Capitalizing on recent gains in Jammu & Kashmir through pragmatic people-oriented policies must become the priority
The skepticism of a section of the Indian intelligentsia and the political opposition notwithstanding, the muscular policy of the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and separatism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) appears to be paying dividends. This policy, unlike in the past, did not restrict itself to hot pursuit of terrorists. The Modi government also targeted separatists such as the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, who at the behest of Pakistan and using the millions of dollars that the country’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), paid to them annually, provoked and promoted violence and terrorism among the youth of the state.
The Indian government’s use of muscle in J&K has been complemented fittingly by a resilient and relentless international outreach to key countries with the aim of effacing whatever hesitance and balkiness they had to calling out Pakistan for its relentless sponsorship of terrorism. The maturation of this course of action is visible in the escalating pressure that is being exerted by the international community on Pakistan to cease its terror-happy ways. This, in turn, appears to have constrained Pakistan to seriously weigh the sustainability of blatantly promoting and supporting terrorist outfits of various hues against the price that it will have to pay for continuing to do so. Consequently, the security situation in J&K has improved considerably in recent months, while across the Line of Control in Pakistan Administered J&K, the ISI is at least making a public show of closing its terrorist camps and arresting, even if temporarily, leaders of Kashmir-centric terrorist groups.
For India, these successes have only laid the broad foundation for the real work that lies ahead in J&K. They have paved the way for the Indian government to consider launching an efficacious campaign aimed at winning over hearts and minds, especially of the youth, in the strife-torn state. For any healing to begin, the underlying causes of the grievances that the people of J&K are afflicted with, and which directly or indirectly have contributed to the strife in the state, need to be identified and addressed. This demands introspection, open-minded acknowledgement, and the flexibility and political will to wring changes to correct strategic flaws through pragmatic people-oriented policies.
Some recent items of news pertaining to J&K that appeared in the Indian media suggest that the present Indian government has made serious efforts to dispassionately analyze the political and socio-economic scenario in J&K, and has attempted to factor local aspirations into the conclusions that it has drawn from such analysis. It has, subsequently, displayed a willingness to usher in a fresh new narrative in J&K, one that emphasizes good governance and effective delivery of services.
On the political front, the tone was set by the New Delhi-appointed Governor of J&K, Satya Pal Malik, a former leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who in a recent interview tore into the corruption and dysfunction witnessed in successive state governments of J&K. This is actually a leading cause of resentment among the youth of J&K. The CMS-India Corruption Study 2017 placed J&K among the most corrupt states in India, stating that 84% of the people surveyed perceived increased corruption in public services in the state. A report published by The Hindu daily revealed that J&K received 10% of all Central grants given to Indian states over the 17 year period of 2000-2016, despite having only 1% of the country’s population. As the think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) noted in March 2018, “The state (J&K) has for long been also accused of misusing Central grants and financial irregularities”.
Governor Malik’s statement reflects New Delhi’s desire to shelve what the ORF described as “The politics of appeasement, which has allowed corruption to get firmly entrenched in Kashmir’s realpolitik, and has also given rise to an unexpected by-product. It has alienated Kashmiris while giving a free hand to radical forces. It has emerged as a handy tool for exploitation of local sentiment by Pakistan-backed separatists, radicals and mainstream local political parties to further instigate the Valley’s frustrated youth”. ORF added that “Giving a clean government and good governance to the people of Jammu and Kashmir will be the first step to addressing the highly convoluted ‘conflict in Kashmir’. It will do a world of good to the confidence of the Kashmiri youth, unlike the failed politics of appeasement which has remained a zero-sum game for both India and Kashmir and only benefitted Pakistan”. The Modi government appears to have read and imbibed these prescriptions of ORF, as well as similar such advice from other channels, and embarked on the path of implementing them on the ground.
Media coverage on J&K last week included articles on two brothers of Indian Army rifleman, Aurangzeb, a Kashmiri who was killed in cold blood last year by terrorists in J&K’s Shopian district, joining the Indian Army to serve the nation and “avenge Aurangzeb’s death”. These articles underlined the presence of a strong undercurrent against terrorism in J&K. They also highlighted the role healthy economic policies could have in minimizing and countering conflict. The media reported that Aurangzeb’s father Mohammad Hanif, who had also served in the Indian Army, said that he was proud of his sons joining the Army “to stamp out terrorism” in J&K.
The articles also mentioned that Aurangzeb’s brothers were among the 101 new recruits to the Army selected from over 11,000 applicants. These figures bring out the scale of unemployment in J&K. A combination of terrorism and the ineptitude and lackadaisical attitude of successive state governments in J&K have translated into a dormant private sector and limited diversification in the state’s production activities. The state possesses tremendous economic potential in sectors such as tourism and its related field like handicrafts; in agriculture, horticulture and floriculture; in infrastructure; and in hydropower, to name a few.
The improvement in the security situation in J&K on the back of the Modi government’s muscular zero-tolerance policy bodes well for tourism and allied sectors in J&K. Some reports have suggested that tourist arrivals in the state are already showing a rising trend after a few years of lull. Infrastructure projects also seem to have been prioritized by the government, with the media reporting in July that metro rail services would be started in Srinagar and Jammu, the two major cities of J&K, within four years. Two authorities, the Jammu metropolitan region development authority and the Srinagar metropolitan region development authority, have already been established to oversee these projects. Another important project that the Indian government has demonstrated a welcome keenness to expedite is the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project, which would ensure seamless, convenient, and inexpensive connectivity between J&K and the rest of India. The senior-most bureaucrat in J&K, Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam, has demanded that he be briefed on a weekly basis by the officials implementing the project. As of early July, reports indicated that work on the project was being undertaken on a war footing, and 70% of the tunneling work had been completed. Once completed, this rail link is expected to have a significant salutary impact on the economy of J&K.
In the hydropower sector, PM Modi in May 2018 laid the foundation stone of Pakal Dul hydroelectric project in Kishtwar District of J&K. When completed, the 1000 MW Pakal Dul project will be the largest hydro-power project in J&K. The employment benefits of these major infrastructure projects being constructed in J&K can be gauged by the fact that the Pakal Dul project is expected to provide employment to 3,000 locals during the construction phase and to about 500 people in its operational phase.
Perhaps the most heartening news on J&K in recent weeks from the humanitarian perspective pertains to the socio-cultural sphere. In mid-July, Governor Malik accorded approval for a cinema multiplex to be constructed in Srinagar. Cinema halls were the first casualty when Pakistan-sponsored terrorism raised its ugly head in J&K. In 1989, most of the dozen-odd cinema halls in Srinagar were either burnt down by terrorists or intimidated into shutting down. The terrorists termed cinema as “un-Islamic”. Successive governments in J&K have made futile attempts to reopen cinema halls, and hence Malik’s brave decision is commendable.
In a state that suffers from an acute lacuna of recreational activities, which is partly the reason for ill-occupied youth to be drawn into indulging in activities such as stone pelting against the security forces, the opening of the multiplex will be a boon for the people of J&K. If the security situation in the state continues to improve in the months to come, the option of opening other avenues for entertainment of the public, as well as shopping malls and multi-activity complexes in major towns and cities would be well appreciated by the people of J&K, especially the youth. Encouraging private participation in such projects would, at this stage, warrant financial assistance as well as assurances of protection and insurance against possible terrorist attacks. It will be in the Indian government’s interests to ensure that.
If the aforementioned initiatives are indicators of a trend that the Modi government is starting, it seems to be on the right track. Strong action to curb corruption and ensuring that the grants meant for the people of J&K reach the intended beneficiaries will prevent Pakistan-backed elements from exploiting the situation to alienate and radicalize the youth, while socio-economic initiatives coupled with assuring the youth of better employment opportunities will encourage integration. Creating and promoting spaces for the youth to engage constructively with political and socio-economic processes will empower them to engage in dialogue and work towards their vision for a peaceful, inclusive and prosperous J&K.
That said, it must, however, be recognized that despite the fresh initiatives of the Indian government, much more along the same positive lines will be required to be pursued incrementally to turn around the situation in the state that has been fractured by decades of terrorism.
Not losing any time at a juncture when the terrorists and their external sponsors are both on the back foot is the need of the hour.