Needed : A new policy for Kashmir

Anand Kumar
The rise of Taliban in Afghanistan was bound to give fillip to terrorist violence in Kashmir, but what is surprising is that it has started sooner than expected. In fact, only a few days after Taliban took over, a huge consignment of drugs was recovered from the Mundra port in Gujrat. The terrorism in South Asia has largely been supported by the drug money. It was clear that despite its statements not to allow narco-terror activities in Afghanistan Taliban was back in the game it knows best. It is hardly surprising that Pakistan too after getting its desired strategic depth in Afghanistan has upped the ante in Kashmir. It has intensified its terror game before India makes major gains in consolidating Kashmir after the abolition of article 370.
Jammu and Kashmir has done relatively better after it achieved its Union Territory status. People who were groaning under the corrupt regimes of Abdullahs and Muftis have heaved a sigh of relief. The steps taken by J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha have been widely appreciated by the local people. The local elections held in J&K were a success. The economy of the UT has been improving despite the disturbances caused by the Pak sponsored terrorists and the worldwide Covid pandemic. Obviously, the return of normalcy to the UT has not been liked by forces inimical to India across the LoC.So Pakistan has now decided to upset the applecart.
In the last couple of years, Indian security forces have achieved major success in eliminating Pakistani sponsored terrorists. Poster boys of terrorism like Burhan Wani were successfully eliminated. The secessionist forces also suffered a major setback when the separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani died. Though the hardliner MassaratAlam Bhat, incarcerated chairman of the Muslim League, has been appointed in his place, he may not have the same influence among the separatists as Geelani.
In the past, Pak sponsored terrorists have been engaging in spectacular terror strikes. The attack on the Indian parliament, the 26/11 attack in Mumbai or a number of attacks like Uri or Pulwama in J&K were its examples. These attacks used to serve two purposes. It was getting Kashmir international attention and it was getting recruits for LeT and JeM for terror activities in Kashmir. However, the actions of security forces have made spectacular attacks very difficult to carry out. Moreover, the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian forces has significantly changed the situation. Now the Indian state has demonstrated a political will to retaliate if Pakistan sponsored terrorists carry out any such attack. This situation has made handlers of terrorists based in Pakistan jittery. They have now embarked on a different strategy.
Pakistan can’t easily give up terror as a tool of its foreign policy especially when this policy has brought rich dividend for that country at a low cost. Pakistan wants to continue the proxy war through terrorists. But as things become difficult for the Pak sponsored terrorists they are now going after soft targets. They have started targeted killings of the minority civilians to instill fear among them. Through this action, Pakistan wants to fuel exodus of minorities from the Kashmir valley. Though a large number of Kashmiri Pandits, the largest minority in the Kashmir valley had already left in early 1990s, some of them are still in the valley perhaps because of their government jobs. Many of them live in designated areas. The environment of terror created by Pakistan sponsored terrorists is now making them think of leaving valley. Some of them have already left for Jamnu.
The purpose of abolition of article 370 was to mainstream J&K with rest of India. If the exodus of minorities from the Kashmir valley takes place once again then it will defeat the purpose of abolition of article 370.
Pakistan is now using part-time local terrorists along with its own LeTcadres. The terrorists from Pakistani side are supplying small arms like pistols to the local radicalized youths. These youths are lured either by drugs or money to indulge in one-off terror strikes where people from minority community are being targeted. It is also believed that organizations like the Resistance Front (TRF) or Geelani Force are created as red herrings. They are only part of LeT, the Pak based terror group responsible for the killings of innocent people in J&K. These organizations have been floated to get deniability for the LeT after the terror strike. It will also make the violence appear as a local rebellion.
The government of India can’t let the strategy of Pakistan work. It has to devise its own counter-terror strategy under the new circumstances. The people in Kashmir valley are planning to leave as they think that government can’t provide security to every individual of minority community. On the other hand they feel that Pak sponsored terrorists or the local Pak hired part-time terrorists can easily target them. However to defeat this design of Pakistan, the government of India also has to change its strategy. It should start arming minority community and train them in self-defense so that they can protect themselves in the face of terror. Besides the government also has to bring policies which creates a balanced demography in the Kashmir valley. These are extra –ordinary measures, but they are required in these extra-ordinary times to maintain the unity and integrity of India.
(The author is Associate Fellow Manohar Parikkar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses)