Kashmir and Modi 2.0: What political legacy will he leave behind?

Published on Jun 25 2019

The global terror financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concluded its deliberations in Orlando, Florida USA on June 21 and admonished Pakistan for not demonstrating "a proper understanding" of the compliance expected from Islamabad in relation to terror financing. Consequently, Pakistan will remain in the grey list. The matter will be reviewed in October in Paris, with China then in the chair - which may be comforting for Rawalpindi, the GHQ of the Pakistan army, which remains invested in support to terror groups.
For India, the challenge of terror related violence continues.  Even as Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik claimed that terrorist activities have declined in the state and that the situation has improved ‘a lot’ in Kashmir, the valley was racked by a bout of violence that resulted in the death of an army major (June 17)  and five CRPF personnel (June 19), while eight others were injured in a car bomb explosion near Pulwama.
Major Ketan Sharma of 19 Rashtriya Rifles and the CRPF personnel who laid down their lives join the tragic list of security personnel who have been killed in the continuing proxy war that India has been facing in J&K since January 1990.
Condemning these terror attacks, Governor Malik noted:  "Whenever successful attempts are made by the security forces to either conduct peaceful elections or continuous elimination of terrorists, the masterminds of terrorists from across the border order them to carry out fidayeen (suicide) attacks on forces. The attack in Anantnag district was also a fidayeen attack." He added that terrorists and their handlers should know that "our resolve to eliminate this menace (of terrorism) is unshakable."
In an intriguing development,  it was reported recently that Pakistan had shared information with India and the USA about a possible terror attack in the Pulwama district with improvised explosive devices (IED) mounted on a vehicle. However Indian intelligence agencies have clarified that this input was by way of an anonymous call to the Indian High Commission in Pakistan and it was not an official communication from a credible source.
The proxy war in J&K is taking a heavy toll of precious lives. The statistics for this year are instructive: While 62 security personnel were killed since January this year, nine more lost their lives after the assumption of office by Modi 2.0, taking the figure to 71. Many others, including civilians, have been injured and the resolve asserted by Governor Malik is proving to be expensive.
J&K was placed under  governors rule on  June 20, 2018 when the uneasy PDP-BJP coalition collapsed and, after a six month period, this was converted to President’s rule. A year has passed without any sign that the local political process will be resurrected meaningfully by way of state elections and the sullen impasse continues.
The ‘Kashmir issue’ remains intractable since it became a bitterly contested issue  in October 1947 and continues to dominate the troubled India-Pakistan bilateral relationship from the Jawaharlal Nehru-Ayub Khan period going back to the 1950’s to the Narendra Modi-Imran Khan phase now. Enveloped in many complex layers, the Kashmir nettle is differently shaped by its geographic location, the resultant geo-political salience and the manner in which its demographic mix (it is the only Muslim majority state of the Indian union)  informs the identity of both India and Pakistan. It has a special status as part of the accession agreement of October 1947 and a degree of distinctive  autonomy as laid down in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
Kashmir is part of the composite state of J&K, the demography of which shapes the domestic politics of the state, while the Delhi-Srinagar relationship is the primary political vector.
Pakistan’s attempt to wrest the  state by use of force – overt and covert --has been an abiding feature and has transmuted from a direct war (1947-48 ; 1965) to a proxy war through terrorism and infiltration, beginning 1990, that included Kargil 1999.                                                                                              
Most recently,  Pulwama in February 2019, followed by the Balakot air strike is the new punctuation. The electoral triumph of Modi 2.0 has added to the image of an assertive India with a resolute leader at the helm. The perception that India will not be cowed down by various ‘lines’ in the event of a another terror attack was conveyed unambiguously by Modi during his campaign rallies and the anonymous call to the  Indian mission in Islamabad may be part of this new restraint being exuded by Pakistan.
While the management of the Pakistan factor in the Kashmir issue will be complex and a long drawn out process, given the various external factors at play, (China, USA, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan and jihadi fervour), the domestic situation in J&K is one where Delhi is the principal actor and Modi 2.0 has greater political traction than in 2014.
The immediate challenge for the Modi government will be to ensure the safe conduct of the Amarnath yatra that begins July 1. This sacred annual  pilgrimage has been targeted by jihadi terror in the past. In early July 2017, terrorists shot and killed eight pilgrims and there have been even more deadly attacks in 2000,  2001 and 2002.
Paradoxically, the Amarnath yatra used to be a symbol of  Kashmir’s pluralism and religious harmony and the local Muslim population ensured the safe conduct of this major Hindu pilgrimage. Tragically, the millennial demography of Kashmir knows only the trauma and divisiveness of the last quarter century and the last year has led to a further degree of aridity in the local socio-political environment.
Modi, with the emphatic mandate that he has obtained single-handedly for the BJP in the 2019 elections, is at a critical cusp by way of his political legacy. Can he build on the (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee template of first assuaging the local Kashmiri sentiment and its related cynicism and alienation and then encouraging a resurrection of the domestic political process by announcing state elections? Or will he chose to go down the muscular,  security-led approach and focus only on eliminating terrorism  through hard power -  to the exclusion of smart and soft power initiatives of which Kashmir is in dire need?
Losing 71 lives in the first half of the year is a stark reminder of the price being paid by the Indian soldier. Political sagacity lies in ensuring that the coffin-draped in the tricolour does not become the leitmotif of  Modi 2.0.

Source: South Asia Monitor, 23 June 2019, https://southasiamonitor.org/news/kashmir-and-modi-2-0-what-political-legacy-will-he-leave-behind-/sl/29829