Headwinds in Jammu and Kashmir likely to continue

Headwinds in Jammu and Kashmir likely to continue

Against a worsening situation on the ground, it is doubtful the Kashmir issue can be resolved by Amit Shah's offer of talks

It is disturbing that the security establishment has been unable to identify the leaders of the shadowy groups calling themselves "The Resistance Front". Credit: AFP Photo

One wonders whether Union Home Minister Amit Shah meant a headwind or tailwind when he spoke about the winds of change sweeping Kashmir on his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir. Several recent instances of deterioration in the ground situation are making the government's Kashmir story less and less believable.

An ongoing encounter to hunt down eight terrorists in Poonch, targeted killing of members of the minority community, a pervasive sense of fear in the Valley and questions about administrative corruption raised by the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Satyapal Malik make gaping holes in the government's narrative.

Nine casualties is an embarrassingly large number for the Indian Army to swallow in what has turned into the longest encounter in J&K - 16 days and counting, in the last 18 years. It is hard to believe the allegations of the security forces that they were directed by a Pakistani under-trial prisoner, Zia Mustafa, who has been in a high-security prison for the last 17 years. Mustafa allegedly died in the crossfire when taken to the encounter site last week to identify the terrorists' hideout.

The Pakistan establishment will draw their own conclusions from the Poonch events about the state of India's intelligence network in the area and the preparedness of its armed forces. They will calibrate future militant operations across the Line of Control accordingly. One can also be reasonably sure that there will be a retaliatory tit-for-tat killing of an under-trial Indian prisoner in a Pakistan jail in lieu of Mustafa's death.

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It is disturbing that the security establishment has been unable to identify the leaders of the shadowy groups calling themselves "The Resistance Front", which claimed responsibility for killing minorities in the Valley or of the "Peoples' Anti-Fascist Front", which has claimed to have killed nine Indian soldiers in Poonch. Without this information, no one can ascertain whether these groups are indigenous or foreigners. Unless clearly identified, Pakistan will be able to make successful propaganda that the violence is the work of local militants.

Targeted murder of the Hindu community has led to renewed out-migration, and those who remain, mostly migrant workers, are living inside secure camps. But fear also pervades the majority community, afraid they may be held accountable for the acts of unidentified terrorists. Even politicians are scared, especially those perceived to be close to the Centre, such as members of Sajad Lone's Peoples' Conference or Altaf Bukhari's Apni Party.

What has happened for sure is that the Centre's claims that demonetisation and later improved security linked to making the state a Union Territory would end terrorism in J&K no longer hold water. Terrorist activity has persisted, and ordinary citizens have become even more suspicious of the Centre's moves.

Further pitting the majority against the minority is the provision made by the Lieutenant Governor's administration to re-open property deals made by Kashmiri Pandits forced to migrate in the 1990s. They can now be classified as "distress sales", and the previous owners can ask for either return of the property or full reimbursement at current prices. Land ownership is already a sensitive issue in J&K, and after the abrogation of Article 35A, it is seen as a mechanism of affecting demographic change in the Valley.

Fear of outside settlers has been exacerbated by land allotments to industrialists and entrepreneurs from the rest of India. The government is deploying a 6000-acre existing land bank (15,000 acres have been identified in the Valley alone for the land bank) to woo investors to set up food parks, multiplexes, film production centres, Information Technology Parks, medi-cities, and schools. During Shah's visit to Srinagar, Sajjan Jindal's JSW Steel announced a Rs 150 crore project to manufacture colour-coated steel at Lassipora in Pulwama. Yet another agreement was signed with Dubai on October 18 for investment in infrastructure, including industrial parks, IT Towers, logistics centres, a medical college and a speciality hospital.

Many are apprehensive that investors might be crony capitalists of the government who could take the Dubai route to invest in J&K. They are also afraid that such huge investments could deepen institutionalised corruption in the administration where it is said that money changes hands for every posting in the police service above the rank of Deputy Superintendent. Now, Satyapal Malik, a former Governor, has alleged that Kashmir is the most corrupt place in the country.

Malik has gone public with two instances where he was offered a bribe of Rs 150 crore each to clear the files. According to him, one involved a project by 'Ambani' (unspecified ) and another was linked to a "senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary." Malik is known to have scrapped a plan to allot compulsory insurance of government employees in J&K to Anil Ambani's Reliance General Insurance, criticising the scheme as being "full of frauds". In the other project, without naming names, he said everyone knew "who the RSS in-charge was in J&K." Governor Malik's expose refers to a period when none of the "three dynasties" accused by the Modi government as the fount of all corruption in J&K, was in power.

Against a worsening situation on the ground, it is doubtful that the issue of Kashmir can be resolved by Home Minister Amit Shah's offer of talks with the youth and his "Kashmiri brothers and sisters". He has suggested setting up "Youth Clubs" at the panchayat level. He forgot to consult them before bifurcating their state and taking away their special constitutional status. If indeed he now wants to engage more frankly with Kashmiris, then why choose the one-way format of "Mann ki Baat" to meet with elected members of panchayats and district development councils at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre? Why could no one ask him questions? The political process initiated by Delhi has failed to let down roots. While the public sentiment may not be with the traditional political parties, it is far from aligning with the sponsored politics of Delhi either.

(The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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