Article 370 is now history. Despite all the crying and howling by Pak, nothing will change. Imran worked overtime seeking to call international leaders for support. Most responses were muted and neutral. China, their trusted ally was also neutral. It cannot anger India as it has too many of its own internal issues including Uyghurs, Hong Kong, Tibet etc, on which India has maintained studied silence. India joining the west in criticism of Chinese actions as tit for tat would add to pressures.
Even the UN refused to come into the picture, claiming that a mechanism in the form of Shimla declaration exists. In desperation and to garner some local backing and ward of internal pressures they lowered diplomatic relations, stopped the Samjhauta and Thar Express, the Lahore-Delhi bus service and bilateral trade. It had no impact. India ignored their actions aware it was just posturing.
They next attempted to link peace in Afghanistan to Kashmir. Pak had always stated that peace in Afghanistan flows through Kashmir. Even in this case, they were rebuked by the Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahed, who stated, ‘Linking the issue of Kashmir with that of Afghanistan by some parties will not aid in improving the crisis at hand because the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the theatre of competition between other countries.’
Its only hope is to now raise the levels of violence and protests within Kashmir, seeking to project the anger within the local population. It would hope that Indian response could lead to casualties, which it could exploit. To this end, it would commence its fake propaganda on social media, hoping to ignite the minds of youth towards violence. In recent days, it has begun projecting fake protests and claiming them to be Kashmir.
Simultaneously, despite all pressures including Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and from other nations, it would seek to infiltrate terrorists to revive the dying militancy in the region. In this, avoiding employment of LeT and other known groups, it would induct residents of PoK or members of Al Qaeda, justifying it was an internal affair of India and involvement of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which it claims falsely to be also anti-Pak.
Valley based political parties, who had considered exploitation of Government funds as a right, have been the biggest losers. This has ended. The first action, once national rules are implemented, would be loss of their palatial official residences and other perks which go alongside it.
Their leaders have claimed that loss of Article 370 would impinge the identity of the valley. The youth, some of whom were paid to agitate, fell for these claims and became casualties, while politicians lived in security and comfort, stepping out only to incite the public. Their being locked up has resulted in minimum fake propaganda being spread across the valley.
Politicians claimed that outsiders would purchase land and change demography. Nothing could be more fake. Rules akin to Uttarakhand and Himachal on purchase of land are being enforced. In cities, an individual would only sell his residential or business property in case he is profited. This implies selling for profit and gain, which was missing all these years.
The Prime Minister in his speech laid out the benefits which were blocked while the State was under Article 370. He explained each benefit in detail, hoping to convey to the masses that this action would only benefit them, rather than deprive them. He even promised to restore the region to statehood shortly. His speech was aimed at convincing the youth to support the decision.
Simultaneously, there were unwarranted remarks on the abolition of Article 370 by some Indian politicians, which were taunting rather than supportive. These immature comments would only add to anger and discontent within the region. Further, the decision was taken to amalgamate the state and enhance development. It should not be considered as a political victory of the BJP as it would convey a wrong message of subjugation, whereas it is anything but that.
With the decision taken, the next stage would be conveying the benefits of the decision and proving to the masses that the government seeks to care, rather than ignore.
Within the local population, the major concern is that in a state, with almost no employment opportunities, existing government jobs would be taken by outsiders. Dispelling this fear is a priority which must be done by state authorities. The population, especially the youth, must be convinced that the action adopted by the Government would be to their benefit and not impact government jobs and state quotas in education institutions.
This implies winning the hearts and mind of the youth. The challenges are many. Fake propaganda from across the border, fake narratives by local politicians, calls for violence by over ground workers, alongside Pak’s attempts to revive the dying insurgency are some challenges. More importantly, the fake negative impact on removal of Article 370, peddled by the Hurriyat and valley political parties have been unchallenged for years. Suddenly attempting to prove them wrong would also be difficult.
With a heavy security blanket, mostly comprising of troopers who have been recently inducted, there are always chances of overreaction to violence, which could mar the efforts of the government. With security in the region under the command of the army there is a need for clear directions to be issued on responding to any attempts at violence. Firing, including use of pellet guns should be the last resort and that too not aimed at causing casualties. The intention should be to diffuse rather than react with force. This would be the first step to win confidence.
Amongst all agencies present in the valley, the one with the maximum presence and experience is the army. Apart from some very strong anti-India villages in the four militancy affected districts of South Kashmir, Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag and Kulgam, it has a reasonably good relationship with the masses. Its conduct of multiple youth events including sports, cultural, professional education and running of Goodwill schools makes it ideal to be the leader in the exercise of winning hearts and minds.
The army must fan out across the State, accompanied by State Government officials and convey details of how the decision would enhance employment opportunities, open schemes which till the present were unavailable to the populace, ensure protection of existing jobs and imposition of restrictions on purchase of land. Simultaneously, the national press should be requested not to cover only those few regions, where anti-India sentiments run high but also the remaining part of the valley, where the public supports government action. This would project the right image across the country and globally.
With a decision which can have far reaching consequences and against which there have been years of opposition, changing the narrative overnight is unlikely. It would take time and sustained effort before it is accepted by the masses. The youth must be convinced that what was expectedly theirs would not be taken away, but there would be better facilities and growth in the years ahead.
The government too must push hard to ensure that investments flow, development commences becoming visible and the words of the Prime Minister are proved to be true. Trust would come, not by words alone but by results on the ground. At the same time, there would be some dissent, which should be accepted and dealt with tact and patience.
(The author is Major General (Retd)