Developments in Jammu and Kashmir do not look very promising. The portents point to difficult times ahead. Internecine tensions and violence are on the increase. Cross-border firings show no sign of abating. The mood in the Valley is sullen. Anti-India sentiment is growing.
This has little to do with the Centre’s so-called failure to provide funds for last year’s flood affected victims, or the ideological divide on issues such as the relevance of Article 370. Or, for that matter, the ineptitude displayed by the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government to deal with a spate of problems affecting the State. The problem is more fundamental in nature.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir in November was premised on the belief that all that was needed to repair the unsatisfactory relations between Srinagar and Delhi was infusion of additional funds for the economic development of the State. This is the ‘mirage’ that Delhi has long chased, dictated by the convoluted nature of the semantics between Kashmir and Delhi. It has produced few results. The added expectation that Prime Minister Modi’s visit would rekindle the ‘Vajpayee spirit’ of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriat and Kashmiriyat’ has also been belied.
The Prime Minister did announce a huge bonanza of Rs. 80,000 crore for infrastructure and economic development of the State — falling victim to Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu’s ‘siren song,’ that with adequate financial assistance from the Centre, the State would not only be on the road to recovery but this would impact favourably on Kashmir-India relations.
Jammu and Kashmir today is a region that is challenged both from within and from outside. Signs of alienation and a growing anti-India sentiment may look familiar, but a churn is taking place beneath the surface. Since the decade (2002-2003 to 2012-2013) when Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh visited the Valley ‘bearing gifts’ for economic development and enlarging employment opportunities in the State — which seemed to produce results for some time — the situation has fundamentally changed.
It is imperative that Delhi and Srinagar understand the nature of the change taking place, and the consequent shift in attitudes in the Valley. Adhering to the existing formulations on how to bring about normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, ignoring trends that could well have a tectonic impact on developments in the State, could prove to be a grievous error.
New Delhi must, first and foremost, shed its pet illusion that the so-called alienation of the Kashmiri people can be overcome by providing larger and larger tranches of funds at every opportunity, on the plea of economic development. Another idea that has to be dispelled is that by building alliances and coalitions, it is possible to paper over fundamental differences in viewpoints, as also difficulties in implementing policies. The Agenda of Alliance between the PDP and the BJP, for instance, is a classic instance of such misplaced thinking, but even the earlier Congress-PDP alliance suffered from many of the same infirmities. This may have been less obvious at the time but only thanks to the deft handling of the situation, for example, during 2008 and 2009.
The PDP-BJP Agenda of Alliance is little more than an alliance of convenience. Built into it clearly are seeds of both its incompetence and its failure and, hence, it should be no surprise that the coalition has hardly taken off. Currently, Mufti Sayeed — more adept at Machiavellian tactics than governance — finds himself with a weak hand, not only because of the nature of the alliance but more so because circumstances have changed since 2002-2005, when he was last in charge.
Physically less active today, and possibly having become more intransigent and intolerant, he is hardly in a position to understand or deal with the current psyche of the Kashmiri youth. His pre-occupation seems to be to perpetuate his legacy by ensuring the succession of his daughter, Mehbooba, to the ‘gaddi’ in Srinagar. The latter’s sympathy for anti-India forces — including militants like the HuM — is well known, and her elevation would add yet another disturbing element to the current chain of developments.
Unfortunately, Delhi is proving to be equally inept in discerning the nature of the changed situation. It continues to fall back on the old formula that alienation is a function of the lack of development. This is not quite so. The new fundamentals involve a mixture of geo-political and regional factors, apart from the existing causes.
Among the regional factors that need to be better understood is Pakistan’s new role. There are enough indications that Pakistan believes that it holds a strong hand today, given the changed nature of politics in the region. Rawalpindi, hence, feels emboldened to raise the stakes in Jammu and Kashmir. There are other factors as well such as the China-Pakistan Economic — as also military — Partnership, which has added to Pakistan’s confidence to meddle in Jammu and Kashmir. The increasing ‘noises’ from Pakistan of involving the ‘other stakeholder,’ viz. Kashmiris, in reaching a settlement on Kashmir must not hence be treated as a mere reiteration of Pakistan’s long-standing ‘grouse.’
The fact that this is meeting with greater resonance in the Valley today also should not be ignored. Mufti, unwittingly or otherwise, is also playing to this gallery, and incidentally making common cause with the separatist forces in the Valley (including both the Hurriyat factions). The fact that Mufti chose to raise this while on a common platform with the Prime Minister during the latter’s November visit is hardly a coincidence, and must not be brushed under the carpet.
Geo-political aspects are also beginning to cast a shadow over Kashmir. This is the underestimated threat of greater radicalisation of Kashmiri youth in the Valley, a transformation that can have serious consequences. Across the Muslim world, there is today a trend favouring puritanical Islam, which gives rise to the spectre of Salafism. According to some Muslim scholars, Salafism is possibly the fastest growing Islamic movement today. Kashmir’s Sufi Islam faces a grave threat from these more radical elements. As radicalisation gains ground, it is beginning to introduce a whole new set of factors that will further deepen the Kashmir imbroglio.
Radicalisation rather than militancy and alienation should thus be seen as the new threat in Kashmir. The danger is real. Far more than ceasefire violations, actions of the Pakistani Deep State, terrorist incursions, and the separatists in Jammu & Kashmir, the looming threat that can no longer be ignored is the inexorable move towards extreme radicalisation. This has proved to be an irresistible magnet for the Muslim youth in many regions of the globe, and the youth in Kashmir cannot be expected to remain inured to such propaganda.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is a component of the ‘Salafist-Jihadist’ movement, has been steadily advancing eastwards — from civil war-wracked areas of Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has also carried out some attacks in Bangladesh. The ISIS has certain notions about what it refers to as the Islamic State of Khorasan. This incorporates many areas such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India. Kashmir falls within this arc.
If the youth in Jammu and Kashmir become victims of a new Salafised version of Islam, the consequences for entire India would be grave. It is important to estimate the nature of the changes taking place rather than be content to play by the old rules. That radicalisation is gaining ground is no longer a secret. What has to be achieved is to prevent such radicalisation from attaining a far larger dimension, by taking steps to limit the attraction of such radicalist and extremist ideas among the local youth. To merely repeat the ‘mantra’ of alienation as being the result of underdevelopment would cost the country dear.
(M.K. Narayanan is former National Security Advisor and former Governor of West Bengal.)