February 2017 News

Why I Fear Kashmir Will See Its Deadliest Summer In 2017

23 February 2017
Daily Mail
Minhaz Merchant

Mumbai: As the snow melts along the mountain ridges that lead into the Kashmir Valley, the summer of 2017 could be the troubled state's deadliest yet. Stone-pelters have already employed a lethal new tactic to help Pakistan-sponsored jihadis. Last week several jawans and a major were killed by terrorists even as stone-pelters harried the army's counter-terrorism operation, allowing militants to escape into safe havens across the border. Terror: Chief of army staff General Bipin Rawat said Kashmiri youths creating hurdles in counter-terrorism operations or displaying Pakistani or ISIS flags would be treated as anti-national: 'Those supporting terror activities are being given an opportunity to join the national mainstream but if they continue with their acts, security forces will come down hard on them.' On cue, the Opposition undermined the army. Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad warned Gen Rawat instead of warning the stone-pelters or their paymasters in Islamabad: 'To threaten Kashmiri youth like this is unjustified. The government is to be blamed for the situation in Kashmir.' As winter gives way to spring in April and then to summer, the stone-pelters will be out in full force. They will again confront the Indian army. The failure to control the Pakistan-sponsored mobs last summer rests at least partly with Jammu and Kashmir's PDP-BJP government. The opposite poles in the coalition do not agree on how to deal with the violent stone pelters. Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti favours an accommodative line while the BJP wants tougher measures. But with an anaemic deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh, it has been unable to impose its will. An under-prepared army last summer used pellet guns on mobs which attacked army bunkers, severely wounding and blinding many protesters. The subsequent invective of Opposition politicians, especially from the National Conference, against Indian security forces played into the narrative of Pakistan's ISI which choreographs violent protests in the Valley. According to the Indian army, 'at least 25 terrorist have escaped the army dragnet during a dozen anti-terror operations over the last one year due to direct interference from stone-pelting mobs.' A senior army officer added: 'They include the encounters at Frisal and Hajan on February 12 and 14, in which, though five terrorists were killed, four managed to escape. Six soldiers, including a major, were also martyred in Frisal, Hajan and another encounter at Handwara.' Gen Rawat was chosen as army chief, superseding Gen Praveen Bakshi, largely due to his experience in counter-terrorism operations in Kashmir and along the Line of Control (LoC). In his first two months as army chief, Gen Rawat says he tried to adopt a 'people-friendly manner'. Stonepelting mobs helping terrorists escape by using diversionary tactics have, however, led to a spike in fatalities among jawans. In a change of tactics Gen Rawat has vowed to 'pursue them relentlessly'. Violence: The PDP-BJP government's handling of the violence in the Valley has been disappointing but entirely predictable. The two parties are ideological foes. The PDP is a soft separatist party, the BJP a nationalist party but with deeply polarizing elements in its hierarchy. An alliance between the two is a misfit in governing a complex state like J&K. As I wrote previously: 'Will the PDPBJP marriage of convenience survive Mehbooba's pro-separatist ideology? In the long-term, a Mehbooba-led PDPBJP government is unlikely to overcome its constituent parties' inherent ideological contradictions.' The Centre is not blameless either. The funds promised after Kashmir's devastating floods have still not been released. Since Mufti Mohammad Sayeed died in January 2016, governance in J&K has meandered. Mehbooba continues to play a double game. Her government has finally proposed a scheme (which amounts to no more than a pilot project) to resettle around 40,000 Kashmiri Pandits on designated lands in the Valley. Islamisation: Even if the scheme takes off - and separatist violence will ensure it won't - the sheer number of Kashmiri Pandits displaced since 1989 (well over 4,00,000) makes resettlement plausible only when the Valley's creeping Islamisation is reversed. Pakistan, beset with resurgent terrorism on its own soil, and uncertain about the Trump administration's stand on terrorism in south-central Asia, will use J&K to befuddle the Trump White House as it did the Obama and Bush administrations. Pakistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, has been lobbying furiously with the White House to soften its perceived anti-Pakistan bias. She has predictably blamed violence in J&K as a destabilising force in the region, tracing the root cause to the 'failure of India to hold a plebiscite in the Valley as the UN requires it to.' As Lodhi knows perfectly well, the UN does not require India to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir till every last Pakistani soldier vacates Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. She is hoping the Trump administration will ignore this pre-condition at the core of the August 1948 UN resolution. It is the Modi government's job to make sure Washington takes cognizance not only of the August 1948 UN resolution on J&K but also Pakistan's terror factories that continue to churn out jihadis. The US has called Pakistan 'the most dangerous country for the world'. That is a fine distinction from calling it the 'most dangerous country in the world' along with several others in the Middle East. It is time to put Pakistan, to borrow Hillary Clinton's phrase, in the same basket of deplorables.