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Approach towards Kashmir in 2021 The Excelsior 14 Jan 2021
The year 2020 commenced with the UT under the spoke of security forces as a fall out of abrogation of article 370. COVID 19 restrictions added to those already prevalent in the region. Senior politicians, representing major political parties, remained under detention, to be released in turn as the situation improved. They were released gradually over the year, with Mehbooba Mufti being the last in mid-October.
Immediately after her release, valley political parties combined together to form the PAGD (People’s Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration), which announced its intention of working together to restore the original status of the valley. The announcement of the District development Council (DDC) elections came as a surprise, compelling them to participate on a united platform to avoid being made irrelevant.
The last major event of 2020 was the successful conduct of DDC elections. Apart from major valley political parties and national parties, there were a host of independent candidates, who participated and performed well. There were no calls for boycott, no intimidation of candidates and no violence. These elections were smoother than similar elections conducted in other parts of the country, credit for which must go to the local population and security forces. The enthusiasm in most parts of the valley displayed a desire for development and growth as against terrorism.
Throughout the year, security forces operated in coordination, devoid of political pressure and gained the upper hand. The blocking of 4G networks, which continues to the present, reduced contact between terrorists and their handlers, isolating them for easier elimination. The valley witnessed relative peace due to multiple reasons.
Infiltration was down as the counter infiltration grid remained strong. The Hurriyat which stoked fires of hatred, anger and advocated violence was rendered ineffective. Over ground workers, who fuelled violence at protest sites and incited youth to join militant groups were devoid of funding. Many were arrested and the rest went underground. Public funerals of militants were stopped, preventing ‘funeral brigades’ from exploiting these occasions to recruit fresh militants and whip up anti-India passions. COVID 19 was well handled by the local administration and this brought about a sense of acceptance. Lack of political activity prevented youth from being carried away by repeated rhetoric of demographic change.
Desperation within Pak on its failing Kashmir policy was evident. With reduced violence, it knew the region was slipping away. Support to infiltration led to increased ceasefire violations including targeting of villages close to the LoC resulting in civilian casualties. Strong Indian counter strikes caused intense damage to Pak posts, its personnel and launch pads.
Lack of weapons with terrorists led to new inductees being untrained and unmotivated resulting in either increased surrenders or short life spans. Reports indicate that shortfall of weapons compelled groups to train new cadre online, leaving most recruits incapable of challenging trained soldiers. The encounter in Nagrota where four Pak terrorists were eliminated carrying ten weapons highlights that Pak has realized that terrorism is waning and that without weapons, normalcy is evident.
As per J and K DGP, Dilbagh Singh, there were over 100 encounters and 225 terrorists were eliminated during 2020. He stated, ‘There has been a slight increase in the number of people joining terrorist ranks in comparison to 2019. However, the positive aspect is that 70 per cent of them were either eliminated or arrested. The shelf life of terrorists has decreased.’
The encounter in Srinagar on 30th Dec, in which three local terrorists were killed leading to claims of them being innocents displayed the disconnect between parents, local terrorists and security forces. Such incidents seeking to enhance pressure on security forces are expected to continue. They will invariably get local political backing as valley politicians struggle to stay relevant.
The killing of a 65-year-old jeweller, Satpal Nischal, on 31 Dec, only because he had obtained a domicile certificate, giving him rights to purchase land in the valley, indicates that such incidents, though sporadic, would continue to occur, aimed at creating fear within specific communities. Grenade attacks or random firing only to display that all is not well will be a regular occurrence. The intention will remain to maintain a fear psychosis by displaying that terrorists can choose random targets. Terrorism currently remains largely confined to South Kashmir.
2021 will bring forth its own challenges, however, the government must move forward and exploit the current scenario. The DDC elections were fought on party lines and hence all political parties will have to deliver development. If they are lax, those which are a part of the DDC will face wrath and anger in forthcoming elections, whenever held. If DDC’s are backed by the government, ignoring political biases, the region will witness development and subsequently integration with the mainstream. Hence, political leaders will have to sing a different tune if they wish to stay relevant.
The voting pattern in the DDC elections displayed the disconnect between South Kashmir and the rest of the region. It also indicates that this region continues under the influence of pro-Pak elements. It will remain an area of concern.
Terrorism will need to continue being handled as earlier. There can be no laxity. One major terrorist strike in the valley can overturn the hard work undertaken over a period of time. It could display a different message globally, which is what Pakistan would desire. It could also be a trigger for recruitment of fresh militants. There is no doubt that India would offensively react, hitting Pak where it hurts the most, however, this would not undo the damage the incident could cause, both internally and externally.
Pak is now being compelled to switch to narco-terrorism to fund its actions in Kashmir, an act which security forces must be prepared for. It would also attempt to enhance employment of drones for dropping weapons into the region. Infiltration attempts will continue, which must be countered with strong responses as was being done in 2020. Collateral damage must be acceptable.
The year commenced with the UT government signing multiple MOU’s for implementation of Mega Hydro power projects, in a bid to make J and K a power surplus region in the country. Soon thereafter, the Lt Governor announced a Rs 28,400-crore industrial scheme for the UT, which would be applicable till 2037 and is expected to generate 4.5 lakh jobs. Hopefully, these will be amongst multiple other initiatives which the government will undertake to enhance development.
In summary, the valley would see forward movement in almost all aspects. However, chances of slipping back due to forced or unforced errors or laxity on the part of security forces is possible. Hence, close coordination between security and intelligence agencies, as existing presently, must continue. Politically, till assembly elections are announced, there would continue being adverse comments by valley politicians, which must be ignored as they too need to remain relevant. Special attention would need to be paid to South Kashmir. Launching developmental projects, with high visibility, will convince the local population of the government’s intention. Finally, the DDCs must be backed, without political inhibition, to convey to residents that the best form of development is democracy and grassroot democracy is the answer.