese Foreign Ministry also indicate that China has taken a proactive stance on Kashmir, which is in sync with Pakistan’s stand on the dispute.

India’s position in the region is further undermined by Sino-Pak interoperability, which many Indian experts and think-tankers are unwilling to discuss threadbare. This is an aspect that the pro-BJP media—especially news channels—have blacked out as it does not fit into the boisterous narrative of the party projecting India as invincible as long as it is in power.
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While most countries, including major Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, did not object to India’s decision to annul Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, its human rights record in Kashmir has been under the scanner and has earned it global condemnation. Except for referring to it as its internal matter, India has not been able to provide any answers, and nations, including its ally, the U.S., keep raising questions that considerably undermines its standing in the comity of nations. This is further compounded by India’s near isolation in the region as a result of a flawed and short-sighted foreign policy.

There is almost no prospect of India softening its stand on Kashmir or Pakistan; the reason is that, while it might suit India’s national interest, it does not fit into the BJP’s scheme of things. That means we should be looking forward to a volatile situation arising in Kashmir and, in all likelihood, it is not about if but when. And this might be the prelude to the two-and-a-half front war that India may have to face a few years later.

Shabir Hussain is a Kashmiri freelancer who writes for various national and international publications.

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