2023 A happening year for J and K The Excelsior 02 Jan 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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2023: A happening year for J and K The Excelsior 02 Jan 2023

          The elimination of four Pak infiltrated terrorists in a ‘chance encounter’ at Sidhra in Jammu as also recovery of a large quantity of arms and ammunition only displays that terrorism in Kashmir is far from over, though it has been largely contained. With none having been captured alive and the vehicle driver missing, what remains unknown is the region through which they infiltrated. The incident was immediately exploited by local politicians debunking government claims on zero terrorism in the Jammu region and no infiltration. In winters, passes along the LOC close while foot tracks are easily detected, especially with employment of drones, infiltration attempts are compelled to shift southwards.

There is no doubt that Pakistan will continue to foster terrorism in Kashmir, while claiming it to be an internal uprising, all the while keeping it below India’s threshold of tolerance in both numbers and incidents. It is aware that any major strike would be retaliated against. Pakistan cannot risk two borders being activated simultaneously, especially when the Taliban is backing the anti-Pak TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban). Every time the DGP of J and K claims reduction in terrorism, a new incident comes to light.

There have been regular reports of Pakistan employing drones to drop small arms and drugs into J and K to fund its narcoterrorism policy, as Hawala transactions are blocked. This will continue unabated as it remains a low-cost option. Spreading the drug culture assists Pak in its plans. Currently, the state has no strategy of dealing with increased drug abuse. Pak will remain hesitant to break the existing ceasefire as it is being compelled to enhance troops deployment along its western provinces and the Durand Line. This will imply little support to infiltration. 

Targeting of minority community members to create a panic environment and keep terrorism in regional and national headlines will be the cornerstone of Pakistan’s policy. Online threats to individuals are only an addition to project that terrorism has not ended. Infiltrated terrorists would be largely tasked to motivate youth to join their rank as also train them. They would not be directly involved in challenging security forces unless detected. Nothing will change in 2023, except that Pakistan will attempt to increase the tempo of minor attacks and enhance local fear as India prepares to host global and national events in the valley.

          For Pakistan, the biggest bugbear is the forthcoming G 20 preliminary meeting in Srinagar for which the state government has already constituted a 16-member committee. This will be the most prestigious event in the region in a long time. Apart from benefitting the valley in terms of improvement in infrastructure, it would also showcase Kashmiri cuisine, handicrafts and tourism venues globally. Internationally, it would cement India’s claim over the region, debunking Pakistan’s cries of the region being disputed.

Pakistan had objected to any Indian plan to hold a G 20 preliminary conference in Kashmir; however its objections were ignored. Pakistan will now be compelled to approach its three allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and China to protest and possibly boycott any event in the valley. Whether they will accede to Pakistan’s request remains to be seen. China had initially objected on conduct of events in Kashmir and Ladakh, however received no global support.

The other option, failing convincing its allies, is to revive terrorism in the region to levels which would dissuade India from conducting any event. This is difficult due to multiple reasons. Firstly, the local populace has largely overcome its desire to become part of a bankrupt and struggling Pak, preferring a growing India. Thus, human intelligence inputs have been flowing on presence of terrorists and would continue to flow.

Secondly, Indian security forces currently have a grip on the security environment and would not allow it to deteriorate. Finally, for India, stepping back, after the announcement is unacceptable and will apart from being a diplomatic setback also be a political loss of face internally. India should send a warning to Pak that any attempt to enhance terrorist activities in the valley will be met with military retaliation.  

With most steps, including issuance of voter lists complete, the region could witness assembly elections in 2023. The BJP National Secretary, Tarun Chugh, had stated last week that elections for the Union Territory are probably scheduled for May 2023. Political activity would gain pace. In all probability Kashmir based political parties, under the Gupkar banner will participate in a coordinated manner, seeking to keep the BJP away from power.

However, political ambitions of their leaders and differences in views on most subjects will make their governance difficult and possibly short lived, even if they do manage to grab power. In case the BJP comes to power, it is possible that the scenario may change for a long time. Violence and hartals preceding voting days as also projecting futility of elections has ended with the demise of the Hurriyat. There will never again be an incident akin to tying Farooq Ahmed Dar on a jeep as in 2017.   

After witnessing the benefits post removal of article 370 with introduction of central government schemes thus far not available to the local populace, the subject is no more a major election prank. The only politician raising it occasionally is Mehbooba Mufti. Even talks with Pakistan is losing relevance, especially with terrorism receding. It is occasionally heard from the likes of Farooq Abdullah. Security from terrorist strikes, development, demography change and increased employment avenues will be election issues. A major subject would be reconverting the Union Territory into a state. Thus far none have mentioned re-inclusion of Ladakh.

A major prerequisite for Kashmir, which will witness elections and global summits in 2023, is security and reduction in terrorism. Thus, pressure on security forces to create an environment for the government to host these events will increase. With majority of the public being with the government it is the minority and over ground workers which draw in youth into the fold of terrorism who will need to be monitored. To achieve this objective emphasis must shift towards creating a sound intelligence base. 2023 will be a happening year for J and K.