It has been over 100 days since Article 370 was abrogated and Jammu and Kashmir was turned into two separate Union Territories. Since then, two Lt Governors have been sworn in and the bifurcation is complete. During these 100 days there have been no casualties due to firing by security forces, indicating that the region remains under control, although the level of control remains questionable. Stone throwing does take place, though limited in scope. Communication networks have opened, but the internet remains inaccessible.
Violence by terrorists against locals defying their imposed ban and on outsiders working in Kashmir continues; but terrorists avoid attacking security forces. Their target is the Kashmir economy. This is also slowly being ignored. This is because they are weak and lack the numbers to make an impact. Encounters between security forces and terrorists continue, though the pace is reduced. Valley political leaders remain in detention alongside over-ground workers who have been fuelling violence in the region. The release of political leaders is being demanded as a means of indicating normalcy and reigniting the political process.
The LoC is active with Pakistan desperate to push in terrorists to boost violence and indicate globally that Kashmir is still a troubled spot. Strong Indian retaliation and a reinforced counter infiltration grid have hurt Pakistan, forcing it to continue changing launch pads and tactics of infiltration. Pakistan continues to cry wolf to the world on Kashmir yet has few takers. In desperation Prime Minister Imran Khan has been stating that the world ignores Kashmir, desiring economic ties with India. Pakistan knows it is losing the Kashmir narrative and has slowly reduced its warmongering.
It is also being forced to reduce global screaming by its allies whose ties with India improve. There is no doubt that India remains an economic powerhouse which the world desires to partner with. Governments across the globe support India, while few political groups and organizations criticise it. Multiple issues are being discussed on Kashmir. A major aspect is that the Kashmir kettle is boiling, however the lid tightly shut. As soon as the lid is lifted, violence levels could rise. The reason being given is that the local population feels let down by the Indian government.
The other view is that restrictions in place control the spread of fake Pakistani propaganda, while a majority of the public supports India and is relieved to see the end of dynastic political rule. Finally, there is the question that the longer India imposes restrictions the more international criticism and internal anger there would be. Within the valley rumours continue to circulate on the intentions of the government. The message being circulated is that India has acted against the interests of the public and is seeking to change the demography. This is being reinforced by the recent Ayodhya verdict.
The government has still not convinced the population of its intentions, despite daily advertisements in local newspapers listing benefits of the decision. The questions which arises is what next and how should the government move forward? First and foremost, the government must enhance its outreach with the public. It must convey by word of mouth and through its deeds that the region stands to gain by the decision. It needs to convince the population that their culture and demography will remain protected, while development and growth is on the agenda.
They need to be convinced that they are not second-class citizens and have the same rights and privileges as other Indians. Unless it begins witnessing a change in local conditions, the government is likely to remove all restrictions. There are some people who will never turn towards India willingly. Hence, despite all efforts there would be some degree of violence and this must be accepted. Being a democracy, the state should be willing to counter some resistance. Most important is developing a counter to rumourmongering in the region, propagated by Pakistan and its supporters. Secondly, in areas where there is peace and normalcy, internet restrictions must be lifted.
This would enhance confidence. Treating the complete region as one may be a wrong approach and only add to anger. Thirdly, the government needs to expand its security blanket as the target of terrorists remains the economy of the region and out-of-state workers who boost it. As the influence of terrorists wanes, the trust of the population would shift to the state. Simultaneously, the counter-infiltration grid and strong retaliation against Pakistan must continue. With winters approaching the chances of successful infiltration would reduce. Release of political leaders, over ground workers and Hurriyat should not be done in a hurry.
Their release is also not a means of indicating normalcy nor of igniting the political process. Their release may hinder growth of grassroots democracy, brought forth by Panchayat and Block Development Council elections which have been pushed by the government. It is essential to support this initiative to enhance confidence on the government’s promise of development. Internationally, there would remain a few governments and organizations which will raise their voice on continuing restrictions.
While efforts to convince them should continue, India should realize that it is working for peace and saving loss of precious lives, rather than opening doors to violence fuelled by Pakistani propaganda. While such restrictions impinge on daily lives, they are a necessity when the situation so demands. India must also seek to counter the Pakistani narrative globally. Christine Fair, a noted analyst, mentioned in a tweet that India is a rising power and hence will attract criticism and attention.
She stated, “The world will criticise the Indian state and its institutions because India matters globally. What India does affects people beyond India’s borders.” Hence, India should be prepared to hear and ignore criticism. Turkey and Malaysia openly sided with Pakistan and are paying the price. Few would follow their path. The 100-day test has concluded. The government must implement a strategy considering the current situation and its goal of integrating Kashmiris. It should make Kashmiris realise they are Indian, and that the state is with them in their progress and development.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)