In 2014, shortly after it received a thumping mandate across India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, known for its Hindu nationalist ideology, set its eyes on the nearly unattainable task of governing the conflicted state of Jammu and Kashmir with the largest Muslim majority. Dissing the naysayers, it achieved what could’ve been impossible a few years ago by winning 32.4 per cent of the votes cast, effectively becoming the single largest political party in the state and setting the wheels in motion for an alliance with the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to form a ruling government. The coming together of the BJP, a right-wing party, and the PDP, a Muslim Kashmiri party, is historic and rightly dubbed by the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who took oath as the first chief minister of this alliance “as North Pole meets South Pole”. Nearly, two years since the formation of what local Kashmiris, call an “unholy alliance” partly under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, Kashmir has been pushed to the brink, with some saying to the dark days of militancy.
Pushing aside the ideologically opposite views on contentious issues like Article 370 providing special status to Jammu and Kashmir and the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) law, the two parties entered into an agreement – the terms and conditions of which were never made public- of “governance alliance” or “alliance of understanding” to make an effort towards seeking a national reconciliation on Jammu and Kashmir. It promised to bring normalcy, peace and stability by creating conditions to facilitate resolution of all issues of Jammu and Kashmir, build confidence measures within the state and across the LoC, all-round economic development, inclusive politics, strengthen democratic institutions and smart governance. But far from this idealistic agenda of peace and prosperity, the coalition of BJP-PDP has thrown Kashmir in the throes of unrest and civilian strife that refuses to calm down. From the broken promises on flood rehabilitation– the Centre announced a package of Rs 745 crore, as against the Valley’s demand of Rs 40,000 crore– talks on scrapping of Article 370, altering Article 35A that could change the demography by allowing outsiders to purchase immovable property, transfer of land to armed forces for sainik colonies, to increase in violent civilian protests, militancy and radicalisation that appears to be at an all-time high giving foothold to extremist jihadi ideology and making way for global terror group Al Qaeda to set foot in the Valley, Kashmir is seemingly slipping in the dangerous times ahead.
The civil unrest has been simmering since the 2008 Amarnath shrine land row, followed by the 2010 uprising and the hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013. But 2016 marked a disturbing trend that appears to have changed the narrative in the Valley, fuelling anger and radicalisation among locals, threatening to pull the conflict back to its worst days. Maintaining a hardened stand, may suit the BJP government in the Centre to project a muscular strategy against militancy and protesting civilians, but it has neither prevented locals to join terrorist organisations nor stabilised the security situation. The increasing number of active militants, in fact, points to a reverse effect on the ground. Going by the current developments amid growing distrust of Kashmiris in the political system and the fragile security situation, fiddling with issues like Article 35A is akin to playing with fire. What it needs is a rational but pacifist approach. To achieve that, the BJP urgently needs to go back to its promised agenda at the time of forging an alliance to restore common minimum confidence among civilians.
Here are five issues that have spiralled down a bad situation to worse in Kashmir:
From common minimum program of development to minimum development on ground
Taking the national slogan of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (development for all), the entry of the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir’s governance was expected to usher in economic development and make the valley an attractive destination for business. In less than a year after the government came to power, Kashmir has suffered the unrest and a complete shutdown lasting more than 5 months causing estimated losses of more than Rs 16,000 crore. A security report presents a grim picture in the existing security environment of the private sector being wary of making any investment in the state. Besides civilian strife, there has been a spike in terror attacks on security forces. The BJP’s stand to normalise relations with Pakistan in order to improve the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been in the doldrums as 2016, saw more than 300 terrorist incidents, the highest in the last three years, with Pakistan-based terrorists infiltrating and brazenly attacking Army bases in Uri, Nagrota and para-military convoys. The instability in Kashmir beyond security axis became clear earlier this year, during the Srinagar and Anantnag by-elections that saw the lowest voter turn-out in recent years. As security plus political confidence erodes in the Valley, development of infrastructure and economy remains a distant dream.
2016, the year of reckoning
The killing of popular Hizbul Mujaheedin commander Burhan Wani was a shot in the arm of the security forces, but the unexpected backlash that followed triggering months of protest and shutdown of the Valley, changed the narrative of Kashmir’s resentment against the Indian state. Never in the last three decades since militancy set in, did the youth, men, and importantly, women, with young girls congregate on streets with stones to attack the security forces and even hamper counter-terrorism operations. The military crackdown, with the use of non-lethal weapons- lead pellet shots- to dissuade the crowd only escalated a fresh cycle of violence, with over 100 civilians killed, more than 12,000 injured and at least thousand blinded in one eye. Parts of South Kashmir, the hotbed of militancy, were turned into a fortress by the local youth. Counter-terrorism operations came to a standstill as angry civilians converged to pelt stonesduring, before and after the operation, attacking the security forces–resulting in the death of Army officers– to divert the attention of the forces and helping militants get away. In the ensuing chaos, as security forces fired on civilians, another violent cycle would set off, leading to protests and stone-pelting. 2016 became a testing year for the security forces including the Army to control the social unrest. While gun-holding militants could be eliminated, there is no military strategy or solution to deal with an enraged stone-wielding civilian crowd that is hell-bent on attacking the armed forces.
The Doval Doctrine
The more Kashmir seethed with anger and unrest that seemed impossible to control, the more aggressive was the military stance. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who advocated the healing touch policy, while in opposition, failed to restrain the excessive use of force or pacify the victims. Insiders attribute the hardline military strategy, refusal to seek a middle ground and apply a healing balm to the wounds of Kashmiris, to National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, aptly called the Doval doctrine, which blamed the violent protests and stone-pelting as Pakistan-sponsored agenda. The strategy temporarily crushed down the spontaneous leaderless protests by youth, following Wani’s killing, but the pent-up anger has only been tightly bottled, threatening to burst with greater intensity in the future. The brutal crackdowns and harsh response by the security forces like the use of a human shield and the subsequent awarding of the Army officer involved has increased perceptions that the coalition government is the worst when it comes to allowing the shameful abuse of civilians with impunity. The arrests of Kashmiri separatist leaders from the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, including Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Ahmed Shah, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat’s Ayaz Akbar and Mehrajuddin Kalwal, Shahid-ul-Islam, from the Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat, Nayeem Khan of the Jammu Kashmir National Front, Peer Saifullah and Farooq Ahmed Dar aka Bitta Karatay in a probe linked to allegedly receiving funding from Pakistan-based terror groups by the NIA also signals an end to the constructive engagement and political inclusiveness.
Diluting Special Status
The BJP politics is opposed to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir state guaranteed by the constitutional safeguards of Article 370 at the time of the princely state’s accession to India. Its dissolution will be important to give a realist shape to the Sangh ideology that Kashmir is an integral part of India. The BJP promised a status quo on Article 370 at the time of forming the coalition government, it has not been averse to touch the off-shoot provisions of the special status. The Centre’s stand in the Supreme Court last month to have larger public debate on a petition by an NGO asking the court to strike down Article 35A of Kashmir’s constitution, has put the PDP in a quandary. The constitutional provision gives the J&K State Legislature the power to define the “permanent residents” of the state and prohibits non-locals from acquiring immovable property in the state or settling permanently in the Valley, any revisions in the law, Kashmiris fear will lead to incursion from outsiders and threaten the distinct character of the valley. The Centre’s decision, where BJP is in power, has spread fear and instability in the political circles uniting its alliance partner in Jammu and Kashmir, the PDP, and the opposition National Congress. Kashmiri political parties have threatened to launch an agitation, violent than before, if there is any fiddling with the existing provision. If the 2008 protests on Amarnath land row are any indication, Article 35A could become a defining point of dispute for an uprising in 2017.
Rise in militancy, resurgence of Islamist extremism
At least, 100 militants have been killed in the first six months of 2017, giving a major boost to the counter-terrorism operations. A thumb-rule in Kashmir devised by experienced security officials says that every dead militant creates at least four more militants — his brothers, friends and family who seek to avenge the killing of their loved one. Wani, the charismatic Hizbul leader, had used social media to attract young people to join the ranks of militancy. Before his death, there were 142 active militants, largely locals. His killing has motivated more local youth to pick up guns, taking the number of active militants to at least 224. Although these numbers are minimal compared to the peak years of militancy in the 1990s, what is alarming is the resurgence of Islamist radical ideology of the jihadi variant, that had ripped the Valley’s social fabric and expelled Kashmiri Pandits. Taking ahead Wani’s call to liberate Kashmir and establish a Caliphate, his successor Zakir Musa is now leading an Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind. The new jihadi group may have a small number of cadres and limited gun power, but Musa’s popularity coupled with Al Qaeda’s ideology in the long-term have dangerous consequences of strengthening Islamist ideology in the Valley.