A year has passed since the Government scrapped Article 370 and 35A, merging J and K into the Indian union. It led to the state being split into two union territories, J and K and Ladakh. The erstwhile state was promised that this would lead to faster development and a better security environment. The residents were also informed that statehood would be restored at the opportune moment.
The centre had expected internal protests from local political parties and an increase in violence with more local youth joining terrorist groups. Hence, political leaders were incarcerated, restrictions imposed, and additional security forces deployed. The ongoing Amarnath Yatra at that time was cancelled. However, the security situation remained calm. Steadily, additional forces deployed were withdrawn.
There was an outcry from Pakistan, backed by China, some international political groups and human rights bodies. Apart from Pakistan, most other objections were not against the Indian Government decision but on imposed restrictions. The decision to scrap article 370 and to merge the state with the Indian union was globally accepted to be an internal matter of India. China, seeking to placate Pakistan even attempted to raise it twice in the UNSC but global support compelled them to back away.
A year has passed, most restrictions have lifted, peace generally reigns in the valley, almost all political leaders have been freed from detention and violence levels are low. The Government has two aspects which it still needs to restore, statehood and re-opening 4G mobile connectivity. This indicates that the decision taken, and precautionary measures adopted proved to be largely correct. It is now time for the Government to reassess its Kashmir policy.
The flow of money through hawala, channelled through the Hurriyat, led to organized violence, instigated by over ground workers. This was subsequently projected as being a form of resistance against the centre and forces operating in the state. Youth who became the social media face of resistance developed a cult like image and enticed others to follow their footsteps.Slowly and steadily they were all eliminated. The banning of funerals of local militants reduced the exploitation of innocent youth by over ground workers.
For decades, the Kashmir policy was based on ensuring security in the region against the ever-growing menace of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. In addition, was the need to reduce impact of propaganda flowing from across, resulting in young Kashmiris joining terrorist outfits. These concerns overrode all other considerations. The belief was if these two threats could be curtailed, all other aspects, including development, would follow.
To win over the local populace and to reduce pressures of terrorism, security forces also devoted energy in winning hearts and minds. The army provided medical support, organized vocational training, opened goodwill schools and conducted sadbhavana tours to enhance awareness amongst the local populace.They became the interface between locals and state agencies.Governance and development took a backseat.
By adopting security as a primary policy, the locals were caught between the devil and the deep sea. They faced pressures from both, security forces and terrorists.
Some political parties and Kashmir study groups considered the Hurriyat and state political leaders to be a part of the solution, hence sought to interact with them, hoping to bring about peace. Realistically they were a part of a problem. They continued to instigate youth, threatened violence and challenged the Government at every step, leading to slow progress of developmental projects. With the breaking of Hurriyat unity and the incarceration of political leaders, the atmosphere changed. Post August 2019, when violence levels dropped, the Pak deep state, which had till then backed the Hurriyat, realised that they are currently a spent force. This led to Geelani announcing his breaking of ties with the group.
With an improved environment and control over terrorism, the Government must now reconsider its existing Kashmir policy. Security, as earlier, must continue with the primary focus of tackling terrorists presently operating in the region. Pressure on them must continue unabated. However, care must be taken to avoid collateral damage to civilian property. The locals must be encouraged to share inputs of presence of terrorists in their region voluntarily. Operations should only be launched on veracity of inputs,thus reducing collateral damage.
There must be a change in the pattern of governance. There is a need for an outreach at grassroot levels to enhance confidence in the democratic processes and involve elected leaders in the development of their villages and blocks. This should also be the forum of conveying to the public their rights, schemes which they should avail and facilities which are now within their reach. With the Union Territory still under the centre and no political interference, projects need to be pushed ruthlessly. Confidence between the governed and those governing must be enhanced.
The Centre had made multiple promises to the local public. Some have been fulfilled, many are in progress and few stalled due to the pandemic. Information on progress must trickle down to the masses.They should possess the confidence that they enjoy similar fruits of development as the rest of the nation and the valley is slowly moving forward towards a change.
The youth need special attention. This is the future of the state and possibly the most neglected. The abrogation of the article and subsequently the pandemic has impacted education severely in the valley. This has been further hit by the government unwilling to open 4 G network in the region. It is time the centre trusts its populace and opens 4G network.
Simultaneously, it needs to reconsider the lacunae in the citizenship case and open doors to wards of state residents married outside, which was the root cause of the court case against Article 35A.
The valley has in the past one year turned the tables and proved that the decision taken by the centre has been correct. It is now time for the Government to change its policies beyond security and delve on development, fulfilling promises made by the centre and enhancing facilities for the populace.
The author is Major General (Retd)