India: After Article 370

Winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris can alone facilitate their integration into India. Nothing can compensate what they have lost: Autonomy and special status

by Ashok K Mehta

Government agencies have reported that Friday prayers and Eid prayers were held in Jammu & Kashmir without incident. NDTV’s Srinagar correspondent Nazir Masoodi wished his mother and friends Eid Mubarak via his channel as other means of communication were blocked. He also reported that Eid celebrations were markedly subdued while Government reports indicated they were robust.

People in Kashmir

Normalcy is being projected. National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval has deployed himself in the Valley, boosting the morale of the police and fraternising with people, portraying a rosy picture. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Jammu &Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik and industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Uday Kotak have all made big promises of turning Jammu & Kashmir into a land of milk and honey. Why should the Kashmiris, who have been betrayed, believe any of them? After all, they have heard of economic packages several times earlier. In the loud din of the lockdown, all one can see are concertina coils of barbed wire, soldiers and pigeons.

During a debate in the Rajya Sabha over the abrogation of Article 370, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Jitendra Singh, reported that there was jubilation in Srinagar whereas television channels showed deserted streets. Four days later, at an Observer Research Foundation (ORF) conference in New Delhi, a Special Secretary to the Government of India referred to the situation in Kashmir as a “crisis.” A young Kashmiri researcher with ORF predicted that insurgency has been given a new 30-year lease of life. Normalcy and lockdown are a contradiction in terms.

Tomorrow, the Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar will be filled with police and officials when the tricolour will be unfurled and the State flag consigned to the dust-heap of history. What will resound in the Valley are Shah’s misplaced words that terminating Article 370 will end terrorism and usher in development. This is a patently false narrative.

On terrorism, post Burhan Wani, new militancy acquired an indigenous and religious colour: From Sufi to Salafi. Of the 250 militants in the Valley, 60 per cent are local lads. The Army’s ‘Operation All Out’ has gained an upper hand but its valuable hearts and minds campaign is absent. Last week, the Army announced that 83 per cent of the terrorists have a history of stone-throwing and advised mothers that if their wards were throwing stones for `500, they were “tomorrow’s terrorists.” The Army has dramatically reduced life-cycle of terrorists to “ten days to one year” from “six months to three to five years” a decade ago. The double whammy of eradicating special status and diminution from State to a Union Territory will produce a backlash — a virulent form of alienation.

Pakistan will not let go this opportunity to add fuel to fire. It has upped the ante by taking a number of political, diplomatic, people-to-people and military steps. While fidayeen squads have been infiltrated and more are in readiness, the use of IEDs and even classic suicide bombing a la Pulwama should be expected.

Stephen Cohen, the American India-Pakistan expert, had prophesied that wars between the two countries will go on for a hundred years before there is light at the end of the tunnel. The ORF researcher’s forecast about longevity of militancy is spot on. The Indian Army in Jammu & Kashmir since 1947, whose mandate is to create conditions for political outcomes — which it has many times — will remain stuck fighting limited wars triggered by inept politics.

Development in Jammu & Kashmir is a chimera. It’s the chicken and egg story about violence and development: Which comes first. As long as the roots of militancy are not addressed, socio-economic development plans will be hollow. None of the past promises by India Inc and PMO’s economic packages were implemented due to violence and political instability. In 1995, when militancy was endemic, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who was chairman of one of the companies in Jammu & Kashmir, made this tongue-in-cheek offer to a retired Major General: “Look sweetie, there’s this sick sawmill in Srinagar. It has no power, no labour, no wood, no security. But I want you, with your contacts in the Army, to operationalise it.” Even the Sam magic could not revive it.

Dr Haseeb Drabu, who was Jammu & Kashmir’s Finance Minister recently, said in a TV interview last week that linking Article 370 to the lack of development was misplaced. He asserted that the lack of public and private investment was due to militancy and violence. The powers for lease of land for 90 years and extendable have always been there: That’s how Hotel Oberoi, ITC and others came in. There is a big opportunity. For example, India is the fifth largest producer of apples in the world, of which 2.5 mn tonnes are from Jammu & Kashmir. Drabu said the situation will get worse due to uncertainty from the State’s demotion to a Union Territory, Finance Commission award and Goods and Services Tax.

In the external domain, there is misplaced optimism about having outflanked Pakistan. While Russia, the UAE and Maldives have called the Constitutional re-adjustments as an internal matter, others are sitting on the fence. The US said it was not consulted, counselled restraint and referred both countries to resolving outstanding issues through bilateral dialogue. The UN, while rejecting mediation, called for maximum restraint, affirming Jammu & Kashmir is governed by the UN Charter and applicable UN Security Council Resolutions and advised guidance by the Simla Agreement, which states that “the final status of Jammu & Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means….”

UN High Commission on Human Rights in its July 8 report had painted a grim though exaggerated picture of violation of civil liberties in Jammu & Kashmir. UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression has called the present crackdown as draconian. The China story is one of shifting stance. Initially, Beijing called “parties concerned to exercise restraint and caution”, especially actions that unilaterally change status quo. Later, it noted that creating Ladakh as separate Union Territory could alter status quo along the India-China border and damage China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally modifying domestic law, which was unacceptable. Still later, after the visit of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi referred both countries to the Simla Agreement, UN Charter and UN Security Council resolutions. All-weather allies agreed to work on a joint UN strategy. This could be the beginning of a two-front diplomatic offensive.

The Government is in for a long haul in Jammu & Kashmir. Winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris can alone facilitate their integration into India. Modi and Shah’s promises of development will not compensate Kashmiris for what they have lost: Autonomy and special status.

(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)

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