When, in August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government abolished Article 370, which gave the then state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status in the Union of India, and converted the region into a Union Territory, one calculated it would be all fine.
Ever since the state came into existence in independent India, just a handful of elite political families had happened to use its special status to govern the region in a manner detrimental to the people– the minorities and Dalits, in particular, in the area — and to benefit themselves only.
Now, with the obnoxious special status scrapped, the region would be administered by a government that would ensure all-inclusive multi-faceted development. However, all is still too far from average for the government in the region to focus on people’s development.
According to a government estimate, between August 2019 and February this year, 439 militants, 109 security personnel and 98 civilians were killed in Jammu and Kashmir. Three Hindus were killed between August 5, 2019, and December 31, 2019; two people, including one Kashmiri Pandit, in 2020; and nine people, including three Kashmiri Pandits and six other Hindus, in 2021. The killing of those from the minority community in the Kashmir valley peaked in 2021.
According to a New York Times report, since August 2019, a total of 18 Hindus have been killed in the Valley. Over 70 per cent of those, who had recently returned back to their old homes,have left the Valley once again. Some of them are too frightened to go to their workplaces. Some have stopped sending their children to school.
It is high time the Centre focused on ensuring stability in the region for its development. For this, it must deal sternly with all anti-nationals — violent separatists, the Resistance Front, an offshoot of Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, in particular—who have been behind the current violence in the Valley .
The goal of such anti-national elements has never been secret : establishing some political system based on the radical Islamist laws detrimental to the pluralist values of modern civilization and the interests of the masses in particular in the region.
In the late 1980s, violent separatist elements in Jammu and Kashmir received support and training in Pakistan and finally committed Hindu genocide. According to a study conducted by former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar, the population of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley in 1989 was four lakh. Due to Islamist violence in the region reduced this to over 4000 by the end of the nineties. By 2000 the Islamist terrorists killed more than 34252 innocent citizens, wounded and decapitated 17484, set on fire 10,000 Hindu houses and destroyed state and individual properties worth 2000 crore rupees.
In a report in 2004, U.S. Representative Frank Pallone said, “Kashmiri Pandits are on the verge of losing their… homeland in Kashmir… the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir…[led] to [the] forced exile of the entire minority… when Islamic insurgents committed mass massacres of Pandits in villages and hamlets throughout Kashmir.”
Sometime in 2014, then BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi slammed the Abdullahs for the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. He told National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah, “In our culture of thousands of years, the biggest harm on secular fabric done anywhere (in India) is done in Jammu and Kashmir and it is done due to politics of your father, yourself and your son…. It is due to your politics and the politics of your son that Kashmir is the only land from where Pandits were removed solely for their religion.”
There had long been a near consensus across the Indian public spectrum to foil the designs of Islamist forces in the region. The Centre must now make it clear to the separatists and allies that it believes in the rule of dharma/ justice and hence would in no circumstance allow them any space to return to the pre-2019 border.
An effective way to deal with the separatists and allies would be for our Central government to instruct the professional elements in its intelligence and security agencies to identify the key miscreants who have been behind the ongoing violence in the Valley and initiate a due process of justice to get rid of them. The government could also instruct India’s apolitical defence forces to strike the separatists’ masters surgically, the real brains behind them , holed in Pakistan.
New Delhi ought to bear in mind that India’s war on terror in Kashmir is far from over. Given India’s experience , there is no point looking for any international consensus on strategies to fight its war on terror . Even if it wanted, Islamabad can do little to control terrorism emanating out of its territory. No doubt, most of the Pakistanis adhere to the Barelvi school of thought, founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly (1856-1921). They turn to Sufi saints and venerate their graves and shrines . But it is the Deobandi, Wahabi, Salafi, Ahl-e-Hadith sects, and, more recently, Taliban militants, closely linked with an intolerant interpretation of Islam, who call the shots in the country. The Deobandis have established several hundred Islamic seminaries in Pakistan, many of which abet militancy and terrorism.
Like the world’s major responsible democratic powers, including the United States and Israel, do in defence of their national interests, India must resort to a policy of self-defence to serve its own in Kashmir. There has long been a consensus across the enlightened national strategic spectrum on this course of action.
(The author is a New Delhi-based journalist and Distinguished Senior Fellow, Gatestone Institute, New York)