A major success of the Narendra Modi government that has not received the kind of appreciation that it deserved to have from our strategic analysts, is the installation of a stable coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, first under the veteran leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and subsequently with his daughter Mehbooba Mufti as Chief Minister. That this troublesome state has a nationalist all India party in a major role in its governance for the first time, is a development of great significance for India and a sign of remarkable advance of the democratic process in Kashmir.
I recall the period of the early 1990s, when this state was witnessing the height of separatist violence instigated from across the border by the Pakistani ISI in pursuit of its new plan of replicating the Afghan jihad in Kashmir. Flush from the success of the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan, for which Pakistan was given total credit by the US, the Pakistani agency took to subversion in the name of Islam, deciding to pump in the surplus Mujahideen into the valley and enlarging cross border terrorism into a “proxy war” against India by sending in militants and agents through the porous India-Nepal and India-Bangladesh borders to target strategically or communally sensitive establishments elsewhere.
Pakistan’s plan to force an outcome on Kashmir through violence was rooted in the belief that it enjoyed total American support on the issue at that time. It had, over the years, seen subversion—first in the name of plebiscite carried out by Jamaat-e-Islami and then on the call of azadi done by JKLF—failing to create a situation in its favour. The war cry of jihad succeeding in Afghanistan gave it a fresh incentive for reviving militancy in the state. This desperate Pakistani bid to seek an outcome in Kashmir through the communal route has not succeeded. The then Prime Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao, spoke of autonomy and also allowed informal talks with Hurriyat leaders in an attempt to reduce tension, but what ultimately thwarted the Pakistani offensive was the efficacy of counter-insurgency operations conducted by the Central forces with due support from the state police.
The Assembly elections of 1996, completed amidst heightened tension caused by the Pakistan-supported separatists, turned the table on them and the subsequent polls put the state firmly on the path of democracy and integration with the rest of the nation. It is a pity that the regional parties in the valley fell for the temptation of appeasing the Hurriyat for strengthening their own political power in the state. These parties have continued to pay lip service to the marginalised separatists, who indulged in empty rhetoric about Kashmir needing a “tripartite” solution. The Centre, on its part, should find a way of ignoring the disparate elements showing up in the name of Hurriyat, without curbing their movements at home.
The PDP-BJP coalition, which took time in firming up after the Assembly elections of 2014, has made it possible for the BJP to become a key player in the state in the future, even as it is presently in the saddle within the bounds of an accepted common programme. Meanwhile, the trouble fomented by the Pakistani agents at the NIT and in Handwara symbolises the renewed attempt by Pakistan to bring back focus on Kashmir in the chequered course of India-Pakistan talks, where India wants terrorism to be on top of the agenda. It is important that the PDP-BJP coalition continues to work for improving the human development index of the people of J&K. The murky side of Pakistan as the global hub of faith-based militancy is becoming known all over, and this will push the Pakistan proxies in the state into a corner.
It is important that development projects for the state are pursued speedily, intelligence-based counter-militancy operations are kept up and economic and cultural integration of the Kashmiris with the rest of India promoted in a manner that underscores the Hindu-Muslim grid of old Kashmir. The officials handling district administration must be given suitable orientation for improving services and delivery for the people.
The state police must play its legitimate part in unearthing anti-national elements and helping the implementation of AFSPA, which is overseen by the highest constitutional and political authority of the state. The black sheep in the administrative and police machinery of the state must be weeded out through the use of Article 311 of the Constitution wherever necessary.
The political management of J&K, inevitably, has a bearing on the handling of national security. In the domain of national security, unlike in politics, tactics never overtake the strategic objective. It goes to the credit of Ram Madhav, the Centre’s interlocutor in Kashmir, that he kept the strategic aim in front while negotiating the coalition arrangements between PDP and BJP. The state government has a domestic accountability, while the handling of the political “dispute” on Kashmir is entirely in the Centre’s domain of responsibility on the bilateral India-Pakistan turf. Ram Madhav did not let distractions come in the way of the strategic mission of putting the state into the national mainstream through a co-operative people-oriented governance. He did not involve the coalition in the issue of Article 370, but saw to it that the coalition agenda did not block a discussion on this subject.
The people of India expect the PDP-led government to have complete convergence with the Centre not only in putting down cross border terrorism with an iron hand, but also in questioning Pakistan on the affairs of POK, particularly on the geo-political conspiracy by which Pakistan had allowed Chinese encroachment on the territory of undivided J&K. This, in fact, will be the measure of success of the BJP’s role as a coalition partner in the state.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director Intelligence Bureau