The Indian government’s decision to take fifteen envoys to Kashmir, led by the US Ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, has again brought Kashmir into focus. Earlier the government had permitted 23 EU Members of Parliament to visit Kashmir. European Union envoys would be taken subsequently, as they wished to go together and meet the detained leaders of the state. This is the first major visit since the abrogation of Article 370. At the same time, Indian politicians from the opposition have been prevented from visiting the valley.
The envoys met a section of the public and heard their views, apart from attending a security briefing from the army. Overall the impression gathered appeared supportive to the government’s decision on article 370 yet demanded opening of internet communications and removal of other restrictions. This was expected. For the first time a delegation also interacted with Kashmiri Pundits, living in camps in Jammu, since their forced migration, almost three decades ago. They seek a J and K free from terrorism.
The Vietnamese Ambassador to India stated after the visit, ‘My observation is that we see normalcy in the daily life of the people, which is a very positive sign.’ The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs tweeted, ‘Closely following the trip of the US Ambassador and other foreign diplomats’ recent trip to J and K. Important step. We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents and internet restrictions. We look forward to return of normalcy.’ Thus, the Indian stand on the decision to abrogate Article 370 has now been internationally justified.
The supreme court, based on a PIL, asked the J and K administration, last Friday, to review within a week all orders imposing curbs in the union territory. It implied that access to internet is a fundamental right as all information and business flows through the net. It added that suspension of internet indefinitely is unconstitutional.
Some international organizations and members of the US Congress, towing thoughts projected in US media based on Pak sponsored articles, have sought to pressurize the Indian government to lift the few controls which they continue to maintain in the region basically for security purposes. India has ignored all such claims and stuck to its own plans for the union territory, with the intention of preventing the spread of fake news, leading to violence, and the use of the internet by terrorists to communicate with their handlers in Pak.
The Indian government’s decision to permit envoys to visit Kashmir is also being debated. Opposition members claim that on one hand, it escorts international envoys to Kashmir, while on the other, it prevents its own politicians from visiting the region. It appears, as per critics, that the government seeks to win international support, rather than national support for its actions. Simultaneously, it continues to ban the internet and keeps selected political leaders under detention, an aspect it was unwilling to relent on, now compelled to reconsider on orders of the apex court.
Pak has realised that all its screaming of violence and genocide has fallen on deaf ears. Its announcements of being the voice of Kashmir has been nothing but an attempt to divert minds of its own population from its economic woes. Its regular bellowing of India launching an offensive in POK, based on a false flag operation, aimed at diverting attention from internal agitations on NRC and CAA, have found no takers. International criticism has also begun to die down. The few who still raise their voice find themselves isolated. The government had rightly chosen to ignore them.
There has not been a single death, since the abrogation of article 370, due to security forces actions in the valley, despite all fake Pak claims of possible genocide and mass internment. Most additional forces inducted into the valley have been withdrawn.
Inputs flowing from the valley, officially to the delegation and silently otherwise, indicate that while there is support for the abrogation, there is rising disgruntlement against the government for continued imposition of restrictions. These restrictions have impacted both, the pro-India lobby along with the pro-Pak group. Clearly a case of mass punishment, which should have by now been addressed in some form. Further, regions of the union territory, where there have been no protests, have been targeted at the same level as areas where protests have been a regular feature.
For the Government, ‘security of life’ is more important than grant of ‘fundamental rights.’ However, when it continues for a prolonged period, with no justification and explanation, it becomes a punishment and leads to anger. This is the current state, which has been projected to the delegation.
Terrorists would switch to alternate means of communication in case the internet is shut. Presently, they use codes being transmitted by Pak’s FM transmission stations located close to the LoC. For preventing terrorist activities, forcing the population to suffer may not be the right option.
Within Kashmir, the present winters are harsh. This is the time when everything appears normal as movement remains restricted. Considering the scenario, partial opening of the internet has been done, while restoring SMS services. The message being conveyed by the Government appears to be that it still does not trust Kashmiri youth from being influenced by Pak’s propaganda.
Indicators on the ground, based on briefings by security heads of the valley, are to the contrary. There has been a marked reduction in numbers joining terrorist groups as also incidents of violence and protests have been low. Some claim this to be the result of blocking of social media as these remain the main instigators for violence and mass deployment of security forces. However, continued curbs have impacted daily lives. These have hurt tourism, banking, business and education. It is this loss which the valley rues.
Kashmir is presently at the crossroads. Despite a few political leaders being against the government’s decision, as it would lead to them losing their political importance and space, the common Kashmiri has a different view. Every Kashmiri desires economic development, better educational facilities and most importantly peace. Majority are tired of the violence.
There would always be an element within the valley opposing India and its actions. There would always be some who are sold on Pak’s ideology and concept of commonality of religion, however as witnessed recently, they would be in the minority. The youth of the state has paid heavily due to Pak’s mischief.
The last few months of peace and stability with the commencement of grassroot democracy has given some hope to the local populace. Further, with security forces being more involved with the local population, there is a strong possibility of lesser numbers being influenced by Pak’s failed propaganda. Within this existing scenario, the government should reconsider its stand and remove existing restrictions in line with the apex court’s directives.