Saturday, Sep 25, 2021

Politics In The Labyrinth

The very people who are loudest in their proclamations of the ‘political solution’ in J&K are often the fountain-head of problems in the state

Politics In The Labyrinth
Politics In The Labyrinth

A ‘political solution’, every political actor in Srinagar and Delhi faithfully parrots, is required to resolve the unending crisis of violence and terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The evidence, however, suggests that the very people who are loudest in their proclamations of the ‘political solution’ are often the fountainhead of problems in the state, at a time when extraordinary gains have, in fact been registered on a wide range of security parameters.

Thus, a major breakthrough was secured – entirely without the mediation of the state’s principal political formations, or the centre and its ‘interlocutors’ – when moderates within the separatist constituency broke rank to speak out for the first time, with exceptional courage and candour, against the terrorists who had hijacked the movement in Kashmir, and who had murdered some of the state’s most notable leaders. Most conventional political players, however, continue to pander to the extremist political formations and constituency, while others remain simply disruptive.

On January 2, 2011, the chief spokesman of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Ghani Bhat, broke through the conspiracy of silence and terror that had enveloped J&K for over two decades, to declare:

Lone Sahib, Mirwaiz Farooq and Professor Wani were not killed by the Army or the police. They were targeted by our own people... The story is a long one, but we have to tell the truth. If you want to free the people of Kashmir from sentimentalism bordering on insanity, you have to speak the truth.... Here I am letting it out. The present movement against India was started by us killing our intellectuals... wherever we found an intellectual, we ended up killing him...

Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, father of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the current chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference-Mirwaiz (APHC-M), was killed on May 21, 1990; Abdul Gani Lone was killed on the same date in 2002, while participating in a programme commemorating the late Mirwaiz’s death anniversary; Professor Abdul Ahad Wani was killed on December 31, 1993; each of them by "unidentified gunmen".

Other voices quickly echoed Ghani Bhat’s sentiment, albeit more guardedly, including Gani Lone’s sons, Sajjad and Bilal Lone, who regretted their own past failure to expose their father’s assassins, because of "an element of fear".

Ghani Bhat’s offensive went further, to directly attack the campaign of stone pelting and disruption that had enveloped the Valley through the summer of 2010 under the principal leadership and direction of the rival Tehrik-e-Hurriyat chairman, Syed Ali Shah Gilani. "There was a hartal (shut down) for five months and 112 people died," Ghani Bhat argued, "And at the end of it there is nothing by way of achievement. This is what happens when there is no thinking, no strategy."

In this declaration, Ghani Bhat was articulating a widespread sentiment that had been actively, and often violently suppressed through the stone pelting campaign. Any failure to follow Gilani’s ‘calendar’ of disruption ordinarily met with swift reprisals; shop keepers who failed to down shutters were thrashed, their shops vandalized; special buses transporting children to school were stopped and burned; trucks and cars moving along highways were forced to stop on the roadside for hours on end, and those who argued or protested would have their screens, and sometimes more, smashed.

Despite the intimidation, resistance to the unending strikes and stone-pelting was not unknown. There were numberless cases of non-cooperation, particularly of what became known as the ‘half-shutter phenomenon’, where shops and businesses operated with their shutters only half open, to quickly evade reprisal in case a wandering gang of separatist ‘enforcers’ came by. Indeed, on September 1, 2010, at the height of the campaign, activist Farooq Ganderbal had organized a small protest demonstration at Residency Road. Again, on November 7, 2010, activists of the Jammu & Kashmir Non-governmental Organisations (NGO) Forum managed to stage a small ‘peace rally’ in Srinagar, against the shut-downs.

It is crucial to note, in this context, that the entire protracted stone-pelting campaign was directly backed by Pakistan and by Pakistan-based terrorist formations, in a strategy to offset declining capacities for terrorist action. Masarat Alam, chief of the Muslim League, a constituent of the Geelani’s Tehrik-e-Hurriyat, who had engineered and enforced the ‘calendars’ of shut-downs and stone pelting from the underground, was arrested in Srinagar in the night of October 18, 2010. In his disclosures to the Police, he admitted that he had received INR 4 million from Geelani through different channels to fuel the protests and incite the stone-pelters. Disclosing details of Alam’s confession, J&K Director General of Police (DGP) Kuldip Khoda stated that Pakistan had been using different channels to fund the separatists, including Geelani, to sustain the stone-pelting campaign, as part of its ‘new strategy’. He added, further, "It was not that everybody engaged in protests was paid. The organizers had been paid and they incited the people to hold protests and subject security forces and Police to stone pelting. The militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) had also been working behind the scenes to fuel the protests.’’

Given the atmosphere of enveloping terror and intimidation the open voicing of dissent against the dominant, terrorist-backed, separatist position in J&K was unprecedented, and was quickly seized upon – but just as quickly relinquished – by the media. Despite the sea change in the ground situation that these tentative developments indicate (and they can easily be reversed at the cost of a few bullets), no constitutional political formation, and neither the state government nor the centre, appear to have significantly accommodated these changes within their current policy framework. Indeed, the unsettling nonsense that has been the essence of the political discourse, and of various ‘peace-making initiatives’ in J&K, and the relentless appeasement of the most extreme voices, remains the hallmark of all policy and pronouncements.

Ignoring the turmoil of the preceding year, and the abject failure of state agencies to bring the orchestrated disorders under control till the valley’s unforgiving winter froze them out, union home secretary thus announced, on January 14, 2011, "As a CBM (confidence building measure) in J&K, the strength of the security forces [SFs] would come down by 25 per cent." Troop reduction has been the most strident of separatist demands, even through periods of extreme disorder and significant terrorism. The fact that this is part of the strategy of appeasement of extremist elements, and not an initiative based on a considered security assessment, is borne out by the immediate response from both the army command and the ministry of defence. Even as speculation on troop reduction mounted in Delhi, Army Chief General V.K. Singh had cautioned, on January 13, 2011, that care had to be taken to ensure that "extra pressure" was not put on the "already stretched" troops in J&K, and that only the Forces which were ‘dispensable’ were removed. On January 15, 2011, General Officer Commanding (GOC) in Chief, Northern Command, Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik cautioned, "I don't think it is the right time to go for troops reduction in J&K. It may be somebody's opinion or perception but we think there is no scope for reduction of troops at this moment." Defence minister A.K. Antony added that the army had already reduced nearly 30,000 Army troops in the State and that there was no proposal to reduce the number further.

The lack of a tangible Kashmir policy in Delhi is further manifested in the activities of the weak group of interlocutors who have been appointed by the centre to find a "political solution" in J&K. On October 13, 2010, the union government appointed journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and former Central Information Commissioner M. M. Ansari, as its interlocutors for the state. On December 9, 2010, home minister P. Chidambaram, with Panglossian optimism, assured the nation that the "contours of a political solution to the Kashmir problem are likely to emerge in the next few months." His interlocutors, however, have failed to speak to a single prominent separatist leader till date, including ‘moderate’ factions of the Hurriyat, and their most significant achievement is that they have prevailed upon Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and some leaders of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), to speak to one another. Beyond this, they have regurgitated tired proposals for administrative relief and CBMs, including ‘demilitarization’ proposals that have led to the home ministry’s hasty announcement of troop withdrawal. They have also intervened to secure the release of 66 youth and the withdrawal of 22 cases under the Public Safety Act.

The situation has been muddied further by conflicting and ambivalent political postures. union home minister P. Chidambaram, on June 30, 2010, had claimed that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was fuelling the unrest of the stone pelting campaign in J&K. On December 9, 2010, he shifted positions to distinguish between ‘two types of violence’ in the State, arguing, "The violence perpetrated by militants and infiltrators must be dealt with in a strong and resolute manner. On the other hand, the violence witnessed during protests by residents of the state requires deft and sensitive handling."

Chief Minister Abdullah added to the muddle, insisting that the stone-pelting campaign had no correlation with militancy and, at one stage, raised a question mark on Kashmir’s accession to India. He has also chosen to add his voice to the separatist clamour for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), ignoring the vehement opposition of the Security Forces to any such move and, more significantly, the fundamental conundrum that the Army cannot perform internal security duties without the legal mandate that this Act provides.

It is useful, in passing, to record here the mischief of a Bharatiya Janata Party initiative to engage in a highly publicised flag-hoisting campaign at the Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day, January 26, 2011, not in any meaningful assertion of a long-standing and substantive engagement with the state, but rather as a red rag to the separatists and ambivalent elements within the larger population. While the constitutional legitimacy of such a move is beyond doubt, its political sagacity and strategic utility is far from evident, outside a framework of competitive political communalisation and electoral brinkmanship.

All these positions have been held and articulated with little or no reference to the situation on the ground. Crucially, a trend of dramatically declining terrorist activities in J&K, commencing 2002, appears to have stalled in 2010. Total fatalities in 2010 stood at 375 – the same number as the previous year (all data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal database). 2008 had witnessed 541 terrorism-related fatalities, 2007, 777, and, at peak, 2001, at 4,507. There was, however, a significant increase in terrorist fatalities, at 270 in 2010, as against 242 in 2009, while fatalities in both the civilian and SF category fell, from 55 and 78 in 2009, to 36 and 69 in 2010, respectively.

Jammu and Kashmir Fatalities: 2001-2010


Security Forces  

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP)

The number of militancy-related incidents have also remained nearly constant, at 488 in 2010, as against 499 in 2009. 2008 had seen 708 such incidents, and 2007, 1,092. Disturbingly, the number of major incidents (three or more killings) increased significantly in 2010. While 2009 saw 29 major incidents, there were 36 such incidents in 2010. Prominent among these were:

October 21: The SFs shot dead three militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) who were on a mission to target the 15 Corps’ Army Headquarters at Badamibagh Cantonment and another camp at Haft Chinar in Srinagar.

August 10: Militants attacked a Police post guarding Mohammad Abdullah, a leader of the Democratic Party – Nationalist, in the Sopore town of Baramulla District, killing all three Policemen on duty.

March 16: Three civilians and three SF personnel were killed and eight others, including three SF personnel, injured by militants in the Srinagar and Baramulla Districts.

Moreover, on January 6, militants carried out an abortive fidayeen (suicide) attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, killing a Policeman and injuring nine persons, including a CRPF trooper. The last such attack in Srinagar had occurred on October 11-12, 2007, when two suicide bombers were killed and three paramilitary personnel were wounded in a suicide attack on a CRPF camp near the Dal Lake.

The terrorism-related fatality figures for 2010, moreover, do not include the 112 killed – principally in SF firing – in the summer unrest through June-October 2010. Nearly 4,000 Police and CRPF personnel and 504 civilians were also injured in the violent clashes, as bewildered state and central Government responses, compounded by a severely inadequate deployment of ill-equipped and unsuitably trained SFs, gave a virtually free run to the troublemakers in the streets.

Despite continuous undermining of morale and operational effectiveness as a result of contradictory political postures, the SFs continued to inflict severe damage on terrorist capabilities in the state. Among the 270 terrorists killed in 2010 at least 31 were self-styled ‘commanders’. In 2009, the 242 terrorists killed included 53 ‘commanders’. 172 terrorists from different outfits were also arrested through 2010. The pressure created by the State SF’s, moreover, forced the terrorists to seek shelter elsewhere in the country. With the active support of police forces of other states, the J&K Police managed to arrest and bring back several top militant leaders, prominently including HM ‘divisional commander’ Mohammed Abdullah alias Abdullah Inquilabi from New Delhi on November 14; ‘divisional commander’ Ghulam Nabi Sheikh alias Javaid Qureshi and his associate Tanveer Ahmed from Dehradun (Uttarakhand) on December 11; and ‘divisional commander’ Jameel Ahmed alias Nissar Qureshi from Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) on December 15. SFs also claimed to have rid the Districts of Jammu, Kathua, Samba, Reasi and Udhampur, Doda, Kistwar and Srinagar, of a significant militant presence.

The SFs also made huge recoveries of arms and ammunition through the year. In one such incident on May 17, 2010, the army neutralised a militant hideout in the Kupwara district recovering 22 AK rifles and thousands of live rounds, a Rocket Propelled Grenade, one 60 mm Mortar, over 100 grenades, other weapons, Radio Sets, Night Vision Goggles and other ‘war like stores’. Sources indicate that the quantity of arms and ammunition seized from militants and their hideouts in the State since the eruption of militancy in 1990 was more than sufficient to raise 42 new SF battalions: "The security forces including army, police, CRPF and BSF [Border Security Force] have seized more than 30,000 AK rifles from the militants and militant hideouts in the state over the past 20 years since militancy began here." Ashok Gupta, Inspector General of Police (IGP, Jammu Zone), now claims that as many as 20 per cent of the small contingent of militants now present in the state "are without guns".

It was this depletion in men and striking capacities that had provoked the shift in strategy towards street mobilisation and low grade violence, backed by selective terrorist strikes. Significantly, terrorist tactics have also been changed as a consequence, with greater emphasis on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and grenade attacks, in order to avoid direct contact with the SFs and consequent loss of cadres. SATP recorded 36 explosions in 2010, as against just 13 in 2009.

There are clear signs of worry in Pakistan, over these developments. As a result, Pakistan violated the ceasefire along the Line of Control and International Border in J&K on 43 occasions in 2010, as against 28 incidents in 2009, principally to facilitate infiltration. However, just 92 successful infiltration bids were recorded in 2010, as compared to 110 in 2009. An estimated 100 terrorists are believed to have entered the state in these bids through 2010. The total strength of terrorists in J&K is currently believed to be no more than 500 to 700. Worryingly, however, an estimated 2,500 terrorists are believed to be waiting to enter Indian territory from Pakistan, in some 42 terrorist training camps, including 34 that are designated ‘active’. Reports also indicate that the infiltrating militants of different outfits are entering J&K in mixed batches – including HM, LeT and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen [HuM] cadres. An estimated 200 youth have also ex-filtrated into Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) through 2010, for training in handling of arms and ammunition. A new phenomenon, termed 'legal infiltration' is also causing concern among Indian security agencies, as reports emerge that youth are visiting Pakistan on regular visas, which are extended to facilitate their basic training in handling weapons and explosives.

Authorities in Pakistan have are also believed to have hiked the ‘pay’ of Kashmiri terrorists and refugees from J&K in PoK. According to the latest inputs from various agencies, Pakistani authorities now offer terrorists coming to fight in J&K a monthly salary in the range of INR 8,000 to INR 10,000 per month, up from an earlier average of INR 5,000. Financial support to those staying back in refugee camps in PoK has been raised from INR 1,800 per month to INR 2,400, since early 2010. There are no clear numbers, but some estimates suggest that as many as 30,000 refugees are being supported in PoK. Funding, moreover, seems to be no problem for terrorists in J&K, and alternative sources are also available. US cable dated May 24, 2006, leaked by WikiLeaks, for instance, quotes al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as promising that jihadis fighting in Kashmir would not "run short of funds", and committing USD 20 million to support Kashmiri militancy.

In an effort to undercut terrorist recruitment and strength, the J&K state cabinet cleared its rehabilitation policy on November 22, 2010, for youth who had ex-filtrated from the state for arms training in PoK and Pakistan, but who had given up insurgent activities and were willing to return to the state to join mainstream. The cabinet also gave its nod to an amnesty plan for those who had gone to PoK or Pakistan between January 1, 1989, and December 31, 2009.

There have been tremendous gains in J&K over the past years, particularly since 2002, and these have been consolidated through relentless sacrifices on the part of the SFs. Little, if any, credit is due to the political leadership, either at the centre or in the state, while significant reversals can certainly be directly attributed to botched political initiatives and destructive political postures and decisions. It is these gains and these sacrifices that have opened up tiny and tentative spaces for political dissent and democratic discourse in J&K, long dominated by a politics, exclusively, of separatism – both hard and soft. Any dilution of the slowly deepening security cover in J&K will quickly squeeze these emerging spaces – and the occasional and hesitant political voices that are finding expression within them – out of existence. If Kashmir is to be recovered from the politics of hate and terrorism that has consumed it for over two decades, these incipient voices will have to be nurtured and, more importantly, protected. This is touchstone against which all present and future policy must be judged. 

Ajai Sahni is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management. Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.


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