New Challenges In Kashmir
13 December 2005
New Delhi: The great earthquake that devastated large parts of undivided Kashmir in October has had seismic consequences not just for its victims but also for political processes on both sides of the Line of Control. Jihadist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba have succeeded in leveraging the goodwill garnered by their well-funded earthquake relief effort to execute a series of high-profile terrorist strikes in India. Many believe this coming spring will see a new wave of violence - one that could put pressure on a détente process that is key to building an abiding peace in South Asia. In order to find a way out of what can, unchecked, snowball into the next India-Pakistan crisis, it is necessary to have a nuanced understanding of just what is going on in Jammu and Kashmir. India-Pakistan détente has yielded demonstrable results. Once the bilateral crisis of 2001-02 was defused, violence in the State has been in steady decline. Pakistan seems to have realised that high levels of jihadist violence in the State pose a threat not just to India, but also to its own interests. On the other hand, the conviction of the Pakistani Army and its Islamist allies that low-grade covert warfare is needed to secure concessions on J&K means an end to violence is not in sight. While terrorist violence has declined, it remains a brutal, life-shaping reality for ordinary people in and outside the State. If the peace process is to flower, it must be insulated from the pressures continued terrorist violence will bring to bear on India-Pakistan détente. What then can be done? Indian policy from the mid-1990s has been predicated on the assumption that, stripped of political legitimacy within J&K, terrorism cannot survive. Experience has shown this assumption to be dangerously flawed. Dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference is stalled because the organisation has no authority over terrorist groups, and thus cannot deliver even a limited de-escalation in return for political concessions from New Delhi. While carrying on a broad-based dialogue within J&K is vital to strengthening democracy, it is no substitute for fighting terrorism resolutely. On this front, the challenges are formidable. Although terrorist groups have demonstrated growing technological sophistication, Indian counter-intelligence and operational infrastructure remain grossly inadequate. Lashkar commanders are increasingly using secure satellite phone-based communication technologies that Indian intelligence organisations do not have the resources to decrypt. Despite the expanding reach of the cellphone network in J&K, no investments have been made to upgrade the Intelligence Bureau's communications capabilities in the State. The J&K police lack even such basic tools as a computerised online record base on suspects. Investments in modernising the security apparatus must be made - starting now. Policy-makers must start fighting violence more intelligently if peace is to have a real chance.