Kashmir: Test of India's national security policy (Column: Spy's Eye)
Kashmir has, in recent years, become the fulcrum not only of India's internal security but also of India-Pakistan relations and our foreign policy at large. It goes to the credit of the Modi government that the problem of Kashmir was first put in its right perspective ending a whole lot of ambiguities that were allowed to be enmeshed around this important border state of India. The three basics of the 'issue' in Kashmir were always clear - that the state of Jammu & Kashmir was an integral part of India, that the Valley-centric polity could not disregard the reality that the state was a composite territory housing multiple faiths and therefore not open to a communally-oriented solution finding and that talks with Pakistan on the unfinished agenda symbolised by the existence of LoC fell squarely within the domain of the Centre permitting no third party intervention, external or internal. The earlier regimes - for reasons of our domestic politics largely - seemed to have compromised on these paradigms in a manner that encouraged the pro-Pak separatists in the Valley on one hand and gave leeway to Pakistan to take to cross-border terrorism to destabilise the state, on the other.
It was known that the political parties of the Valley - National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party - always kept the separatists represented by the Hurriyat on their side for gaining power and did nothing during their rule to check the growing collusion between Pak ISI and the Hurriyat leadership in spreading subversion in the state. The planned ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley forced by Islamic militants in the early Nineties was an ISI project that aimed at creating a totally Muslim territory for Pakistan to lay claim on.
It will always be a shame for the then government at the Centre as well as the so-called mainstream parties of the Valley that they did not make any effective move to prevent a communal tragedy that had engulfed an important segment of the Kashmiri population. Soon, the Pak army-ISI combine launched its plan of replicating Afghan Jehad in Kashmir by sending in Mujahideen to subdue the Valley by unleashing faith-based terror and managed to create a situation where the leaders of the militant outfits of the indigenous Jamaat-e-Islami - HuM and Dukhtaran-e-Millat - were also taking orders directly from Maulana Hafiz Sayeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief based in Pakistan. It is the spineless approach of the then government to both Pakistan and the issue of cross-border terrorism that in a way brought about the tragedy of 26/11 - a covert offensive of Pak agencies that has been rightly compared with the 9/11 attack of Islamic radicals on the US. The illogical and supine stand of India on the prime threat to national security continued for many years subsequently till the advent of the Modi regime saw a bold and fruitful course correction.
The three-pronged policy of Modi government announced that terrorists in Kashmir or any where else will be militarily put down, that there will be no talks with Pakistan till this rogue neighbour gave up on cross-border terrorism and that the pro-Pak agents in the Valley, including the separatists, will be pursued legally in a forceful manner. The success of the Modi regime in securing the world's support to its stand against cross-border terror, ending the US tilt towards Pakistan by getting President Donald Trump to denounce Pakistan for providing safe havens to Islamic terrorists and pushing Pakistan to a position of isolation in the international community, is remarkable indeed - it deserves to be taken further with vigour.
The defeat of the opposition in the 2019 General Election is to a great extent the result of the latter's shoddy response to the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. What made things worse for it was the widely shared impression that the opposition was being soft towards a belligerent Pakistan because of its strange calculation that it helped to corner the electoral endorsement of the minority here. In the post-Balakot situation this even produced a certain degree of Hindu backlash that pushed the BJP further ahead. At the core of the BJP victory, of course, was the popular appeal of Prime Minister Modi himself.
Kashmir remains a prime challenge for the new Home Minister and it is the internal management of the state that has to be put on track by him, first before any policy package brought into play could be expected to yield quick results. All through these years of turbulence in Kashmir the political rulers of the state tended to morally disassociate themselves from the counter-terror operations of the Army-Para Military combine even when J&K Police was kept in the loop wherever necessary. They teamed up with the separatists in playing up the 'alienation' card to run down the effort to neutralise armed terrorists and said not a word to denounce Pakistan's incessant attempts to infiltrate Mujahideen into the Valley. And this was in spite of the fact that the actions of the army under the AFSPA were subject to monitoring by the Unified Command chaired by the Chief Minister. It is now fairly established that the counter terror operations of the army in Kashmir are all Intelligence based - which guarantees minimal collateral damage and that the tradition of 'restraint' in the exercise of powers under the AFSPA has now become a built-in factor in the Army's approach.
That the state administration had evidently thrown up its hand during the civic disturbances caused by stone pelting groups became clear when the top leaders of the Valley parties made an absurd suggestion that India must talk to Pakistan if stone pelting was to be stopped. They were unwittingly accepting that Pak agents were behind the organised stone pelting - it did not occur to them that it was the primary responsibility of the state administration and police at the ground level to identify the ring leaders in the payroll of Pakistan and take deterrent action against them. The non-performance of the state machinery in producing 'Intelligence from below' is a major issue in Kashmir - it suits the rulers there to put the entire onus on the central agencies. There is need to identify and weed out Pak agents hibernating in the state administration.
The state governments run by the Valley parties did not fulfil their responsibilities of promoting development, taking care of family welfare and creating opportunities for aspirational youth in the state - all because of corruption and a desire to maintain captive constituencies for political gain. This vicious cycle of vested interests has to be broken. There is no reason why Collectors and SPs of districts should not be holding weekly meetings with citizens to hear their local demands and to draw up lists of youth who want skill training, financial help for launching a start-up or simply desire to get a job with the state or Central government. They should have an outreach to families who want to keep their youngsters from drifting towards militancy. The state government must embrace all the people it is ruling and create an atmosphere of openness. It is hoped that the new Home Minister of India will change the course of administration in Kashmir - he will have to show the hardened separatists their place by pursuing relentless legal action against them.
For the period ahead when Pakistan is expected to step up its offensive in Kashmir it is necessary that during the Centre's rule, the state is put in the charge of a mature civilian of national security background who understands administration, knows about the working of the armed forces and appreciates Intelligence reports on the plans of the Pak agencies for Kashmir. It is not necessary that only a politician would understand the nuances of electoral politics. Administrative management of elections as an event is what is more important. India's no nonsense approach to Pakistan on the issue of terror remains valid. Ways have to be found to restore the socio-cultural milieu in the state that makes people resist the imposition of Salafism and get back to the simple all inclusive Sufi traditions of Kashmiriyat.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau) IANS