This is the problem the world gets when you have non-professional political leaders attempting to deal with long standing political and international issues. President Donald Trump, by no means astute in handling international affairs, assumed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted him to mediate on Jammu and Kashmir, probably based on an innocuous mention by the Indian PM that the US could help reduce tensions in the Indian subcontinent. Prime Minister Imran Khan, again a novice on understanding international affairs, presumed that with the US taking the lead to suggest mediation on J&K, this was the golden moment which his nation had been seeking for long.
Khan’s generals probably advised him that there could not be a better time to go for it, with the US firmly dependent on Pakistan for its negotiations with Taliban and a window yet available to attempt causing mayhem in Kashmir. General Qamar Bajwa has gone and misled his PM into thinking that India was vulnerable now and upping the ante in the Valley would lead to Pakistan regaining the ability to calibrate the situation in J&K.
Signals coming out of Kashmir also indicated that the new Indian government was hell bent on dismantling the ecosystem and networks on which separatism runs. If Indian action was not stopped this could put an end to Pakistan’s ability to be relevant in J&K.
The Amarnath yatra with all its vulnerabilities to action by irregulars still had time to go before it ended on August 15, also India’s Independence Day. That or any other major targets engaged by sponsored terrorists could pay rich dividends and evoke a response from India similar to Pulwama-Balakot, thus creating conditions for the US under Trump to mediate (or so the Pakistani perception went).
There was one problem. The Indian army had so emasculated the terrorist networks that a high profile attack using resident terror groups was not possible at short notice. Even the street agitation would run into problems due to lack of availability of finances with the separatists.
Something so emotive and big had to be done that there would be a backlash in the streets with the Indian police forces forced into targeting unarmed civilians and providing a multiplier effect. To execute this Pakistan needed to commence infiltration again. Such big tasks would need Pakistan army personnel’s organisational skills; a risk Bajwa was probably willing to take.
That started the sudden spurt of activity across the LoC in the Kashmir segment in the last few days of July 2019; concentration of trained terrorists, infiltration attempts galore and Border Action Team (BAT) activity. What are being read as BATs could well be attempts to infiltrate high profile Pakistan army personnel along with terrorists into the Valley. The Kashmir segment of the LoC went aflame with mortar and artillery fire for the first time in years. None of this activity was opposite Poonch and Rajouri, the traditional area of exchange of fire.
What Khan does not know is that mediation on J&K is only possible, when India too agrees to such a course. With the neo-nationalism so evident in the cadres of the ruling dispensation in India, the government cannot even imagine doing this. With Pakistan itself deliberately creating a crisis situation there can hardly be an opportunity for early intervention. This is clearly dangerous territory which Pakistan is stepping into, from which retraction may be extremely difficult. Economically it is in ruins, yet willing to risk a conventional standoff with India.
The government of India, with a fresh and decisive mandate and the ruling party’s manifesto already promising constitutional and administrative changes in Kashmir, considered this the most opportune time to act. The nullification of Articles 370 and 35A is being welcomed in two segments of the state. Ladakh is happy with the new status of Union territory (UT). The UT status with legislature for the Jammu and the Kashmir segment does not bifurcate the populous areas but certainly dilutes Kashmir’s political hold over the combined territory.
Dismantling those networks and systems which have enabled separatists and the Pakistani deep state to rule the roost, will now be much simpler with a greater say of New Delhi and perhaps of Jammu. There is still a lot of ground to cover both politically and administratively, which will happen now that the iron is hot.
As to response in the streets, the measures will certainly constrain the mainstream political parties. Hopefully they will not sponsor and resort to violence. The parties are all led by responsible personalities whose job it was to protest democratically till the final decision. Now that the decision has been taken it is incumbent on them to accept it and work towards optimally mainstreaming J&K.
It is yet early to assess what the final outcome will be on the streets of Kashmir. The army is well geared to negate any coercion by Pakistan at the LoC and enough CAPF deployment has been done to control any attempts at destabilisation. What the government needs to be mindful of is attempts by disparate groups to spread rumours and instigate communal tension. Failure to control that will never be advantageous to the nation.
(this article was first published in The Times of India)