Creeping militancy casts shadow on upcoming polls in J&K

This is the second part of David Devadas’ series on the impact of constitutional changes introduced in J&K 4 years ago

| Updated: 05 August, 2023 6:56 pm IST
The NIA conducted extensive raids through Poonch district to flush out LeT militants

The historic opportunity presented by historical changes on August 5, 2019, to transform Jammu and Kashmir seems to have been so tragically frittered away that militancy is seeping back in.

Just a week before the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A and downgrading of J&K to a Union territory marked four years, an army soldier was abducted from near his home in south Kashmir. Three other soldiers were killed in an encounter in the forests of the same district earlier this week. Not a single terrorist was killed in this encounter, which indicates that they are lethally well trained.

Terrorism is gradually making its way to the north. Two gunmen were caught in north Kashmir’s Baramulla on August 3. A couple of months ago, an excursion of G-20 tourism officials to Gulmarg — and even to the Dachigam national wildlife reserve on the outskirts of Srinagar — was cancelled after intelligence reports that terrorists were in those areas.

Movement around Gulmarg could indicate infiltration from the Pakistani side. However, local boys have been recruited too, more so during this summer.

READ MORE: Repeal of Article 370 ushered in new era: A Kashmiri’s account

Photos of a group of militants gathered around their leader have begun to float on Kashmiri phones. These photos are similar to the ones of former Hizb-ul Mujahideen head Burhan Wani, which had gone viral between June and September 2015.

Their leader this time goes by the name Farooq Nalli. The boys around him appear to be Kashmiris. Oddly, Nalli is making his presence felt now, after apparently having lurked underground for years in south Kashmir.

This major revival of militancy is all the more distressing and intriguing since it comes at a time when Pakistan is economically and politically stretched, China has been through a rough two years, the Taliban is preoccupied with settling Afghanistan’s borders, and the world beyond is mainly focused on the war in Ukraine.

These strategic circumstances afforded a great opportunity for India to consolidate in Kashmir over the past couple of years, but that opportunity appears to have slipped.

How rising terrorism could influence voter choice

This trend is even more deeply unsettling since citizens of Jammu and Kashmir are generally thoroughly against militant violence — or even separatism. They see Pakistan’s current economic and political conditions. They saw the horrifyingly rough treatment which the Pakistani state apparatus heaped upon its own people in the second week of May.

In this light, it is tragic that terrorism is nevertheless managing to rear its ugly head — and doing so just a little before the country gears up for elections. If the situation worsens, this could dovetail with Hindu-versus-Muslim violence in places like Nuh to form a very ugly backdrop for general elections.

Elections are due in several important states, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Chattisgarh, and then for a new Lok Sabha next April — if those elections are not called along with Assembly elections at the end of this year.

In J&K itself, a round of elections is due in a couple of months for new panchayats, municipalities, and district development councils. If the new terrorism does rev up, it could potentially impact all those elections. Locally, it could discourage voting. Across the country, it could spur anti-terrorist sentiment, or a sense of urgency about national cohesion and security. On the other hand, it might turn the nation’s mood against those who may be seen as having failed to secure the country properly.

I have maintained for years that Kashmir is a battleground on which major global forces deploy narratives in order to gain strategic advantage. It began in 1876, the year before the British appointed their first Gilgit Agent. I am reminded of this, for there are signs that India’s next general elections are of great interest to major global powers.

New patterns of militancy

I have shown in The Generation of Rage in Kashmir (OUP, 2018) how a fertile ground was created for a new round of militancy from 2006 onwards. Nefariously-backed azadi narratives played a role. The violence and unrest spurred by that process reached a high after the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016.

The fertile ground for it was partly created by events which ended the peace process in which Prime Minister Vajpayee had successfully engaged Pakistan and the rest of south Asia — and partly by the polarisation on Jammu versus Kashmir lines.

The peace process was snuffed out by the Mumbai attack in 2008. And that polarisation occurred around the transfer of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board earlier that year. It radically changed the dynamic of the erstwhile states politics, bringing the BJP to centre-stage in the Jammu province, and undermining the then-dominant Congress.

READ MORE: 4 years post-Article 370: Govt misses window of opportunity in J&K

Notably, the patterns of terrorism that emerged in the resulting charged atmosphere, in 2010, were very different to that of the 1990s, which was largely a proxy war by Pakistan.

The militants who got going in 2010 snatched weapons from policemen, and somehow seemed to get trained in Kashmir itself. Even Pakistani Abu Qasim, who revived Lashkar-e-Taiba in south Kashmir, lived like a local (tilling a piece of land in Pulwama district) from 2010 till he was killed in 2015.

Initially available trends point to the emergent round of terrorism too being at least partly Kashmir-based. It is deeply troubling that this should have come about under a very nationalist government — one which took direct control of, and responsibility for, the region.

It is even more depressing since citizens in the Valley had, by and large, settled down after the first few days of shock and distress following the constitutional changes, and became open to the ‘Naya Kashmir’ which home minister Amit Shah had promised in parliament. It was a great and historic opportunity and has been lost.

(David Devadas is a seasoned journalist with a deep understanding of the Kashmir issue. He also analyses politics, geopolitics and security matters.)

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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