By K.N. Pandita
Inexplicable suspense loomed large over Kashmir politics this early summer. With the demise of Mufti Saeed, stakeholders began making speculation about the shape and stability of the new government. Two and a half month long delay in forming the new government had deepened that suspense.
Later events showed that in all probability PDP was grappling more with inner conflicts than having any serious disagreement with BJP. Jamati-i-Islami, with its stronghold in South Kashmir, had lent support to branded PDP candidates in assembly elections, but now had fears that its share in the new council of ministers might be reduced.
After forming the new government, Mehbooba Mufti publicly denied any differences with BJP about the Agreement of Alliance and reaffirmed that it would be duly honoured and adhered to. What made her express satisfaction over Prime Minister Modi being very helpful and why she used soft narrative about the subject of displaced Pandits remained enigma to JI.
Once or twice, mild accusation was made from not-too-known quarters that Mehbooba was not discreet in articulating on matters pertaining to political expediency and due regard to the dictates of faith. However, these could be subtle indicators reflecting the trend in JI think tank.
This summer unfolded fissures in US-Pakistan relations, which Islamabad, among other reasons, attributed to India coming closer to Washington. The reality is that if there is any distancing between the two countries, it is because of Afghanistan. US circles have accused Pakistan of not doing more to contain terrorism in Afghanistan and giving covert support to Haqqani group.
The Pentagon made a scathing criticism of Pakistan in its annual report on the performance of that country. The F-16 fighter deal was threatened and now scuttled, and the 300 million dollar package for the Pakistan army is cancelled because the Secretary of State has not made the requisite certification before the Congress.
Pakistan is sensitive to growing Indo-US relation. Additionally, she takes Modi’s forays into Iran and the Gulf countries, more particularly Saudi Arabia, as challenge to her position as the spokesman of littoral states. She feels her position in OIC is hurt because Pakistan has been using the forum to discredit India as an “oppressor in Kashmir.”
In this scenario in which Pakistan feels diplomatically outpaced by India and politically disadvantaged by the US, she has pulled out the old pawn of Kashmir on the chessboard of regional politics of rivalry, and has placed it in a position suiting her interests.
Finding that infiltration and attacks on Indian strategic installations or security camps are unproductive at the end of the day, be it Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Samba or Udhampur, or cross international border shelling, Pakistan concentrated on Kashmir to try if it could bail her out.
Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has two bench marks. These are (a) Vulnerability of Kashmir valley population to whipping up of religious frenzy, and (b) India a soft democratic state governing J&K through appeasement rather than power of law.
During the summer and especially after the demise of Mufti Saeed, Pakistan activated Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) of Kashmir to intensify Pan-Islamic teachings among the mosque goers. Flags of ISIS and Pakistan began to be waved in congregations and protest rallies first in the down town Srinagar and then in other towns particularly Anantnag.
JI focused on youth below 25 years of age who are born and brought up in disturbed Kashmir and know nothing of pre-insurgency period of peace and development. The youth are more responsive to Pakistani propaganda through electronic media which is now very commonly used not only by the urban population but by the rural population also. Internet facility has been misused.
Lashkar–e-Taiyyaba of Hafiz Saeed has taken over from all other terrorist organizations in Pakistan to plan Kashmir insurgency strategy leaving Hizbul Mujahid free to carry forward its plan side by side. LeT activists have been making repeated bids to infiltrate this time mostly in Tangdhar – Tilel border. This was to maintain pressure on the army. At the same time, intelligence source could gather substantial information about militants engaging locals and hatching conspiracies of major attacks on sensitive installations.
During April- June months, Union Home Ministry top officials, army top brass and CRP/BSF Commanders and many others from Defence Ministry paid several visits to the valley conferring with the Governor, the CM and local commanders. The media could not give out the purpose of these visits. Nevertheless, mystery and sensation were there that something big was going to happen.
Much before Burhan’s killing, there was undefined unrest among the people. Particularly in South Kashmir, rallies were intermittently brought out for flimsy reasons generally exuding the rhetoric of unbridled oppression by Indian security forces. Attacks on police personnel on duty, on sporadic police parties and posts increased with each passing day.
In Kupwara and Handwara sectors, fierce gun battles between the infiltrated terrorists from across the border and the security personnel continued for weeks. Vast border area from Nowgam of Tootmar Gali eastward to Machail in upper Kishen Ganga valley became alive. The purpose was to force thin dispersal of Indian security forces and to boost the morale of the JI cadres in the valley for preparing the ground for more subversion.
With the liquidation of Burhan, JI acting in the garb of Hizbul Mujahideen, took full control of mass protest rallies. In the funeral of Burhan, attended by over 50,000 people drawn from adjoining villages, armed terrorists of HM and other outfits fired shots in air by way of farewell to their dead commander. ISIS and Pakistani flags fluttered in the rally and pro-Pakistan slogans were raised.
Protests spread in other parts of the valley. Language of protestors was the same. Mosques began to resound with religious songs and became the hub for eulogizing the “martyrs” of freedom. The job of giving call for strikes and drawing the calendar was left to Ali Shah Geelani.
Strike and demonstrations have entered fifth week. The ground situation today is that demonstrations have come down drastically in Srinagar, Budgam and Baramulla districts. However these have exacerbated in Anantnag District. Appeal made by the Chief Minister to the people to return to normalcy has made little impact. With that the MLAs who were also asked by the CM to interact with their constituencies have been playing ducks and drakes. Geelani is preaching sedition among the rank and file of police force and even the message of sedition is spread to the bureaucracy but with no consequence.
Extension of call for strike has begun to boomerang. The youth below 25 years of age — at least a big group of them — have formed an organization called Sangbaaz Association literally meaning the Association of stone throwers, and they have issued posters forbidding girls from riding scooters. The movement is gone in the hands of the youth, whose leadership is still unidentified. It is reported that they have sent messages to Geelani that his age demands that he retires from politics and devotes to meditation and prayers for he has played his role. Another message gone to Mirwaiz is that he should remain confined to the Jamia Mosque and not dabble in local politics. Mirwaiz has publicly disowned the youth who are waving ISIS flags.
In vast rural Kashmir, the notion with the people is that unrest is the home game of youth in Srinagar while rural Kashmir sees no sense in these protest rallies. The call from rural youth to the urban segment is that if you are unable to decided Kashmir issue now, we are going to take up Indian flags and call it a parochial movement only.
A trend among the valley students undergoing education or training in different institutions outside Kashmir, especially in Chandigarh, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Rajasthan is to denounce the meaningless unrest, and return to their educational institutions and continue with their studies. The question they ask is “What do you want?”
Obviously polarization has begun in the valley. Demonstrations are confined to South Kashmir and in Srinagar, only downtown shows signs of unrest. Shopkeepers open for an hour or two after dusk and people are able to make purchases for daily use.
The woe of separatists is essentially that Prime Minister Modi is not reacting on deaths and turmoil. Many among politicians of lesser importance think that if Modi reacts and intervenes, things will improve. There is also thinking among the people that Modi government may not be vulnerable to blackmail as was the case with previous governments in New Delhi. As such, they would welcome even the faintest signal from Modi. However, it has to be understood that Modi’s total silence does not mean that track II diplomacy has been abandoned. States do not abandon the option of talking to dissidents in one way or the other.
However, the question is now that the Prime Minister has kept silent over the situation for nearly a month, there are elements with vested interest trying to bring pressure on him for initiating talks with Kashmir dissidents. For example, the Jammu Chamber of Commerce has been crying that Jammu is suffering loss of about a hundred crore rupees daily owing to the strike in Kashmir. That loses are inflicted on business community as well as ordinary wage earners is a harsh reality but losses of ordinary people in Kashmir are greater by any stretch of imagination.
This stalemate is now gradually heading to a scenario in which so many fissures are likely to appear in the entire society. Pakistan mounted international propaganda against alleged oppression of security forces in Kashmir. Islamabad has shot letters to UN Secretary General, President Obama, British Prime Minister, Chairman of OIC and many more. There is growing realisation among the separatist leaders in Kashmir that Pakistan’s raising the pitch of so-called Indian oppression in Kashmir has no takers. This also contributes to the dampening of the spirit among the protestors.
Our understanding is that if Modi continues to give the impression of no willingness to talk with separatist leaders, the demonstrations and protest will subside because the protestors and their handlers will feel (a) blackmail is not working with Modi government (b) Pakistan is not able to garner any meaningful international support for her stand on current crisis in Kashmir (c) Hafiz Seed’s announcement of sending help (infiltrators) to Kashmir on the asking of Asiya Andrabi exposes the dubious slogan of aazaadi because it proves the movement is sponsored and directed from across the border and is not an indigenous one.
If the present stalemate continues for another ten days, polarization of forces is inevitable. Protests and demonstrations will die their own death.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir).