Report prepared by: Mr. Varun Bhagat, Research Assistant, USI of India.
The United Service Institution (USI) of India organized a webinar on the topic “Evolving Politico-Security Paradigm in J&K” on 15th January 2021. The focus of discussion was on the current geopolitical and security scenario in the strategically important state of J&K following the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in 2019. This event was chaired by Maj Gen BK Sharma, AVSM, SM** (Retd), Director USI and moderated by Dr Roshan Khanijo, Assistant Director Research, (CS3). The panelists were Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, PVSM, AVSM & BAR, YSM, SM (Retd), Former GOC-in-C Northern Command, Mr. Hamid Bashani, Mr. Javed Beigh, Mr. Ashok Bhan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Mr. Anil Goswami, Former Union Home Secretary of India.
Salient points which came out in the webinar are in the succeeding paragraphs.
Pakistan’s Proxy War Strategy Post Revocation of Article 370 & 35A and India’s Response
For past several decades, Pakistan’s foreign policy towards India has been reactionary in nature to India’s administrative and/or strategic decisions. This was evident when post abrogation Pakistan’s PM made a statement that Pakistan won’t engage in any dialogue with India, until the autonomous status of the region is restored. However, post 5th August 2020, Pakistan has been unable to increase infiltration in Kashmir Valley, primarily due to the existence of a multi-tier counter-insurgency grid. Adding to this frustration is Pakistan’s worsening financial condition, slowing down of its China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and losing trust of key allies like UAE and Saudi Arabia and international bodies such as Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the Kashmir issue. Given such a backdrop, Pakistan’s future strategy would largely be as follows:
- Internationalisation of the J&K issue
- Focusing more on innovation and technology to give momentum to proxy war.
- Pakistan is also attempting to activate the resistance groups within the Kashmir Valley.
India’s response to proxy wars in the kinetic realm has always been adequate; it’s the non kinetic domain which needs more focus. India could use its position in diplomatic forums like United Nations (UN) to expose Pakistan’s real objectives and get the latter black-listed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Though, India should continue with its strategy of punitive deterrence towards Pakistan, efforts to persuade the latter to shed terrorism for the greater good of the Indian Subcontinent should always be endeavored.
State of Affairs in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB)
The people of POK, including Gilgit Baltistan (GB) have been a victim of Pakistan’s hegemony over the region. Neither the Karachi Agreement of 1949, nor the interim act of 1974 confers any meaningful democratic rights on the people. Same is the case in GB where despite its being made a quasi-province the people continue to be deprived of revenue from the rich resources and other constitutional and legal rights.
No regional party that does not owe allegiance to ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ can contest elections. The regional political parties harbouring nationalistic Kashmiri sentiments face oppression. The Pakistan military and intelligence establishment call the shots and there has been no devaluation of power at the grassroots level. The Human Resource Development Indices remain abysmally poor. There exists palpable anger and resentment in the people against Pakistan’s colonial approach. However, this has yet to manifest into large scale public demonstration due to the fact that a significant number of military personnel hail from the area. This has emerged as a moderating factor for the people to come onto the streets.
The region of POK and GB legally belongs to India. Thus far Pakistan has been pro-active in flagging the Kashmir issue at the UN. The time has come for India to call Pakistan’s bluff at the UN and bolster its legitimate claims to the entire region, including the Shaksgam Valley. Also, there is a need to expose Pakistan’s duplicitous behaviour and discrimination towards the people of POK and GB.
Impact of Proxy War on Kashmiri Society
The proxy war by Pakistan has, and continues to weaken the Sufi culture of Kashmir. It is replacing it with the Wahhabism form of extremism. Though the overall graph of violence has seen a decline, a sizeable presence of terrorists still looms large over the region. Hurriyat has largely become irrelevant and the funding to the terrorist groups has been controlled. Pakistan is now focused on psychological operations and using religion to ferment trouble. India also needs to counter the propaganda that India is applying the ‘Israel Model’ in J&K. It’s imperative that the state administration undertakes their tasks with utmost care to prevent giving any breeding ground to secessionist ideas in the region. Furthermore, to effectively counter the radicalisation that has been taking place in the Valley, deradicalisation of the youth is indispensable to restore normalcy in the UT. To be fruitful, this process would have to be carried out at various levels and would inevitably require Centre’s support for efficient implementation.
State of Minorities of J&K and Steps to Rehabilitate them
Kashmiri Pandits who form the second largest ethnic group in the UT, have not been the part of this ecosystem for more than 30 years. Sikhs too were victims of religious hatred instigated by Pakistan and subsequently carried out by terrorists, belonging to numerous outfits like Hizbul Mujahideen, etc. The National Human Rights Forum, established in 1993, in its report on the ethnic cleansing of minorities has described it as a genocide; further adding that it was carried out to achieve the secession of J&K and the possible annexation by Pakistan.
The Indian State must provide requisite conditions to facilitate the process of rehabilitation of the minority groups back to their roots. Any positive step in this direction would require initiating a dialogue with all the stakeholders and then attempting to reach a consensus. Additionally, it’s equally important that any possible plan of rehabilitation should lay emphasis on developing composite smart cities, rather than proposing isolated communities for the resettlement of the minorities.
Indian Government’s Response: Policies and Programmes
The annulment of Article 370 and 35A meant that the Constitution of India was fully applicable to the Union Territories (UT) of J&K and Ladakh. As a result, about 170 state laws stood null and void. Ever since the Abrogation, the government’s focus has been to usher in economic prosperity and development in the region by not just extending the ongoing Union policies and programmes, but also, by bringing in novel region specific reforms.
In an effort to provide much needed boost to the economy, the Centre has fast-tracked a development package worth Rs. 80,000 crores which was initially announced in 2015. Twenty of the 63 projects have been completed so far while the remaining are to be completed by 2022. As far as the infrastructure development is concerned, the State has set up a Corporation; this has raised approximately Rs. 8,000 crores for about 6,000 projects that have been languishing in the former state. In addition, about 3,000 kms of road has been completed under the PM Gramin Sadak Yojana.
Significant advancements have been made in the health sector; 7 news colleges have been opened in areas such as Baramulla, Anantnag etc. Setting up of AIIMS at 2 locations: Avantipur in Kashmir Valley, and Samba in Jammu is in progress.
For the past 70 years, J&K has only been able to harness 3,500MW of hydroelectric of its total potential of 25,000MW. Work has been initiated to raise the present capacity by another 3,000MW. Moreover, to fully realise the potential of Ladakh becoming a carbon neutral unity of the country, a 7,500MW solar park is envisaged to be set up. Recently, the UT conducted District Development Council Elections in J&K, which were fair and violence-free, thereby; witnessed the strengthening of democracy at the grassroots level.
Speakers were of the view that ushering in of the era of development along with energising the grass root democracy will be game changers and will bring peace and prosperity to the UT.
Report prepared by: Mr. Varun Bhagat, Research Assistant, USI of India.