By Ajit Kumar Singh*
In a meeting with a 24-member delegation from Jammu & Kashmir’s (J&K’s) newly formed Apni Party led by Altaf Bukhari in New Delhi on March 14, 2020, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi “underlined that the Government will work with all sections of the population to realize the hopes of state hood for Jammu and Kashmir at an early opportunity”. The PM also “noted that the democracy in the region could be strengthened through a fast-moving process of political integration”.
The Union Government, on August 5, 2019, introduced a Bill in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) on August 5, 2019, which rescinded the special status of J&K under Article 370 and led to its reduction into two Union Territories (UTs). The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) on August 6, 2019. On August 9, 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Bill and it became the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. The Act split the State of J&K into two UTs – J&K (with a legislature) and Ladakh (without legislature). The two UTs formally came into existence on October 31, 2019.
Apprehensive of an imminent retaliation by the local population, the Union Government enforced a complete clampdown in J&K on August 4, 2019, a day before introducing the Bill, bringing the entire State to a standstill. Though most of the restrictions have now been lifted and J&K is limping back to normalcy, certain restrictions on internet access continue. On February 11, 2020, the Union Government informed Parliament that “mobile data services and internet access through fixed line has also been restored with certain restrictions”.
Meanwhile, most of the top leaders of mainstream political parties, including three formers Chief Ministers (Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti) were put under arrest on August 4, 2019, and were languishing in the ‘jails’ since then. The 82-year-old Farooq Abdullah was released on March 13, 2020, after an incarceration of over seven months.
On June 20, 2018, the then J&K State was put under Governor’s rule and subsequently under President’s rule on December 20, 2018. On October 31, 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind, in view of the transformation of the State into a UT, through a notification revoked President’s rule. He, however, released another notification, on the same day, taking over the control of the administration of the UT of J&K, which came under the LG rule post first notification. Among other things, the second notification read,
…I hereby proclaim that I — (a) assume to myself as President of India all functions of the Government of UT of Jammu and Kashmir and all powers vested in or exercisable by the LG of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir; (b) declare that the powers of the legislature or legislative Assembly of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament.
Consequently, a complete political vacuum was created and the democratic set up placed in indefinite suspension.
These moves were preceded by an escalating trend in terrorism and recruitment of locals, the consequence of preceding years of polarizing politics spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party which had come to power at the Centre in May 2014. After a near-continuous decline in terrorism-linked fatalities after the peak of 2001, fatalities had bottomed out in 2012 at 121, according to SATP data. Indeed, the Government puts total fatalities in 2012 at just 99. Thereafter, with a deeply disruptive politics injected into the State, the upward trend in fatalities resumed.
Not surprisingly, the number of local recruits also increased considerably. According to a March 14, 2020, report, of the 257 militants killed in 2018, at least 142 were locals and the remaining 115, foreigners. Similarly, of the 152 militants killed in 2019, 120 were locals. In 2020, out of 24 militants killed in Kashmir, 21 were locals. Former R&AW chief A.S. Dulat, in an interview on March 14, 2020, asserted that radicalism had sharply increased over the preceding three to four months in particular. He noted that the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was originally limited to Sopore and a few other places, had now ramped up its influence throughout the Kashmir Valley.
Moreover, the Government informed Parliament on December 4, 2019,
On 17 August 2019, Pakistan Foreign Minister announced a decision to establish ‘Kashmir cell/desks’ in Pakistan’s Foreign Office and Missions abroad. The main objective of these cells/desks is to incite local populations and to radicalise them through false propaganda. Government has urged other countries to realise the dangers posed by the so-called ‘Kashmir cells’ which openly incite violence and to take appropriate action against such “cells” operating from their soil.
Meanwhile, the tourism industry which reportedly contributed eight per cent to the State’s gross domestic product (SGDP) suffered heavily due to the instability inflicted on J&K by the Union Government and the BJP. The statistics shared by the Government in the Parliament on December 9, 2019, demonstrate that the collapsed of the industry in the aftermath of the ‘abrogation’ of Article 370.
Number of tourists visiting J&K from August to November: 2014-2019
Source: Source: Lok Sabha.
Purely in terms of the decline in terrorist activities, however, there were visible improvements as a result of the comprehensive clampdown. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in 224 days since August 5, 2019, there were a total of 102 fatalities (23 civilians, 10 Security Force, SF, personnel, and 69 terrorists) in 51 incidents of killing (data till March 15, 2020). In the corresponding period (224 days) preceding August 5, 2019, there was a total of 238 fatalities (23 civilians, 74 SF personnel, and 141 terrorists) in 109 incidents of killing. There were four major incidents targeting SF personnel or civilians during the 222 days prior to August 5, 2019, including the February 14, 2019, Pulwama attack, which resulted in death of 40 SF personnel; as against a single incident post-August 5, 2019, resulting in six civilian fatalities. Incidents of explosion, during this period, declined from 55 to 20. Total terrorism related incidents also came down from 287 to 158.
The decline in terrorism is also evident on year on year basis. As against a total of 452 fatalities (86 civilians, 95 SF personnel, and 271 terrorists) recorded in 205 incidents of killing in 2018, there were 283 fatalities (42 civilians, 78 SF personnel, 163 terrorists) in 135 incidents of killing in 2019. Fatalities in J&K, on year on year basis, was increasing since 2013, with the exception of a slight dip in 2015. The number of major incidents, meanwhile, fell from 54 in 2018 to 28 in 2019. The number of overall terrorism-linked incidents came down to 369 in 2019 as against 598 recorded in 2018.
The estimated recruitment of terrorists has also come down drastically. There was a total of 105 persons recruited by various terrorist formations between January 1, 2019 and August 4, 2019, as against 28 in the period between August 5, 2019, and January 26, 2020.
The incipient threat of rise of global terrorist formations such as the Islamic State-Jammu and Kashmir (IS-JK) and al Qaeda linked Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH, supporters of holy war in India) was strongly dealt through 2019. Resultantly, these groups were all but neutralized.
On December 23, 2019, in a clear indication of the improved security situation, the Union Government issued an order to withdraw 72 companies of the Central Armed police Forces (CPAFs). These included 24 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force, 12 each of the Border Security Force, Central Industrial Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Sashastra Seema Bal.
However, as expected, the volatility at the border witnessed steep surge. The Government informed Parliament on December 3, 2019,
…there has been increase in the number of infiltration attempts from across the border. During the 88-day period from 5th August 2019 till 31st October 2019 there have been 84 such attempts as against 53 such attempts from 9th May 2019 till 4th August 2019. Correspondingly, estimated net infiltration has increased from 32 to 59 during the above period.
Through 2019, net infiltration was estimated at 133, in addition to 143 in 2018.
Again, on March 4, 2020, the Government informed Parliament,
There have been 1,586 incidents of ceasefire violations in 2019 and 646 incidents of Ceasefire Violations during the first two months of 2020 [January/February (upto 23rd February)], on Indo-Pak International border as well as Line of Control after 5th August, 2019.
According to official data, there was a total of 3,168 cease fire violations in 2019 as against 2,140 such incidents through 2018, and a much lower 881 in 2017 and 449 in 2016.
The encouraging trends in security consolidation have come at the price of an overwhelming curtailment of freedom and political rights in J&K, and the establishment of a pattern of politics relying on blind force against entire populations, rather than the counter-insurgency doctrine of narrowly targeted operations against known terrorists that had come to be established in theatres of armed violence across India. The indiscriminate arrest of virtually the entire leaderships of political parties in the Valley, and the attempts to orchestrate the creation of puppet formations by the Centre, bodes ill for the political future of the region. The Government’s recent initiatives have resulted in a loss of the moral high ground in the global discourse, and have undermined constitutional governance within the country. Lesser sins have inflicted great costs on the nation in the past. It remains to be seen how the present regime’s adventurism will play out in the long term.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management