A new dynamic has already crept in Kashmiri society. Earlier people used to wait for the dead bodies of insurgents to be handed over by the police. Now they rush to the encounter sites to save them. That is why insurgent killings now are also accompanied by civilian killings, offering an excuse to separatists to accuse SF of human rights abuse.
Alarming Span and Scope of Fresh Recruitment
Increasing trend of locals joining insurgent ranks is as worrying as is the realisation that those joining their ranks are educated and, in some cases, from affluent families. 126 youth in the Valley joined insurgent ranks in 2017 while this year this number has gone up with 130 of them have already joined their ranks till August.
Junaid Sehraj, an MBA and from an affluent family, Manna Wani, a PhD scholar, Mohammed Eisa Fazli, an engineering student are examples of the educated and the affluent joining the insurgent ranks. This trend is indeed worrying and seems to be in line with the recruitment policy of the Islamic State of Syria & Iraq (ISIS). (Author’s personal interactions during a recent visit to Kashmir reveals that recruitment to insurgent ranks is allowed only after a thorough background check).
Use of Social Media & Online Radicalisation
Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the poster boy of Kashmir insurgency, initiated cyber outreach for the separatist movement which had been quiescent since 2010. He created Twitter handle @Gazi_Burhan2 in October 2012 and would upload photographs of atrocities allegedly perpetrated by security forces as well as virulent anti-India content. His calls to youth to join Jihad were accompanied by Quranic verses, emotive demands for Azadi and exhortations to establish the Nizam-e-Mustafa (God’s government).
Valley’s 60% population is below 30 and is hyperactive on social media. Burhan’s cyber blitz attracted young minds to the insurgency. In a first of its kind, he started sending photographs of himself and his comrades, faces uncovered, brandishing weapons at identifiable locations around Srinagar. All this imparted a notion among the youth that taking to arms was a heroic and risk-free job
Islamic State of Jammu & Kashmir (ISJK)
Much that Indian government may deny, Islamic State of Jammu & Kashmir (ISJK) and al Qaeda are gaining a foothold in Kashmir. Until recently Zakir Musa was commander of HM. He openly stated his desire to implement a hard-line interpretation of Islamic laws in Kashmir- claiming concepts like nationalism and democracy were un-Islamic. He even threatened to behead Hurriyat leaders who seek resolution of Kashmir through political means. Later, Musa broke away from HM and floated a breakaway group, though denying any affiliation to al Qaeda yet thanking the organisation for promoting Sharia. He disowns Pakistan and fight for Kashmir’s secession from India, for Musa’s mission is not limited to Kashmir as he hopes to capitalise on grievances of the Muslims in India. His statement suggests an element of transnational-Jihadism is being introduced into Kashmir conflict that lays bare developing ideological divide between different generations of insurgents in Kashmir.
If Musa’s new outfit gains a measure of success, it would shift the focus of insurgency that has long been defined by localized Islamism that values self-determination to transnational-Jihadism. New Delhi needs to sit up and take notice of this worrying trend of transnational-Jihadism, of the kind of IS and al Qaeda, gaining a foothold in the region.
That J&K Police, on June 22, 2018, has claimed to have eliminated Dawood Ahmed Sofi, ISJK Chief, and the fact that two suspected ISJK insurgents have been arrested in Delhi on September 7, 2018, makes it abundantly clear that ISJK is fast spreading its tentacles in Kashmir.
Targeting of Police Personnel and their Kin
With an aim to blunt the cutting edge of J&K Police’s counter-offensive, insurgents are resorting to the killing of police personnel and abductions of their kin. On August 30, 2018, 11 kin of J&K Police personnel were abducted by HM from various villages in Pulwama, Shopian and Anantnag Districts, in retaliation to arrest/detention of the family members of three of their cadre, including the father of HM operational commander Riyaz Naikoo. However, on September 3, 2018, HM released the abductees after the government freed the detained family members of their cadre.
In an audio clip posted on social media on August 31, 2018, Riyaz Naikoo said their fight was against India and that Kashmir Police had become a “victim of Indian conspiracy” and its frontline. “We have tolerated a lot till this day and tried to make police understand but they did not listen. From now onwards whosoever becomes an obstacle in our struggle, his fate will be that of an enemy”. As a result, several Special Police Officers (SPOs) have publicly announced their resignation from the force.
Picking up of family members of insurgents is seen by many as replicating the Punjab Police template of targeting the terrorists’ families that forced terrorists to relent and ease their targeting campaign. This tactic is unlikely to work in Kashmir for the ground reality in the Valley is entirely different.
When Kashmir erupted in revolt in 1998-1999, very few in New Delhi had any idea how to handle Kashmir. India had failed to comprehend strategic consequences of the rise of militancy in Punjab in the 1980s and its impact on Kashmir. Unnoticed or ignored by the State, in 1988 hordes of Kashmiri youth crossed over to Pakistan for weapons training. When New Delhi was just about coming to grips with Punjab, Soviet pull-out from Afghanistan, in 1988-1989, made services of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his men available to Pakistan’s ISI to train Kashmiri rebels in arms. By mid1989, armed Kashmiris returned to the Valley with Kalashnikov in their hands. Armed insurgency unleashed by these youngsters was only the military component of the strategy to wrest Kashmir from India. The political and State subversion had been unleashed much earlier.
Ignoring Subversion of the State Apparatus
Al Fatah, a subversive and an espionage group, began operating in Kashmir in 1970. Among its cadres were members of Plebiscite Front, an organisation seeking plebiscite in J&K of which Sheikh Abdullah was the patron. Many of their cadres were arrested. No sooner Sheikh returned to power in 1974, cases against them were withdrawn without any stigma about their past. They were rehabilitated either by way of absorption in key government jobs, like Hamidullah Bhat, Mohammed Hussein and others, or by taking them on National Conference rolls. The trend to induct, into State administration, those who were inimical to Indian interests in Kashmir continued with impunity after Ghulam Mohammed Shah took over as the CM in 1984. It is common knowledge in Kashmir that radicalised Jamaat-e-Islami cadres were absorbed in the State administration, especially in Police Department, in large numbers during Shah’ tenure. It is alleged that these cadres played a very crucial role in sustaining insurgency in early stages by providing insider support to the insurgents. Did all this happen unknown to New Delhi?
Weak-kneed Response to Crisis Situations
The full-blown insurgency in Kashmir reared its head in an era of political uncertainty in New Delhi. V.P. Singh government at the Centre, preoccupied with its own survival, hardly had any time or inclination to intervene in Kashmir. When the daughter of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, then Union Home Minister, was kidnapped, in 1989 by JKLF, New Delhi succumbed to insurgents’ diktats by agreeing to free five hardcore JKLF insurgents in lieu of her release. Despite protest by Farooq Abdullah, then CM, Central team, comprising I.K. Gujral, Arif Mohammed Khan and M. K. Narayanan, insisted on the release of insurgents, even threatening Farooq with dismissal in event of his refusal. Rest all is history. Javed Ahmed Zargar, one of those released, was later involved in the hijack of the IC-814 plane in December 1999.
Second high-profile abduction, in 1991, was of Nahida Imtiaz, daughter of Saifuddin Soz, then NC MP, by Jammu & Kashmir Students League Front(JKSLF). Though denied by the government, news reports claimed that Chandershekhar government freed secessionist Mushtaq Ahmed in exchange for the release of Nahida from captivity.
In 1993, 40-odd second-rung insurgents took over Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar and held J&K administration to ransom for 15 days. The J&K government didn’t know how to handle the situation and, much against the advice of army, extended 5-Star treatment to the insurgents before allowing them a safe passage. Same confusion was evident during the Charar-e-Sharief crisis when Mast Gul managed to escape the siege laid around the town only to surface later to a rousing welcome in Pakistan and during Hijacking of IC 814 when dreaded militants were released as a deal for safe return of passengers.
Killers of Minorities Remain unpunished
Farooq Ahmed Dar @ Bitta Karate admitted on national media to have killed 20 KPs in cold blood but he has not been punished for these murders till date. Sadly, he was let off by the Trial Court for the failure of the prosecution to produce evidence. Even Supreme Court refused to reopen the investigations against Bitta Karate and Yasin Malik for the killings of KPs. Both are now prominent public figures in Kashmir. No government can be so insensitive to its citizens. All this has emboldened the Kashmiri insurgents no end.
Unilateral Ceasefire – Surrendering Initiatives
Indian state refuses to learn lessons from history. Despite an earlier failed attempt to broker peace through unilateral cession of operations in 2000, Modi government repeated the mistake this year surprisingly when insurgents were under tremendous pressure from SF. An unwise decision to go in for unilateral cessions of operations against insurgents snatched the initiative from SF and allowed insurgents to regroup and re-strategize. In both instances, in face of mounting attacks by insurgents, ceasefire had to be withdrawn.
Government’s Kashmir policy is in tatters. Even now, New Delhi is as confused as it was in the early 1990s. Understanding the problem is the first step towards any solution. India refuses to accept that the problem in Kashmir is of Muslim identity assertion. Unless Kashmir is addressed soon enough more Kashmirs are likely to sprout within Indian union.
In today’s world, Kashmir does not garner the same sympathy as in pre-9/11 era when Bill Clinton called it a ‘nuclear flashpoint’. The post-9/11 world has no patience for armed uprising associated with Islamic terror. Linking of Kashmiri insurgents to Pakistani terror groups, like LeT and JeM, has snatched Kashmiris’ moral compass of what may have been otherwise a genuine political demand. It is unlikely that a focused military intervention in Kashmir would attract serious global admonishment. The government should take advantage of this favourable worldview.
There is an urgent need to strengthen strategic communication in Kashmir. Indian state must exploit a growing ideological rift between those who fight for political separatism and those, like ISJK and al Qaeda, who consider Kashmir a part of transnational Jihadism. Pakistan leverages Kashmir through hardliners and its loyal insurgents in the Valley. The challenge that Zakir Musa has thrown is a fundamental challenge to Pakistan’ s interests in Kashmir.
Patch-work political alliances are unlikely to douse the flames in Kashmir. The State apparatus in Kashmir is largely subverted. An extended spell of Central rule, under an able and politically neutral administrator, would go a long way in toning up the governance in the State.
Trifurcation of the state, as is rumoured now, would be suicidal at this stage. That would be to separatists’/insurgents’ liking. On the other hand, rehabilitation of KPs in the Valley should be taken up by the Union government far more vigorously. KPs have an inalienable right to their land. It may be a tough call for now, but it needs to be pursued to call separatists’ bluff.
At the operational level, all SF and intelligence agencies in Kashmir need to be placed under the command of the army for better command, control and coordination. Proposal to co-locate RR Directorate with HQ Northern Command would be a good move in this direction. Inter-organisational egos need to be set aside for the time being. Until the situation on the ground improves, Amarnath Yatra should be curtailed to 15 days to reduce additional burden on the SF.
It would be advisable for army commanders to focus more on the arduous job at hand in Kashmir and stay away from public pronouncements. Political posturing is best left to political leadership. Lastly, parties in power must refrain from seeking political mileage out of counter-insurgency operations, whatever those be.
New Delhi needs to reassess its options and come up with fresh ideas to contain and then eliminate growing insurgency in Kashmir. Otherwise, India stands to lose.
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© 2017 State Times Daily Newspaper