A series of events from 01 March 2015 played out like the theatre of the absurd. On being sworn in as the Chief Minister of J&K on 1 March 2015, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed praised Pakistan, its terrorists and the Hurriyat/separatists, for allowing successful elections in J&K. The remark was insensitive to say the least, shocking the nation, but more was to follow. Masarat Alam, a hardline Hurriyat leader and organiser of the 2010 stone-pelting campaign, was released evoking further countrywide protests. While this turned out to be the handiwork of the previous dispensation, more by default than by design, reports from the government suggesting release of 800 more separatists evoked further uproar. Then on 20 March, while addressing the J&K Assembly, the Chief Minister stated that his government would initiate the process of scrapping the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the state. “I can’t promise as there is involvement of the Ministry of Defence but we will start the gradual process of scrapping of the AFSPA,” he said.
Perhaps it was political compulsions which made the Mufti choose to ignore the role played by Pakistan and the separatists in trying to disrupt the polls which led to 46 persons, including 11 civilians, 16 security forces personnel, and 19 terrorists losing their lives in various terrorist related incidents designed to mar the polls. Also ignored was the 27 November 2014 cross border terrorist attack on the Army in Arnia sector of Jammu District, in which five civilians and three SF personnel were killed and another attack on 5 December, which once again led to loss of lives. More worryingly, these attacks have not ceased.
On 08 March, when Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar visited Pakistan for the SAARC Summit, advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz said that his country wants to resolve all outstanding issues with India, including Kashmir, through dialogue. However, only 12 days, on 20 March, a terrorist attack in Kathua led to a policeman being killed and injuries to some personnel. A day later, on the Hindu and Parsi new year, two terrorists opened fire at the entrance of 81 Armoured Regiment on Jammu- Pathankot highway in Samba, fired under-slung grenades and escaped into the wooded area nearby, where they were chased and killed. Then on 23 and 24 March, about two dozenKashmiri separatists, parleyed with the Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit on “further plans for J&K”. In Srinagar and all Kashmir valley districts, Dukhtaran e Millat celebrated Pakistan Day by raising its flags, passionately singing its national anthem and extolling on “our responsibilities towards Pakistan”,while spewing venom against India. The mayhem begun by separatists in March only got further stepped up in April, the high point being Masarat Alam’s rally to welcome back Syed Ai Shah Gilani, returning from Delhi. Alam led the sloganeering by lustily shouting “Meri Jaan Meri Jaan, Pakistan, Pakistan… Kashmir banega Pakistan.”
While Alam has now been rearrested, the political situation in the state remains volatile. Besides the administration, the security forces would have to maintain high levels of alertness to see that the situation does not revert to that existing in the late eighties.
The political alliance in J&K brings two ideologically different parties at the ruling helm in the state. This is not necessarily a negative as it could lead to a better understanding and greater sensitivity in resolving outstanding issues. The Centre has soft pedalled various issues, perhaps giving time to the alliance to find its feet, but this cannot be ad infinitum. Steps would have to be taken to see that the narrative of the terrorists and separatists as well as their aiders and abettors is not allowed to grow.
It may also be recalled how during PDP’s previous rule, then J&K Governor, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha was maligned by Mufti for his efforts to establish some universities, pursue rehabilitation of displaced Kashmiri Pandits and some other public welfare moves in J&K and for promoting ‘Kashmiriyat’. Interacting with this writer, General Sinha recounted how as Chancellor of Kashmir University, he established an Institute of Kashmir Studies. On 25 May 2008, a highly successful international seminar on Kashmiriyat was organised at Srinagar by the Institute with participation of scholars from Pakistan and Central Asian Republics. High level delegations from all the eight South Asian countries attended this function, presided over by former President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. The following day the famous ‘Junoon Band’ from Pakistan was invited to play Sufi pop music. Despite the boycott calls given by the separatists and fundamentalists, there was a record turn out of several thousands for these functions. The leading English daily of Pakistan, Dawn, in its editorial on 28 May 2008 titled Breaking Barriers wrote:
“Music knows no boundaries… The people of Kashmir expressed their anger against religious militants and their violence.”
Dr Kalam wrote about General Sinha:
“His approach to win the hearts of the people through Kasmiriyat was definitely making an impact… General Sinha declared that he would do his best to promote Kashmiriyat which stood for amity and brotherhood cutting across religious divide. I could see this spirit in General Sinha during my visits to Jammu and Kashmir.”
The separatists, very rattled at the success achieved in promoting Kashmiriyat and fearful of losing popular support, were on the look out for an opportunity for a counter offensive. Ironically on the same day as the Dawn wrote its editorial, the State Government sanctioned diversion/transfer of forest land to six different agencies. This was a routine affair. Among these six diversions/transfers was also the diversion of 100 acres of land at Baltal, traditionally used as base camp for pilgrims going to Amarnath. The separatists chose to pick on this for starting a communal agitation. They spread the canard that the Shrine Board was setting up a Hindu township to bring in Hindus and change the demography of the Valley like Israel had done in Palestine. It was part of a deep rooted conspiracy to arouse communal passion. A large amount of money was reportedly pumped from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to sustain this propaganda in the Valley media. “The canard also included that I was trying to exert Hindu cultural influence in Kashmir Valley”, said General Sinha. Obviously, a different approach towards separatists is now called for.
Thanks to the efforts of Jammu East BJP MLA Rajesh Gupta, it came to be known that in 2014-15, the J&K government spent over Rs 120 crore on vehicles, hotel bills and security of separatists/ activists. This must stop forthwith. Politically, all acts of sedition must be dealt with swiftly, through fast track courts and quick disposal of cases. All those jailed for such offences should be moved out of the state to other parts of India.
Militarily, greater thrust on anti infiltration operations is a must. While infiltration has dropped dramatically due to the effort and vigilance of the SF, gaps exist on the IB, between Akhnur southwards till Kathua, where a series of lateral “chos” (rivulets), do not permit construction of a fence. In such areas, there is an immediate need to install a network of state of art surveillance devices for effective 24×7 surveillance. The BSF guarding this stretch of the border also needs to enhance its force level to reduce the gaps between units and sub units. We have an opportunity to bring back normalcy to the state. That is the test which the TDP/BJP alliance have to pass.