(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains
Biodiversity, Environment, Security & Disaster Management:
Developments in PoK and the Kashmir Valley: An Analysis
S. K. Sharma and Ashish Shukla
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a statement on
Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and expressed his concerns about the state of
human rights there. The government as well as the establishment in Pakistan has
issued statements about the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley. The people on both
sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) have demanded
undivided attention from their respective governments during the past few
months. Against this backdrop developments on both sides of the LoC require
critical study and analysis. An attempt is being made here to understand these
developments and suggest some policy alternatives.
Situation in PoK
The recent elections in PoK or Western Jammu and Kashmir,
consisting of both Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and the so-called “Azad Jammu and
Kashmir”, which is under the occupation of Pakistan, resulted in the overthrow
of incumbent governments led by the local chapters of the Pakistan Peoples’
Party (PPP) and their replacement by governments led by local units of the party
ruling in Islamabad — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
By now, familiar charges of rigging have been made and
protests have ensued in both regions of PoK. Although the PPP was, in a way,
reconciled to its defeat in G-B, it is crying hoarse about the results in
so-called ‘AJK’. The ballot took place under strict supervision of the Pakistan
Army and, therefore, the allegations reflect the familiar trend in Pakistan—
that the party or parties losing the electoral battle have always been bad
losers. The election in ‘AJK’ took place under the shadow of turmoil in Srinagar
Valley over the death of a Kashmiri youth who had started advocating armed
Before this incident as well as after it, the opposition
parties had started raising the ante on ‘Kashmir’ and a lot of anti-India
sentiments was stirred especially by the young and inexperienced PPP leader,
Bilawal Bhutto. He had started raising the temperature on the ‘Kashmir’ issue by
levelling allegations that Nawaz Sharif’s government is pandering to India and
especially Prime Minister Modi, The slogan that PPP supporters raised in ‘AJK’
was—”Modi ka yaar, gaddar, gaddar” (“He who is Modi’s friend is a traitor”).
The PML-N leadership was quiet until the turmoil gathered
momentum in the Valley, but joined the anti-India campaign closer to the day of
the elections. The India factor did not cut much ice and PML-N won a handsome
mandate, bagging 31 out of the 41 seats contested by 427 candidates. Raja Farooq
Haider Khan, of Kashmiri origin, and one time member of the AJK Muslim
Conference party, led the local branch of the PML-N to this spectacular win.
‘AJK’ and GB: Getting used to Controlled Politics?
Like many times in the past, the politics of baradari (clan)
as well as the popular bias in favour of the party ruling in Islamabad
determined the fate of the elections. The electorate proved poll pundits wrong,
in that the ‘AJK’ elections would be influenced by events in the Valley and the
people might vote for the party flagging the issue of the so-called Indian
‘state atrocities’ in the most combative manner possible. If that had been so,
the PPP and JI would have reaped a huge dividend. That was not the case,
however. Without being too belligerent, Sharif gained a massive electoral
mandate by emphasising his ritual position on ‘Kashmir’ and his determination to
seek a settlement through the medium of UN resolutions.
Like in the past, this time around as well the post-poll
scene witnessed charges of rigging, and people came out on the streets to
protest. The intensity of these protests forced a halt to the trans-border
movement of goods vehicles for some time.
At the end of the day, Raja Farooq Haider Khan was chosen as
the Prime Minister and the PML-N seemed to have acquired a firm grip of the
‘AJK’ government. An eternal complainant like Imran grudgingly tweeted his
acceptance of defeat and congratulated the PML-N for its victory.
In the absence of the participation of the
independence-minded groups in the elections, the political discourse in both
‘AJK’ and GB is inextricably interwoven with that of Pakistan. In GB, more than
in ‘AJK’, there is an assertive constituency, howsoever small, which advocates
total independence. In ‘AJK’, that constituency has resigned itself to fate.
Thus, in both regions, which the authorities in Pakistan have deliberately kept
apart as separate administrative units— theoretically not part of Pakistan, but
under its tightest possible control— representative politics means controlled
power-play, which is resented, yet strangely tolerated, by the people. The
people of GB have recently taken to the streets in support of a left-wing
politician of the Awami Peoples’ Party who has not only been prevented from
contesting the elections there but imprisoned for advocating the rights of the
people to ask for compensation in Gozal area, which was washed away in the
January 2010 Attabad lake-burst. There is also an ongoing popular movement—with
the slogan “No taxation, without representation” — demanding provincial status
for GB within Pakistan.
About the Valley and the Pakistani connection
Agitations are not new to the Kashmir Valley. Nor even phases
of violent outbursts. These street-shows reflect what pundits regularly
pontificate as the political alienation of Kashmiris from India. Paradoxically,
however, the turn-out in the Assembly elections even when held in the face of
boycott calls by the separatists have been impressive.
The 1996 election took place amid ferocious agitations and
bloodshed. Yet, it recorded 53 percentage of voting. People simply ignored the
threats held out by terrorists and came to the polling booths to exercise their
franchise. The following elections in 2002, 2008 and 2014 also saw high
percentages of popular participation.
Like in the past, during the latest election as well,
Pakistan worked full throttle to prime its case on ‘Kashmir’. But its demand for
the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions on ‘Kashmir’ went
largely unheeded, apart from a ritual expression of interest in the issue.
Undeterred, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad Chaudhry
held a special briefing to some of the Islamabad-based envoys of the
member-nations of OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) contact group on J&K.
Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Niger were members of the group. Aziz
requested their support for the Pakistani demand for plebiscite. However, the
OIC surprised Pakistan with its apathy and deafening silence.
For a change, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been forced by circumstances to
lead the Pakistan campaign for ‘Kashmir’ during the ‘AJK’ elections, happened as
it did against the backdrop of Burhan Wani’s killing. “We are waiting for the
day Kashmir becomes Pakistan,” he declared from Muzaffarabad. This, he himself
knows, and has informally acknowledged to interlocutors from many countries, is
However, after raising the ‘Kashmir’ bogey for the last seven
decades, politicians of his ilk have been overpowered by a praetorian military
which is deaf and blind to the negative consequences of their jihadi
intervention in ‘Kashmir’ on their internal security situation. Even though
politicians like Sharif are aware of the reality on the ground, they have become
victims of their own narrative. ‘Kashmir’ dangerously brings them closer to the
viewpoint of the military on India and disturbs their thinking on India-Pakistan
relations. They are mute spectators on the one hand and quiet and helpless
cheerleaders on the other when the military is refashioning its strategy of
asymmetric warfare against India. Absent a Kashmiri component in the jihad,
there was a conscious attempt to fuel militancy in the Valley.
They have managed to fray the nerves by provoking, on the one
hand, the Indian security forces unceasingly since January 2013 to resort to a
hardened response, and on the other, taking full advantage of the political
uncertainty in the state after the unclear verdict in the 2014 elections leading
to an inevitable alliance between two most unlikely allies—the Bharatiya Janata
Party, which seeks the same status for J&K as any other state of the Union, and
the Peoples’ Democratic Party, which is seeking the maximum possible autonomy
from the Centre.
Against this backdrop, there has been some plain-speaking by
commentators, especially in the English media, even as the vernacular media is
busy spewing venom on India and exhorting the Pakistani establishment not to let
this unique opportunity slip by. Some sane observers in Pakistan have said that
Sharif’s statements might create “more trouble” for their country as well as for
the Kashmiri people. They pointedly ask Sharif what Pakistan can offer to the
Kashmiris when it is still coping with numerous challenges that are posing a
threat to its own stability. For the last 67 years, Pakistan has failed to
ensure good governance in PoK which is under its own control, the Daily
Times reminded Sharif, who traces his roots to Anantnag in the Valley.
The mainstream Pakistani media was not impressed by Nawaz
Sharif’s rhetoric. Nor are they encouraged by the antics of the likes of Hafeez
Saeed, who have been threatening to take out marches to the LoC and to Wagah.
Sharif-speak – the new war cry “Kashmir banega Pakistan” –
undermines Pakistan’s case for a plebiscite. It is not for nothing that Pakistan
has officially confined itself thus far to extending ‘moral, diplomatic and
political support to Kashmiris’, while letting loose the ISI-trained, funded and
pampered jihadis of different hues to turn ‘Kashmir’ into a simmering cauldron.
The Pakistani hand is exposed by militants captured by Indian security forces
and inhibits any idea of constructive engagement at the bilateral level.
Islamic State hand behind Kashmir Protests?
Even as demonstrations have taken place in a routine manner
in the Valley over the last few weeks and there has been a minor show of
Pakistani flags and talk of nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamic rule) in the air, it is
suspected in the rest of India that more sinister forces are out to exploit what
is basically a political struggle in Kashmir. While it is, of course, tempting
to see the IS hand behind the current wave of agitation in the Valley, there is
no direct evidence to back such an alarmist hypothesis.
Graffiti in downtown Srinagar and Harvan, a Srinagar suburb,
or Islamic State (IS) flags seen fluttering atop some buildings in the Valley do
not mean that the IS has set its foot in Kashmir. Nor does it mean that the IS
has started actively supporting the agitation. But the perception persists so
much that the possibility of India stumbling into a self-full-filling prophecy
remains. Many outside neutral observers of the situation in Kashmir, such as
Michael Kugelman, also argue that “The notion of IS expanding into South Asia is
a bit of exaggeration.” Kugelman’s views have ironically been echoed by
separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani as well. For him, the actions of the IS,
Tehreek-e-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) and Boko Haram are un-Islamic. Shujaat
Bukhari, a Srinagar-based journalist who has had a ring side view of the scene
for many years, has an interesting take: “Kashmiris cannot be attracted to IS
because of its barbaric actions.”
It is true, nevertheless, that in an interview to the 13th
issue of the IS publication,Dabiq, Hafiz Saed Khan, the so-called Emir of
Khorasan, had threatened to expand his war against India and “recognise Kashmir
for Muslims from the cow-worshipping Hindus.” In the same breath, he also
scolded Pakistan for its approach to the issue and dubbed Pakistan’s primary
jihadi instrument, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), as an “apostate faction”. According to
Khan, LeT follows the “tug and pull” of the Pakistan army and does not have
“control over any territory in the regions of Kashmir.”
Within Pakistan, only the Mullahs and Maulanas of the Lal
Masjid in Islamabad have hailed IS Khalifa Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as
Ameer-ul-Momineen, that too not so openly. This is surprising since Pakistan is
the fountain-head of modern day jihad. It has been host to jihadis from across
the world right from the days of the so-called jihad against the Soviet Red Army
in Afghanistan during the Cold War. If there is an active threat from the IS, it
is more so in Pakistan than in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s Diplomatic Blitzkrieg: Why has it failed?
There is no denying whatsoever that Pakistan’s new diplomatic
blitzkrieg, as in the past, has failed to deliver any dividends. A revisit of
the strategy is therefore in order for the ‘GHQ Shura’ in Rawalpindi and the
Sharif-led government in Islamabad. It is essential for Pakistan to put its own
house in order. It has managed to keep the whole of PoK – GB and ‘AJK’— under
its jackboots for long. But murmurs of protests are appearing in the horizon. In
the days of social media, it is coming out into the open. Pakistan’s efforts to
change the demography in the Shia-majority GB through the active settlement of
Sunnis from the outside is a matter of grave concern for the locals. Similarly,
the local parties of ‘AJK’ are quite resentful about the way the mainstream
political parties are hijacking their politics.
Moreover, the world has seen through the Pakistani approach
to terror when it comes to the issue of ‘Kashmir’. They were watching when Prime
Minister Sharif bestowed martyr’s status to Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan
Muzaffar Wani, whose quite inadvertent death in a police encounter gave a fresh
lease of life to the ‘Keep Kashmir Burning’ campaign.
It is time for the leadership in Pakistan to get back to the
mechanism that was being discussed both in the front and the back channels
during 2004-2007. The blueprint that the negotiators were preparing provided a
better solution to the problem. Pakistan should also understand the unintended
consequences of encouraging jihadi outfits to operate in J&K all over again with
utmost fury. It has to shun revisionism and the use of terror as an instrument
of its India policy, and get back to meaningful dialogue. Therein lies the
solution to the problem. It is highly unlikely that Pakistan would ever be able
to pressure India either through cross-border terror or by encouragement to
insurgency in Kashmir to concede a legitimate portion of its territory.
Indian Response and Options
The response of the Indian government to the turmoil in the
Kashmir Valley has been along expected lines. The incident that led to the
current unrest was in a way inevitable. The person targeted, Burhan Wani, was
unapologetically proclaiming himself as an armed militant through social media
and there was a bounty on his head. As to why his killing has had a cascading
effect is something that needs to be understood. Kashmir has always been a
sensitive border state due to the continuous interference of Pakistan. The
militant and separatist constituency has studiedly avoided participation in the
democratic process in the state and chosen to fuel militancy instead. They have
fallen easy prey to Pakistani machinations because Pakistan has enabled this
constituency through constant funding and use of force and threat of use of
force through militancy. Any Hurriyat leader, who has shown a minimal interest
in a constructive dialogue with the government in New Delhi, has been
During the last few years, especially since the November 2008
Mumbai terrorist attack by the LeT, Pakistan has gone back on the mutual
understanding to work towards a practicable solution involving a representative
(read democratic) system of governance on both sides of the LoC, encouragement
of travel and trade between the two parts, and finally, at an appropriate time,
if it suits both, evolve a joint mechanism to oversee the changes on the ground.
However, Pakistan (especially the military establishment, post-Musharraf, which
is controlling the country’s India policy) has rescinded from its commitments
and insists on its maximalist position which has pushed the dialogue back to the
India has found it difficult to adapt to such a revisionist
stance by the Pakistani establishment. Under constant provocation from Pakistan
and the continuous flow of funds and materials, the separatists have been
girding up their loins. The killing of Burhan Wani only acted as a trigger. Be
that as it may, in a situation like this, the Indian government has rightly
asked the security forces to exercise utmost restraint.
But on the ground, in situations such as those prevailing
now, the degree and kind of reaction from security forces the world over, even
when they are practising restraint, will depend on the intensity of the
protests. Unfortunately, the intensity of the protests in the Valley have been
unusually severe, may be because the failure of the local leadership is also
being laid on the doors of the government in New Delhi.
However, the ongoing round of protests may pass sooner than
may be evident because there is a view emerging in the Valley now that the
Pakistani connection to the unrest will be ultimately counterproductive for the
people. Be that as it may, there is a real problem in terms of Kashmiris being
unable to elect a responsible and responsive representative government for
themselves. Corruption, nepotism and mis-governance have characterised the
governments in Srinagar for decades and at a time when the Valley has a majority
youth population, educated and unemployed, there is a tendency for popular
resentment to flow onto the streets. The Indian state has to find a way of
keeping a close tab on governance issues inside Jammu and Kashmir and intervene
positively in case of misrule by local politicians.
The security forces should be asked to practise maximum
restraint and the local administration must gear up for action. Only then the
situation will turn back to normal sooner than expected. However, all this is
also subject to the ability of the security forces to stop the infiltration of
men and material from Pakistan, on the one hand, and the level of determination
of Pakistani agencies to fish in troubled waters, on the other. India will have
to keep a close watch on the developmentswithin PoK and highlight the Pakistani
strategy of promoting terror in Kashmir and expose its policies towards both the
regions within PoK—‘AJK’ and GB, which legitimately belong to it.
As far as radicalisation is concerned, the Kashmiris are not
known to flaunt their religious identity even if ISIS flags were visible in a
couple of places before Burhan’s killing. Such incidents should be seen as a
show of popular resentment rather than commitment to the regressive Islamist
cause that outfits like IS espouse. An over-reaction to the IS bogey may prove
counter-productive in such a situation and could lead to a mis-diagnosis of the
problem by the security forces and their resulting excesses may end up acting as
‘fertilizer’ for an insurgency.