Kashmir: Back to Square One?

pulwama reuters

The terror attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama (Jammu and Kashmir), which killed dozens of soldiers of the paramilitary forces, sent shock waves across the country and the world.  The attack came in a crucial time of political uncertainty in J&K, the forthcoming general elections in India, and the meetings planned in connection with the opening of Kartarpur corridor for the facilitation of pilgrims with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which unleashed similar terror campaigns before in several places like Uri, and is believed to have been an associate of the Indian Parliament attack in 2001. The mastermind of these attacks is Maulana Masood Azhar, who was arrested by India in the 1990s but, later, released as part of a hostage exchange in the wake of the high jacking an Indian Airlines flight to Kabul in 1999.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “perpetrators of Pulwama terror attack act will be punished” and that “they will have to pay a heavy price.” Stating that free hand has been given to the security forces to act, Modi “dared Pakistan not to live in illusion that it can destabilize India. Our neighbour which is already isolated by the global community is in a state of illusion, if it thinks that it can demoralize India with its dastardly acts and nefarious designs.” He continued: “Let me state categorically that it should stop day dreaming to destabilize India.  This neighbour of ours which is in a state of economic despair must know that any such attempt is destined to fail and will be foiled” (PMIndia 2019).

The Ministry of External Affairs in its statement said that Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based   terrorist organization proscribed by the UN and other countries “has been given full freedom by Government of Pakistan to operate and expand his terror infrastructure in territories under the control of Pakistan and to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere with impunity.” The Ministry
strongly reiterated its “appeal to all members of the international community to support the proposal to list terrorists, including JeM Chief Masood Azhar, as a designated terrorist under the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council and to ban terrorist organisations operating from territories controlled by Pakistan” ” (India, Ministry of External Affairs” 2019b). Later, rejecting Pakistan Foreign Secretary’s statement on the non involvement the country, India’s foreign affairs ministry said that the “demand for an investigation is preposterous when there is a video of the suicide bomber declaring himself a member of the JeM. There are also other audio-visual and print material linking JeM to the terrorist attack. We have therefore no doubt that the claim is firmly established. The ministry demanded that “Pakistan take immediate and verifiable action against terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control to create a conducive atmosphere in the region free of terror”(India, Ministry of External Affairs” 2019b).

The Union Home Minister said “the country is fighting a decisive battle against terrorism unitedly and will certainly emerge victorious.” He said “the world stands with India and the morale of the security forces is very high.” Reiterating that “only a miniscule numbers of misguided youth have joined hands with those across the border in their evil design to spread terrorism” Rajnath Singh said “these elements are enemies of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The Home Minister also appealed the people “to maintain communal harmony “(India, Ministry of Home 2019). The all-party meeting on the Pulwama terror attack, chaired by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Parliament on 16 February, also resolved to stand united in solidarity with security forces in fighting terrorism and defending the unity and integrity of India.

The Government of India has apparently taken a series of decisions to offset the damage done. It has already withdrawn the MFN status granted to Pakistan in 1996, registered its official position through diplomatic channels, and launched an international campaign to draw the attention of world to the emerging situation. India may not risk an open war with Pakistan at this stage given the geopolitical complexities of the situation. However, given enormous political pay-offs in the background of the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, the BJP may use Pulwama episode as a rallying point for its own electoral advantage. There are criticisms of lapses in respect of the ‘intelligence failure’ and many tend to believe that we could have saved the lives of jawans had the security apparatus taken appropriate measures in a convoy of military vehicles involving more than 2000 soldiers. The opposition parties have taken a strategic stand in support of the Government (as reflected in the all-party meeting), at least until the dusts are settled, even as their criticism of lapses in respect of defence deals and compromises on national security continued.

The BJP-led NDA Government had undertaken “surgical strikes” on Pakistani military targets and terrorist camps across the Line of Control (LoC) in 2016 following JeM attacks on Indian military facilities. Defence experts conceded that emergency plans were afoot for retaliatory action against Pakistan in the event of a devastating terrorist attack. But all such options carry the risk of retaliation and uninhibited escalation given the fact that both countries have stockpiled nuclear weapons and advanced missile systems.

What is more critical is the internal situation in Kashmir. Already the state had entered a cycle of uncertainty following BJP’s decision to pull out of the coalition with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Interestingly, the reason put across by the BJP for its withdrawal is still important for the Modi government–that the alliance with PDP had become unsustainable in the background of mounting violence! (Seethi  2018).  BJP’s withdrawal came hardly a day after the suspension of ceasefire in the Kashmir Valley ordered by the Centre. Mehbooba Mufti was reported to have asked for continuance of ceasefire in the Valley. But the Centre declined this request in the background of BJP’s rethinking on its alliance with the PDP. Before these things happened,  a prominent journalist and editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, was  murdered outside his office by gunmen.  The murder had raised a very serious credibility crisis for the Mufti government because Bukhari’s brother was a member of her cabinet. Incidentally, it was on the same day that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its Report on the Human Rights in J&K and Azad Kashmir which catalogued the human rights abuses and violations over the last two years (UN, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2018; Seethi 2018).  The Report, which called for independent inquiry into human rights violations in both in J&K and Azad Kashmir, was rejected by India—calling it as an interference in the country’s national sovereignty and security. India called it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated.” India questioned the credibility of the report  calling it  “selective compilation of largely unverified information” (India, Ministry of External Affairs 2018). This was not the first time that New Delhi had rejected such reports and statements of international human rights agencies (Seethi 1999; Seethi 2005/2009; Seethi 2016).

There were already issues emerging from different corners of State, over years and months. The Army’s indiscriminate use of pellet guns on the protesting people had generated widespread condemnation.  The number of civilians who suffered injuries, including loss of vision, was very high. Indian army’s response was again aggravating the situation which led to more and more casualties and increasing incidents of human rights violations throughout the summer of 2016 and into 2018 (Seethi 2018).

Meanwhile, the militants in the Valley continued to gain strength. There were a large number of attacks on schools also during this period. The Union Government told the Parliament that as many as 32 schools were damaged in such attacks by militants. India accused Pakistan of actively supporting such armed groups based in territories controlled by Pakistan. It was reported that from the late 1980s, a number of militant groups have been actively operating in J&K, and they were responsible for unleashing human rights abuses, including kidnappings, killings of civilians and sexual violence(Ibid). The UN Report noted that the site of intervention by groups operating in J&K has shifted over the years. “In the 1990s, around a dozen significant armed groups were operating in the region; currently, less than half that number remain active. The main groups today include Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin; they are believed to be based in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. Hizbul Mujahideen is also part of the United Jihad Council, which began as a coalition of 14 armed groups in 1994, claiming to be fighting Indian rule…”(UN, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2018:38-39).  Though Pakistan denied of any support to these groups, the UN Report recorded experts’ opinion that “Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations across the Line of Control.” Three of them—Lashkar-e-Tayyiba,Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin—are listed on the Security Council “ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List”303 for their activities in J&K (Ibid).

Since the state of J&K has been placed under the Governor’s rule—the eighth in its political history—the Modi government has enormous freedom to control the State politics by using the security situation in the Valley. But JeM terror strike came as a big blow to its Kashmir policy as well as its strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan.

It’s hardly a week for the twentieth anniversary of the Lahore Declaration, signed between India and Pakistan during the BJP-led Government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, way back in February 1999, in the background of the rising tensions followed by nuclear tests conducted by the two countries. Among the major commitments made in the Declaration include their resolve to “intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.” They committed themselves to “refrain from intervention and interference in each other’s internal affairs.” While undertaking the task of promoting and protecting human rights, the two countries also reaffirmed  “their condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and their determination to combat this menace,” while agreeing to “intensify their composite and integrated dialogue process for an early and positive outcome of the agreed bilateral agenda” (India, Ministry of External Affairs 1999). Before the ink dried of the signing of the Lahore Declaration, there were reports of Pakistani intrusion into Kashmir which, eventually, resulted a major war in the Kargil sector in 1999. However, the latest terror episode shows that India has not learnt the lessons of the Kargil war which in fact had called for multi-level intelligence gathering and pre-emptive measures in respect of the intrusion and operation of non state actors in the Valley.




India, Ministry of Home, Press Information Bureau (2019): “Union Home Minister reviews security scenario in J&K at a high-level meeting in Srinagar,” http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1564834

India, Ministry of External Affairs (1999): “Lahore Declaration February, 1999,” https://mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?18997/Lahore+Declaration+February+1999

India, Ministry of External Affairs (2018): “Official Spokesperson’s response to a question on the Report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on “The human rights situation in Kashmir,” 14 June, http://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/29978/Official_Spokespersons_response_to_a_question_on_the_Report_by_the_Office_of_the_High_Commissioner_for_Human_Rights_on_The_human_rights_situation_in_K

India, Ministry of External Affairs (2019a): India strongly condemns the cowardly terrorist attack on our security forces in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir, https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/31053/India_strongly_condemns_the_cowardly_terrorist_attack_on_our_security_forces_in_Pulwama_Jammu_amp_Kashmir

India, Ministry of External Affairs (2019b): “Official Spokesperson’s response on Pakistan Foreign Secretary’s briefing rejecting Pakistan’s involvement in the Pulwama attack and Pakistan following a constructive approach, February 15, 2019,” https://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/31056/Official+Spokespersons+response+on+Pakistan+Foreign+Secretarys+briefing+rejecting+Pakistans+involvement+in+the+Pulwama+attack+and+Pakistan+following+a+constructive+approach

PMIndia(2019): “PM’s statement on terror attack in Pulwama, 15 Feb, 2019,”   http://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/pms-statement-on-terror-attack-in-pulwama/?comment=disable

Seethi, K.M. (2018): “Kashmir in a Dense Cauldron of Uncertainty,” Countercurrents, 20 June https://countercurrents.org/2018/06/20/kashmir-in-a-dense-cauldron-of-uncertainty/

Seethi, K.M. (2016): “Still Across the Line of Control and the ‘Unfinished Innings in Kashmir,” Countercurrents.org, 21 July.

Seethi, K.M. (2005/2009):  “Kashmir: Rethinking Security beyond the Line of Control,” in Rajen Harshe and K.M. Seethi (eds.), Engaging with the World: Critical Reflections on India’s Foreign Policy, New Delhi: Orient Longman/Orient Blackswan.

Seethi, K.M. (1999):  “A Tragedy of Betrayals: Questions Beyond the LoC in Kashmir,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.34, No.37, September 11.

UN, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2018):  Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit – Baltista, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/PK/DevelopmentsInKashmirJune2016ToApril2018.pdf

The author is Dean of Social Sciences and Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at [email protected]

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