Why Kashmir Could Be Looking At A Long And Brutal Winter
It is the Kashmir valley's clear and apparent transition towards a pro-India normal that the terrorists seek to disrupt.
And in the coming winter, their desperation looks set to only increase.
Until a few days ago, the discussion around Kashmir was restricted to the huge influx of tourists this year, investment proposals and other detailed project reports pertaining to the development in the valley, infrastructure projects and connectivity, and ideas around governance to further economic development and social integration of the valley with the other parts of India.
However, the recent killing spree, aided by several terrorist groups, especially ‘The Resistance Front’ along with Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have shifted the discussion away from the development prospects to the underlying violence within the valley.
In Srinagar, a renowned local pharmacist and a street vendor from Bihar were targeted. Less than a week ago, two teachers were gunned down. They were first asked to step apart from their Muslim colleagues and then shot. Three Muslims were also killed in separate incidents, one of them being the president of a local traders’ body.
Even if we discount the religion factor for the sake of argument, given that even Muslims were killed by these terrorist groups, two questions arise. One, is this the end to the peace process that was ushered in the valley after the revocation of Article 370 and furthered by the buffer offered by the pandemic, and two, is this about eradicating certain religious communities from Kashmir completely or more?
The answer to the first question is an absolute no. Contrary to what many in the Delhi media circuit and otherwise would want to believe, the unfortunate killings of last 10 days in the valley cannot be mistaken as a complete reflection of the operational efficiency of the armed forces or the governance of the local administration.
As deliberated by the author here, the valley today is in a transition from religious fanaticism to economic nationalism, and more so on the right side, and therefore, such efforts can only disrupt the transition for a short period of time, but not derail it.
Two, this phase of unprecedented violence and the underlying tension that shall accompany it goes beyond demographic change. Yes, there is only a small percentage of Hindus and Sikhs left in the valley, but the violence today is nothing compared to the wrongs of the 1990s, and truth be told, the demographic battle was lost there itself.
While the government attempts to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits with homes and employment offers, it is not this attempt to undo the demographic damage but the growing pro-India sentiment since 2016-17 that is rattling the stakeholders of the conflict economy.
The stakeholders of the conflict economy are not merely political figures, think-tanks, or security agencies across the Line of Control, but some ground workers as well. Perhaps, this explains the recent crackdown in the Union Territory where more than 900 ground-workers affiliated to several terrorist organisations were detained by the Jammu Kashmir police.
However, these detentions were made to understand the terror support structure operational within the valley and were independent to the investigations being conducted for the recent killings.
For the Jammu Kashmir Police, the armed forces, and other investigation agencies, it would be critical to unearth the financial support network that has taken various forms. For instance, in Delhi, it takes the shape of prominent think tanks, aiding and advising political figures and parties hell bent on riling up sentiments in the valley.
Within the valley, these extend to a thriving narcotics network, now threatening to engulf the youth in the region. Around a week ago, on the LoC, a drug consignment worth 30 kilograms was busted in the Uri sector. With Taliban’s emergence in Afghanistan, a thriving drug route could be established along the LoC, posing another challenge for the armed forces.
Then, there is always the radicalisation that is carried out in religious confinements. Speaking to Swarajya on the condition of anonymity, a senior official from one of the operating forces in the valley elaborated on how calls were made from mosques to rile up people and get them on the streets.
Most of these calls, made from a religious lens, were to provoke people to take to the streets, pelt stones on the forces, or engage in acts of violence. The calls, more often than not, were not made on confirmed news, but rumours. Recently, such calls were made after the death of the infamous separatist, Syed Shah Geelani, thus warranting a curfew and an internet blackout within the region.
There is also the emerging threat from the Taliban. As Swarajya learned in its several conversations with officials from the local administration, including Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha (complete interview here), and the operating forces, the threat from Taliban is something everyone is still evaluating in their independent capacities.
However, a lesson can be drawn from the penetration of ISIS into Europe between 2016 and 2018. In London, Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, and other parts of Europe, ‘Lone Wolf’ terror attacks had become common. These were not about causing widespread damage or engineering a greater number of deaths but sending a message by ramming cars or lorries into pedestrians, going on a rampage with knives, and so forth.
Taliban, with the vindication of the West and a growing clout on the internet finds itself in a position where it may influence similar lone-wolf attacks in the valley, and for the operating agencies, the challenge would be to curb the impact of this possible virtual radicalisation.
Thus, a long cold brutal winter awaits Kashmir, threatening to disrupt the transition towards economic nationalism and a growing pro-India sentiment. These random acts of violence would be more about deterring the pro-India voices, Hindu or Muslim, and ensuring a sense of normalcy never prevails. For the forces, the challenge would be to find the various arms of the terror support network and neutralise them.
Today, an average Kashmiri is distracted more by the economy than the politics, thanks to the pandemic, and the likes of 'The Resistance Front' would want the attention to move back to politics. In the larger scheme of things, these killings are instrumental in brewing the conflict economy, one that the Modi government has been up in arms against since 2014.
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