The encounter last week where four Pakistani terrorists were eliminated at Nagrota while attempting to infiltrate into the valley from Samba with large quantities of arms and ammunition is an indicator of increasing desperation within Pakistan. Surge in ceasefire violations, targeting Indian civilian population in Uri and Tangdar, increased attempts at infiltration, all of them failing, has added to their desperation. They see their Kashmir strategy going up in smoke.
As per reports only 20-25 Pakistantrained terrorists have managed to infiltrate into the valley this year. Most of them have been killed, leaving most terrorist groups leaderless. Total terrorists eliminated this year has crossed the 200 mark, most being locals. With no funds being transferred through hawala, overground workers have failed to provoke violence or incite fresh recruits needed to keep terrorism alive. Violence in support of terrorists trapped in encounters has receded. Even areas which were pro-Pakistan are now witnessing a change.
Pakistan released a dossier blaming India for supporting terrorism within their country. This was aimed at enhancing pressure on India but has failed. In the dossier, it blames India for ceasefire violations and targeting of civilians. It was hoping that Chinese actions in Ladakh would push India on the defensive, but that too failed adding to their woes. India has not only held the Chinese at bay but gained advantage by securing the Kailash Ridge. To display its confidence, India is not rushing for talks nor accepting limited withdrawal with China and is prepared to continue with the standoff through the winter.
There is no doubt that Pakistan is aware that time for infiltration in the valley is fast running out as the winter is setting in. With snow falling, tracking terrorists becomes easier. Hard Indian retaliation targeting terrorist camps and supporting Pakistan posts, with attendant collateral damage has pushed Pakistan to the brink. They are unwilling to risk any major operation which could lead to an Indian counterstrike.
Any counterstrike on Pakistan would adversely impact the power and control of the Pakistan army, which is already facing intense internal pressure from the People’s Democratic Movement and other rising protests across the country. There are demands from every quarter for the army to return to the barracks, which it has so far managed to stall. In case it is embarrassed by an Indian strike, it would either be compelled to counter or face internal political humiliation. Comments by Ayaz Sadiq, in the national assembly, projecting panic within the Pakistani military and political leadership after the Balakote strike continue to haunt the Pakistani leadership.
Aware that it can no longer play the nuclear card, the deep state is being careful in its approach. It has realised that its global support base has reduced with even close allies including Saudi Arabia and UAE singing the Indian song. China is already stalled in Ladakh and would be unwilling to enhance pressure to support Pakistan. Economically, Pakistan is in dire states. Its oil reserves cannot even sustain a few days of operations. The same is the state with its ammunition stocks.
What is hurting Pakistan even more is the announcement of the District Development Council (DDC) elections in Kashmir. The announcement of elections displays the confidence within the Indian government that the situation is near normal and terrorism is on the wane. To add to Pakistan’s woes is that their favourite proxy, the Hurriyat, is currently in a state of near collapse, with no ability to either enforce violence, protests or bandhs. Its silence since the abrogation of article 370 indicates this.
Increased surrenders of local terrorists, their reduced lifespan after joining terrorist groups and shortage of arms and ammunition available to them in the valley displays Pakistan’s failing strategy. Its attempts to employ drones to drop weapons in the region have met with limited success. Narcoterrorism is equally ineffective as monitoring is effective.
To add to Pakistan’s misery are the conditions created by the central government leading to the participation of all major political parties in the forthcoming DDC elections. The PAGD (Political Alliance for Gupkar Declaration), a grouping of 11 valley based political parties have realised that if they do not participate, they would lose control of the state to the BJP ending their political future.
While the PAGD continues to rant about restoration of article 370, this election would determine their fate. The elections, if conducted smoothly and without terrorist strikes, would be a battle between the BJP and all other political parties. For the globe, it would display return of democratic process in the valley and still Pakistan’s cries of resistance and forced incarceration of the region.
Victory by the BJP would indicate that the population has rejected Pakistan and accepted abrogation of Article 370. It would end Pakistan’s claim to the region as also prove that the valley is peaceful, and the population unwilling to support terrorism. This scenario is a nightmare for Pakistan. Hence, it would make every attempt to stall the elections. The latest encounter is a desperate attempt by Pakistan to push in terrorists to disrupt the peaceful election process currently underway.
The Indian government needs to act and ensure failure of Pakistan’s designs. Security to candidates, an action already being implemented, greater vigilance along the LOC and the IB, detailed checking of vehicles moving into the region, accompanied by strong retaliation to Pakistan ceasefire violations must be adopted. The fact that the terrorists eliminated last week had infiltrated through the IB in the Samba sector is indicative of Pakistan exploiting weak spots, which need to be strengthened.
The next few weeks are testing times. If India is to change the global narrative on Kashmir, then these elections must be conducted smoothly and without violence. Pakistan would make every attempt to disrupt the same as their Kashmir strategy depends on violence, intimidation and terrorism, all of which are waning. The game is on and India cannot afford to lose. It has gained the upper hand and it must ensure it does not lose it.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.