Ominous Signs in Kashmir

In the afternoon of October 19, 2012, a group of suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists opened fire at a convoy of the Indian Army near Srinagar railway station, at the outskirts of the Srinagar city, capital of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). While fleeing through a nearby hotel, terrorists opened fire killing a hotel staffer and injuring two others. The LeT spokesperson later claimed responsibility for the attack. This incident and many past developments bear an ominous sign. Once more, Kashmir could be heading towards turbulent days.

Terrorism related fatalities have consistently dipped in Kashmir since 2001, below the 1000 mark in 2007 and the 200 mark in 2011. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, barely eighty fatalities have been recorded this year until October 18.

The dip in violence is generally ascribed to three factors: Strengthening of the counter-insurgency grid in J&K, which has neutralized much of the local militancy; the unveiling of a range of confidence building measures between India and Pakistan; and more importantly, the occupation of the Pakistani facilitators behind the cross-border militancy along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Not surprisingly, coinciding with the 2002 involvement of Pakistan in the war on terror in Afghanistan, militant activities have steadily declined in J&K. The average annual militancy related fatalities in the state was 2550 between 1990 and 2001. Between 2002 and 2011, it decreased to 1248. In the last three years (2009-2011) it has averaged barely 311, a significant improvement ever since militancy started in the state in 1990.

Not surprisingly, official statements have hailed the return of normalcy to the state. Notwithstanding the undercurrents of discontent, the number of tourists visiting the state has increased. The state recorded highest inflow of tourists in 2011. This has been cited by New Delhi as an example of stability in J&K. In view of the improved situation, presence of central police forces has been reduced by four battalions in past months.

However, in spite these positive indicators, the return of the state to chaos and days of militancy looks more probable than ever before. Several indicators of not only the untamed capacity of the militants, but their real intent of restarting a campaign of violence are now available.

At the foremost is a tactical campaign by the militants to target New Delhi’s endeavors to restart village level self-government institutions (called Panchayats) in the state. Successful elections held to the Panchayats in 2011 amid calls for boycott by the militants had been hailed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a “proof of the people’s desire to be able to lead normal lives free from the shadow of violence and terrorism.”

In recent months, militants have killed eight of such elected representatives. The climate of fear and intimidation has led to fifty-two representatives submitting written resignations to the authorities. Another 900 have published their resignations in local newspapers or have announced such resignations standing in front of the local mosques. The J&K government claims that the unwritten resignations do not count and the representatives continue to be in office. And yet it is no position to ensure that these 900 men return to work. The proclaimed gains from the 2011 elections stands severely eroded.

READ  Time to Reexamine Our View of 9/11

The October 19 attack was the first attack in capital Srinagar since May 2012. However, in the past nine months, terrorists have succeeded in not only in setting up arms dumps in what could be described as the state’s interior, but also carried out a number of precise spectacular attacks on security forces in many of J&K’s urban centers. These attacks may not yet have resulted in large number of fatalities. But they do suggest an untamed terrorist potential of disruption.

The Indian military has consistently warned of the thriving terrorist infrastructure in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), even when militancy was on a low web in the state. The J&K police intelligence show 824 youth “missing” from the state have reportedly joined militancy and are being trained in the PoK area. Moreover, official data indicate a 100 percent increase in cross-border infiltration by terror groups during the first seven months of 2012. Compared to ninety-three Pakistani militants who attempted to cross over last year, 193 militants have already infiltrated this year.

Over the past years, both India and Pakistan have made visible progress in their bilateral relations. Many of these developments are understandably results of the back channel diplomacy of the United States. In September 2012, both countries signed the liberalized visa agreement. In 2011, Pakistan appeared to make a break from the past by agreeing to reciprocate to India’s 1998 gesture of granting Most Favored Nation (MFN) to Pakistan. Ministers and senior level officials of both countries have met at regular intervals. For two successive years, Prime Minister Singh did not mention Pakistan in his addresses delivered on India’s Independence Day.

However, these positive developments notwithstanding, the issue of Kashmir continues to be whipped up by Pakistani civilian and military leaders to generate popular support at home. On September 25, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari reiterated in the United Nations that Pakistan “will continue to support the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to peacefully choose their destiny.” The restart of full-blown terrorism in J&K, as a result of such moral support, can obliterate all the political and economic achievements of the past years.

In spite of the attempts by Pakistan to internationalize the Kashmir issue, India remains firmly opposed to any external intervention in its “internal” affairs. This minimizes the scope of direct American influence in the conflict. However, the US can still play a positive role by continuing to push for greater engagement between both countries and ensuring that the two nuclear powers can at least keep the issue in the back burner.

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is a Singapore-based security analyst and consultant. He was Deputy Director in the National Security Council Secretariat, New Delhi and can be contacted at bibhuroutray@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @BibhuRoutray. Read other articles by Bibhu.

  • Salman Ali Khan

    Completely ignored the aspect of state terrorism and genocide of the Kashmirs by the Indian Army. Could have also mentioned the number of civilians killed by military and extra judicial killings from the agencies.
    It is easier to lay blame on Pakistan where India has overruled the right of the people of Kashmir to determine their future.
    A completely biased and manipulative view contrary to the facts.