A changing Kashmir The Excelsior 01 Mar 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


A changing Kashmir

A changing Kashmir The Excelsior 01 Mar 2024

          The PM visited Jammu last week and launched projects worth Rs 32,000 crores. There is no doubt that launching projects is now a national pass-time especially as elections draw close. They would have to stop with the imposition of the ‘election code of conduct.’ How many projects will ultimately be implemented is unknown. Every BJP leader visiting the state harps on the benefits to the population post abrogation of article 370.

          J and K had been politically dominated by few dynasties for decades, exploiting limitations imposed by article 370. This is likely to witness a change in forthcoming elections as the BJP has made sufficient headway into their strongholds. Their own Gupkar alliance also appears to be faltering. 

The conduct of elections at the grassroot levels displayed that the government has an intent to change the dynamics of the region. The imposition of president’s rule opened doors for security forces to concentrate on taking on terrorists on both sides of the Pir Panjal, without political interference. Levels of violence have dropped to negligible levels. The recent encounters South of the Pir Panjal in the Rajouri-Poonch sector, adds credence to the fact that wherever there is a void, it will be exploited.

It is essential that security forces ensure they do not mistreat civilian population, especially post unexpected casualties in counter-insurgency operations. As happened recently, strict action needs to be taken against those who break norms. It must be emphasized to commanders and troops that one tactical error in handling of the population could push years of hard work in winning hearts and minds to the background.      

          With the creation of educational institutions of national repute, including IIMs, IITs, AIIMSs etc, the government is displaying its intent of transforming J and K, bringing it at par with the rest of the country. Kashmir has already received investment worth Rs 5319 crore since abrogation of the article. This is from a promised investment of Rs 84,000 crores. These display positive signs of development.

          The PM also inaugurated the longest transportation tunnel of the country on the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL). For those of us, who during service interacted with students from the valley, travelling to different regions of the country for an exposure, as part of the Sadbhvana project, travel by train was unique. This will no longer be the case.

          Tourism, which formed the mainstay of the region’s economy has been receiving a boost. Tourist footfalls have witnessed an increase year by year. The conduct of a G20 preliminary meeting in Srinagar was a milestone as it projected normalcy in the region, while sending a global message of tourism.

The discovery of Lithium in the Reasi district will be a financial boon to the region. Its mining needs to be handled with care and not be bogged in controversy. In the healthcare sector J and K has witnessed an improvement. 2000 additional medical seats have been allocated to the Union Territory to meet shortfalls of doctors. The introduction of central government schemes has enhanced confidence of the public.

The development in J and K is in sharp contrast to the suffering of the populace in POJK (Pakistan Occupied J and K) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB). Protests across POJK and GB is indicative of disgruntlement in the manner in which the Pak army runs the region. While J and K witnesses a boon in development, POJK sinks. Residents of POJK and GB are demanding integration with India, a reverse of what was witnessed in the valley in the nineties. It is a matter of time before they rise in arms against the maltreatment and discrimination being meted to them, adding to Pakistan’s insecurity.

Militancy in the region is on the decline. It does not imply it has ended. In its year-end report (comparing 2023 to 2018, a year before nullification of article 370) the Home Ministry stated that terrorist incidents in the valley were down to 44 in 2023 from 218 in 2018. There were nil incidents of organized hartals and stone pelting recorded in the year as compared to 52 hartals and 1221 stone pelting incidents in 2018. Simultaneously, encounters dropped to 48 from 149, civilian casualties to 13 from 55 and security personnel deaths to 26 from 91.

On the negative side, J and K is witnessing an increase in drug related cases. As per the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 60,000 people in Jammu and Kashmir are struggling with drug addiction since 2018, a large increase. Pakistan is now pushing narco-terrorism as its methodology in the region. The government is roping in Imams to help it in its battle against drugs. Unless this is tackled in an organized manner, the situation could deteriorate.

Added is the fear amongst the masses of the government attempting to change demography of the region, as a fallout of the abrogation of article 370. This is being raised at regular intervals by valley based political parties to convey their displeasure against changing the stature of the region. The government would need to work towards this and recreate the confidence amongst the masses.

The role of Pakistan in destabilizing the region appears to be faltering. It will continue to attempt to push through terrorism, desperate to project a disputed status to the region. It’s comparing every trouble spot in the world, including Gaza, to Kashmir only highlights that all it has attempted has been a failure and is now fighting a losing battle. However, fearful of Indian response it will ensure that terrorism does not cross a threshold.

The anger amongst its own people in POJK and GB has removed the belief amongst the Kashmiris that Pakistan is a better alternative. Pakistan flags have almost disappeared so has chants supporting Pakistan. The people have realized that they were being shown a picture which was far from reality.

Current efforts at bringing economic development in the valley must continue alongside confidence building measures. This will make Pakistan’s narrative redundant. In addition, India must encourage dissent across the LOC.