The only way to bring about lasting peace in J&K is through reconciliation and meaningful engagement that honours the dignity of the people of J&K, said former Chief Minister Mehbooba.
As far as the present ‘peace’ offensive in the Valley is concerned, it is quite possible that pea ce is gradually returning to the Valley, and there has indeed been a dip in violence. But that does not necessarily mean that Jammu and Kashmir has become peaceful.
The truth is that while militancy seems to have declined in the Valley, terrorism has increased in the Jammu region. Over the last two years, out of the seven major terror attacks, five attacks have taken place in the Jammu area two in Poonch, one in Sunjawan and one each in Nagrota and Rajouri. Between May 2021 and May 2023, security forces lost about thirty soldiers in various militant strikes in the Jammu region, while casualties in the Valley have declined, compared to the period prior to 5 August 2019. (The Statesman, 12 May 2023 ).
Military and police forces have largely succeeded in curbing militant activities in the Valley; and because of this militants have shifted their focus to the Jammu region, which is to the south of Pir Panjal.
There are sleeper cells on the entire 225 km-long border of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu and the topography of the region hilly terrain and forest cover ~ makes it easier for ter- rorists to hide.
Another important factor is the increasing use of drones by Pakistan to supply weapons to the terrorists. In Punjab, the BSF can intercept drones from across the border; but it is not alw- ays possible in the hills of Jammu, which explains the relative ease with which terrorists can access these weapons.
In a year-end interaction with media persons in Jammu, the Director General of Police, J&K, said that 2022 had seen a drop in terror activities in the State compared to earlier years and 14 policemen and 17 CRPF personnel were killed during the year in encounters with the terrorists, although he did not specify the number of deaths in the two regions ~ Jammu and Kashmir. (The Sunday Statesman, 1 January 2023.)
The decline in terror attacks in Kashmir, as noted, has been due to the overwhelming presence of security forces, but that does not mean terrorism has been abolished.
A top LeT commander,Yousuf Kantroo, responsible for the killing of security personnel and civilians, and three other militants were killed in encounters with security forces in Baramula in April 2022, in which four Army soldiers and a policeman were injured.
Between January and 28 June 2022, militants carried out at least 19 targeted attacks and the victims included government employees, off-duty police officers, teachers, migrant labourers and a woman famous for her Instagram videos. What is worrying is that militants
were targeting the minority Hindus, for the first time since the early 1990s when the Kashmiri Pandits had been attacked and had to flee their homes. During April-June 2022, at least six Hindus were killed. The killing of a 17-year old migrant labourer from Bihar and a grenade attack on 2 Bihari migrant labourers in the Algar Zainpora area of Shopian in June 2022 led to the flight of migrant workers from the Valley.
Matters came to such a pass that Kashmiri Pandits working in the Valley wanted to move out. In June 2022, sensing their insecurity, the Education Depar- tment decided to transfer 177 Kashmiri Pandit teachers from various districts of the Valley to Srinagar city, but they rejected these transfer orders and wanted to be sent to Jammu till the situation became normal in the Valley.
This was, however, contrary to the Central government’s policy that Kashmiri Pandit employees recruited under the PM’s package would not be trans- ferred outside the Valley, but would be accommodated in safe places within. The reason for this was that the government did not want to be a partner in ethnic cleansing of the Valley.
Targeted killing of Hindus had been going on in the Valley since the end of December 2020 and got accelerated during April-June 2022. No wonder more than 60 per cent of the Pandit
employees reportedly fled the Valley and reached Jammu despite the government’s efforts to stop them.
Similarly the Dogra employees recruited under the SC quota several years ago in Kashmir also returned to Jammu. (The Statesman, 5 June 2022). Surely these developments do not indicate the return of normalcy to Kashmir. The year 2023 began with high hopes about the return of peace to Jammu and Kashmir, as the DGP pointed out in the year end review of the situation. 2022 was the best year in terms of the decline in militancy.
Senior Army Officers with experience of working in Jammu and Kashmir also chipped in with the claim of normalcy returning to the Valley. But how sustainable will that be? Let us take a few examples.
In the last week of April 2023, security forces arrested Farooq Ahmad Wani, a resident of Haigam Sopore in Baramula in Kashmir. He used to provide services to a five-star hotel in Gulmarg and was also working clandestinely for terror groups. He was directly in contact with the ISI, across the border. A visit to Gulmarg was a part of the itinerary of dignitaries attending the G-20 Tourism Ministers’ conclave.
Wani told security forces that terrorists were preparing to launch a 26/11 type attack by storming into the hotel and targeting people there indiscriminately, including the dignitaries, as was done in Mumbai during the attack on the Taj Hotel and, as in 2008, the plan was to target 2-3 places simultaneously.
Wani’s arrest foiled this plan, and caused a change in the itinerary of the conference. The success of the Conference, no doubt, enhanced India’s prestige; but this was possible because of the overwhelming presence of security forces, not only in Srinagar but also in other parts of the Valley.
Targeted attacks on Hindus and non-locals is a sort of backlash against the BJP-led NDA government’s policy of allowing Indian citizens living outside J&K to purchase land and acquire residency in the ter- ritory as the local Muslims fear the government is trying to bri- ng about demographic changes by altering the socio-religious character of the former Muslim majority State.
This resentment may increase with passage of the two recently-introduced Bills. The J&K Delimitation Panel’s final report for redrawing of electoral constituencies has been sharply criticised by most of the Valley- based political parties, as out of the 90 assembly constituencies, 43 will be part of Jammu and 47 of the Kashmir region.
The region will have five parliamentary Constituencies of which one has been carved out by combining Anantnag in Kashmir with Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu.
The delimitation report ‘disempowers Kashmiris’ allege critics, because through the delimi- tation process, Kashmir’s share of Assembly constituencies will increase from 43 to 47 while that of Jammu will increase from 30 to 43.
‘The GOI has used or misused independent institutions to turn the electoral majority into a minority by using geography, access as a ruse’, said the PDP. Both the Peoples’ Confer- ence led by Sajad Lone and the J&K Apni Party also criticised the Delimitation Panel’s final report, while NC leader Farooq Abdullah’s response was evasive since as an Associate Member of the Panel, he became party to the decision. The Delimitation Panel’s final report also revealed fissures within the political parties who had signed the Gupkar Declaration.
Conflicts in Jammu & Kash- mir, as in Manipur, are multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Sustainable peace may return to the Valley, and to J&K, only through the pursuit of inclusive po- litics, restoration of democratic governance and implementation of policies directed to meet the common man’s needs and aspirations.
If, on the other hand, the government’s policy is designed to gain electoral dividends only, peace in the Valley may prove to be fragile.
(The writer is Professor (Retd.) of International Relations, and a former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Jadavpur University)