On the first anniversary of the effective abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and the administrative reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir – truly landmark political decisions – year-end stock taking is being done with a fine tooth-comb. What has been gained and what lost? The domains in which claims and counter claims are being made include development, infrastructure, grassroots democracy, anti-corruption measures, tourism, creation of jobs, relative freedom, quality of life and perhaps a few more. This was expected, especially when the decision was strongly supported in Parliament with a two thirds majority in Parliament but also had considerable political opposition outside it.
To welcome with such transactional responses the anniversary of an important, irreversible political decision which actually altered the contours of national security in no small way does little justice to the magnitude of the change. I am, therefore, refraining from a bean count of reforms. All I will do here is to take stock of how the situation handling post Aug 5, 2019 – a work in progress – has impacted the security environment. Security here has a larger connotation than the normal perception of merely counting terrorists killed or infiltrated. It refers more to the ability of adversaries to interfere in our internal affairs and the effective integration of J&K into the Union of India, the very purpose of this long-delayed decision.
The Aug 5, 2019 decisions were bold and pathbreaking because there was a crying need for them for many years, definitely the last three decades since the proxy war began in J&K. The centre of gravity of the Pakistani sponsored proxy war was always identified as the ‘people of J&K’, many of whom openly expounded the ‘idea of Azadi’ (independence). The concept of Azadi was based upon the notion that J&K was different to the rest of India, being a Muslim majority state and historically not aligned with the mainland. Pakistan’s game plan was flexible; full secession of J&K to it, or sequential through the route of Azadi. The idea of Azadi created the sentiment of exclusivity which mainstream politicians in J&K further exploited to create the demand for autonomy. Both Articles 370 and 35A contributed to the creation of these sentiments which were fully exploited by anti-national elements and Pakistan.
Successive governments were hesitant about annulling the provisions especially once the passionate anger of Kashmiri sub-nationalism hit the streets. The entire system in J&K functioned outside Indian laws and many of the benefits enjoyed by the rest of the country were unavailable to so many deserving people who remained outside the ambit of empowerment, especially in the Jammu division. The voice of this important sub-region remained politically and socially muted. The powerful and dominant Kashmiri sub-nationalism was vulnerable to the machinations of external influence from Pakistan, which exploited every sentiment to run a proxy war for 30 years. The decisions of Aug 5, 2019 struck the root to neutralise that.
It’s an expression of naiveté that instead of attempting to comprehend the level to which the eco-system of separatism and terrorism is being progressively marginalised by these decisions, observers do a bean count of welfare projects and development in the very first year to determine success; there will be enough opportunities for stock taking of these in years that follow. When long pending decisions, postponed due to lack of comprehension of the aid they provided to anti-national events are finally taken, setting out the path towards their exploitation for the national good may produce several hiccups during the first steps. Course correction should of course be a norm but not wholesale condemnation of the ongoing efforts and effects, many of which may not be in consonance with perception of normality.
The presence of terrorists in large numbers has prevented effective governance for many years. Going against my own yardstick of normality, I only briefly resort to quoting figures. With a 40% reduction in local recruitment, only 26 confirmed terrorists infiltrated from PoK and intelligence-based operations averaging almost one a day, the numbers game is fully under control. The frequency of operations is not indicative of deterioration of the situation but reflective of positives such as flow of intelligence and inability of terrorists finding safe houses. The majority of these operations have not confronted stone throwing mobs which could earlier be rustled up in minutes. That should be a yardstick of progress towards conflict resolution.
However, the real measure of the progressive effectiveness of overall security is the success gained against networks which actually ran and perhaps are partially even now running J&K. There was no notion of understanding that clandestine finances, media, religious leaders, politicians, government servants and businessmen, all combined to create a system of networks through which separatism and terror remained alive. The targeting of this commenced in 2017, after the events of 2016. Those events had starkly brought home to the establishment the potential that existed of the revival of terror and negative sentiments through these networks each time the army and the police managed to gain full initiative. The networks had better intelligence than the police, full legal support, financial backing and enough sway to get mobs to wherever they wished. In the last one year, all this has been largely neutered although there is yet scope for revival. A permanent end to this will allow more scope for an integrative process to take effective shape. Commencement of a well-conceived information campaign to offset Pakistani propaganda, neuter the idea of Azadi and bring home the benefits of being a part of the Indian Union should now be a natural next step when 4G networks get functional.
Material benefits of good governance will flow in their time. What we should be concerned about is the future of politics in the Union Territory, the meeting of minds of the people of Jammu and Kashmir regions, the creation of conditions for the return of the Kashmiri Pandits with dignity and honour, and promotion of the aspirations of the youth. When conditions improve in the domain of physical security, automatically freedoms will progressively restore and people will have more to aspire for. However, the process towards that will be a difficult path due to J&K’s geostrategic location which gives rise to geopolitical trends against India’s interests.
Collusion between Pakistan and China, always in the making, is now a reality in the strategic domain. For sure, the display of decisiveness over Articles 370 and 35A – seen in Islamabad and Beijing as reflecting India’s enhanced strategic confidence – has contributed to the current border tension. The same strategic confidence will come in handy to pursue reforms with a sense of purpose as the ground turbulence subsides. In a year stricken by an extreme winter and the COVID-19 pandemic, the path towards eventual delivery of normality which will usher in growth and development has just been laid.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain is a former General Officer Commanding of the Indian Army’s 15 Corps (Srinagar), 21 Corps & Military Secretary. He is currently Member, National Disaster Management Authority