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Rediff.com  » News » Fear returns to the Kashmir Valley

Fear returns to the Kashmir Valley

By Mohammad Sayeed Malik
December 08, 2014 17:05 IST
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A Special Operations Group member takes position near the encounter site in Srinagar. Photograph: Umar Ganie'The situation is in real danger of swinging back to the fearful days of the 1990s, primarily for want of a well thought out action plan in New Delhi,' warns Mohammad Sayeed Malik.

The planning, timing and execution of deadly terrorist attacks across the Kashmir valley, on Friday, December 5, betrayed a meticulous package of messages from across the border:

  • Participation in elections is not risk-free, but continues to carry its old price tag.
  • Declining level of militancy-related incidents should not be mistaken for eclipse of the phenomenon.
  • India's total (diplomatic) disengagement with Pakistan has consequences.

Some sort of dramatic display had become overdue to boost the morale of the poll boycott (separatist) lobby in the valley after its unprecedented marginalisation in the first two phases of the ongoing 5-phase assembly polls that witnessed an unexpectedly large turnout of voters across the conflict-ridden border state.

Image: A Special Operations Group member takes position near the encounter site in Srinagar. Photograph: Umar Ganie

The timing of the terrorist attacks in north, central and south Kashmir in a coordinated manner, a few days before the third phase of polling and ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Srinagar visit on December 8, said that much in so many ways.

The turnout in the third phase would provide a measure of immediate impact on the ground. However, it looks that some amount of fear is bound to reflect itself in the next round; though to what extent would be known only after the December 9 polling is held.

An election boycott in the valley is traditionally a reckonable factor in the end result. It would have to be seen as to who amongst the contending (four) main rivals stand to benefit and by how much.

The Bharatiya Janata Party making its maiden foray into the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley is commonly believed to be banking on a low turnout in a few segments where it is pinning hopes on a vote split amongst its local rivals, coupled with its estimated gain from total support of the migrant Kashmiri Pandit voters.

The beleaguered National Conference is also hoping to harvest its share from a reduced turnout of voters, especially in the nine assembly segments falling within Srinagar. The Peoples Democratic Party and the Congress are at the losing end of this game.

Peaceful conduct of the elections so far had proved the efficacy of the multi-layered security grid comprising the state police, paramilitary forces and the army.

Sporadic attempts including cross-LoC infiltration were effectively frustrated by the forces enabling voters and campaigners to have the field unto themselves.

Friday's suicide attack on the Uri military camp, close to the LoC, resulting in several casualties, was aimed at sending a reminder that insurgency in Kashmir is always an option if and when the diplomatic doors are shut by India.

Significantly, its political backdrop across the border, in Lahore, left nothing to the imagination: Muhammad Sayeed was holding his show to flex his muscle, apparently with the overt support of the Pakistani 'establishment'. This cannot be mere coincidence.

Security and diplomatic analysts say the total disengagement with Pakistan could prove counterproductive until and unless the new (ultra-nationalistic) regime in New Delhi has a game plan of its own and it is also capable of walking along that course.

Abrupt (ill-advised as some say) cancellation of the foreign secretary-level India-Pakistan meeting was not followed up with any alternate course of action.

Pakistan felt free to revert to its old tactics to which India had no long-term answer. Infiltration across the LoC and cross border firing returned after the 2004 ceasefire had by and large held under UPA-2 rule.

The NDA-2 regime does not seem to have reckoned with the fallout of the total disengagement on the dynamics of Pakistan's internal political equations, vis-a-vis the all-powerful military establishment.

Besides, the Imran Khan phenomenon, also being ascribed to the military establishment in Rawalpindi, has added to uncertainties across the border.

Historically, India's disengagement is taken advantage of by Pakistan's military establishment whose civilian facade is provided by the likes of Sayeed.

Kashmir is a readymade trigger to fire this combination. Stagnation on the diplomatic front offers Pakistan convenient ammunition to embark on the type of adventure like the one witnessed on Friday.

A fortified artillery base near the LoC was attacked (in North Kashmir), a militant attack was carried out in Srinagar (Central Kashmir) and grenades were hurled at Tral and Shopian (South Kashmir).

The fear factor was back on the election scene.

If NDA-2 has any plan to counter this strategy from across the LoC it has so far been a well-kept secret.

The ground situation in Kashmir, though relatively calm and peaceful, is still too fragile to withstand the inevitable destabilising effects of incursions from across the border or triggered from there remotely. Political stability and overall normalcy are also vulnerable to disruption.

The electoral stakes of rivals in the poll fray are too insignificant compared with the long range implications of these developments upon the overall security situation in J&K. It has taken more than a decade of tortuous ups and downs to bring the ground situation up to this level.

The situation is in real danger of swinging back to the fearful days of the 1990s, primarily for want of a well thought out action plan in New Delhi. This element has been a key factor in determining the course of events on the ground in J&K.

Issues related to the ongoing assembly election add urgency to the need for a comprehensive diplomatic-and security mindset in New Delhi.

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