Pakistan has returned to its old game of fomenting civil unrest and militancy in Kashmir after its army has found that India would not budge from its stand that the India-Pakistan talks could be resumed only if the issue of cross-border terrorism was kept on the top of the agenda. Pakistan’s ISI has been relying heavily on the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen—the militant wing of the Jamaat-e- Islami controlled by the United Jehad Council of Syed Salahuddin operating from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir—for its machinations in Kashmir. In the past, Jamaat exercised a lot of influence on the J&K administration and served its Pakistani masters by promoting militancy at the mass level under the cover of political protests. The stone-pelting mobs encouraged by it were to pose a formidable challenge to law enforcement. The two regional political parties of Kashmir, National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), shared the common trait of appeasing the separatists to stay in power and this suited Pakistan immensely. The Narendra Modi government, however, decided to go after Hizbul leaders, ignored the Hurriyat and pushed the separatists to the margins, upsetting Pakistan’s plan of softening the ground in the valley for operations by infiltrated LeT and JeM terrorists. The killing of top Hizbul commander Burhan Wani and two other terrorists in an intelligence-based operation by the security forces in Anantnag district on 8 July sparked off widespread public protests by stone pelting mobs. Handling them as a law and order challenge led to about two dozen deaths over three days and compelled the enforcement of curfew across most of the valley. The episode unravels a last ditch attempt by pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir to keep the democratic government from coming down heavily on terrorists or even strictly enforcing the law against public violence.
The responses from Pakistan to the killing of Wani prove that country’s hand in the goings-on in Kashmir. LeT chief Hafiz Saeed declared from Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) that there would be “many more Wanis” and that the “jihad in Kashmir would be intensified”. It has seen Nawaz Sharif, no doubt prompted by his army, calling the episode a “violation of human rights of Kashmiris”. In an absurd statement, the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan argued that the incidents of law and order in the state should get the United Nations to order a plebiscite in J&K. In an appropriate reply, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesman here warned Pakistan against any interference in the internal affairs of India and admonished it for continuing to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The Modi government has sought bipartisan support at the Centre and in the state for a robust policy against terrorism. It is now clear that on the strength of the China-Pakistan axis and the assumption that the US was still beholden to the Pakistan army for safeguarding American assets in Afghanistan against the increased threat of Islamic radicals, Pakistan is bent upon stepping up terrorist pressure on India to get this country to yield on the resumption of talks on Kashmir. India needs to follow a multi-pronged strategy to counter the Pakistani offensive. In J&K, Mehbooba Mufti’s government should be directed not to indulge in any appeasement of separatists. The Governor of J&K should pro-actively monitor the implementation of AFSPA as regards the counter-terrorism role of Army, while the state government takes responsibility for the maintenance of law and order. India should demand the surrender of Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim to India without further delay and raise support of the international community in this regard.
At home, the government should expose all those leaders of the minority—both ulema and the elite—who act as apologists of Pakistan for their own political reasons.
The world today is witnessing a global conflict between Islamic radicals led by the ISIS and Al Qaeda-Taliban combine on the one hand and the US-led West on the other. The revivalists have taken on their “enemies” in an asymmetric war and achieved unprecedented success in producing their ultimate weapon, the suicide bomber, by exploiting religious motivation. It is natural for India to throw its weight behind those combating the radicals, more so because the threat of ISIS has come nearer home for us and instances of Muslim youth of India getting converted to ISIS “cause” are beginning to rise. The case of Nimisha belonging to a normal Hindu family of Thiruvananthapuram embracing Islam after marriage and subsequently leaving the town only to appear as a member of ISIS along with her husband, adds a new dimension to the threat. Also, the matter of Mumbai-based preacher, Zakir Naik, whose exhortations pushed two more youngsters of Kerala to the fold of ISIS, calls for arrangements to identify and punish those who were using sermons on Islam to foment violence. In the final analysis, it should be understood that while the global threat from Islamic radicals is a source of rising concern for India, the main threat to this country is from the Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism that targets us solely. While the West remains focused on ISIS, Pakistan’s ISI has already manoeuvred some radical outfits and even influenced Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) to take on India. Pakistan has used communal discords to foment faith-based militancy and terrorist violence. India should deal with this sternly without letting domestic politics influence security. This country has to fight its own war on terror first.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau