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#5042, 30 May 2016

J&K Focus

Governance & Strategic Communication: Keys to Stabilising J&K
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain
Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar

With the durbar back in Srinagar, one of the first things the new government did was to convene a meeting of the Unified Command. That is most sensible because an early stock-taking of the situation and planning for contingencies for the summer is always necessary. Threats on the security front are multiple and need to be briefly outlined. However, before that, a question often asked by media persons relates to Afghanistan and whether the situation there has an effect on J&K.

The ripple effect of events in the Af-Pak invariably travels to the hotspots of the region, and J&K comes within that. Yet, when Afghanistan is quiet for some time, it gives the sponsors across the LoC the opportunity to actively involve themselves in affairs of J&K. Otherwise, internal security problems in Pakistan and events in Afghanistan allow the sponsors time enough only to keep the proverbial pot boiling in J&K.

The state government returned to Srinagar in the aftermath of the Handwara incident. Clearly, this was a manipulated event to test the new government but the follow up by the separatists fell through when the legitimacy of the allegations against the Army became doubtful. The separatists then attempted the ‘sainik colonies’ rumor as a fresh trigger. It was not passionately followed up either because of the tourist season now panning out and people in the streets wishing to be involved in their trade rather than in the protests. The government has been handling these issues quietly, just as it should. What is remarkably different is the maturity being shown by the political leaders in Jammu who are not reacting and responding to every provocation in the Valley.

The security situation is not yet worrisome but can get worse. There has definitely been a surge in infiltration. The contacts and gun battles reported in the last few days, and in fact ongoing even as of 27 May 2016, indicate the traditional areas being used for pushing in terrorists. The Army has been able to intercept quite a few. However, in the infiltration game, everyone understands that for every intercepted track, on an average two others successfully infiltrate. This means the strength in the hinterland is likely to increase, marginally, and some leaders would probably have been sent in to take charge of a few areas in North Kashmir. The Army has to ensure that it plugs the gaps in the counter-infiltration grid to prevent more leakages. It is likely that the anti-infiltration obstacle system (AIOS) has not been fully repaired as yet, although the low snow levels last winter did have a reduced damage effect on the AIOS than in previous years. In 2015, the grid was reinforced through some ad hoc measures. It always pays to use whatever resources available to stop the terrorists at the LoC itself.

So, while the tourist season keeps the separatists a little quieter and the Army is deeply involved in operations in the LoC belt the State Government has a window, a short one at that. It needs to shore up its demonstrated capability in administration and governance. That is the plank on which most governments get elected. It must focus on two or three key issues – such as distribution of flood compensation, for example – and ensure that it delivers. The Food and Supplies department must take it upon itself to ensure that there is no shortage of any commodity particularly milk, vegetables, petroleum products and cooking gas, in the coming winter. This should be taken up as a challenge.

J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has already demonstrated that she has not forgotten the things she was briefed about before she was sworn in. She chaired a meeting on LoC trade very early into her tenure and gave some crunch decisions.

The second area that should engage the government’s attention is activating the information domain, an area that has been lying dead for long. A common platform should be evolved between the constituents of the coalition on the areas they would wish to be addressed in the public outreach. A return to the Kashmir Premier League cricket tournament by the Ministry of Sports and Youth affairs is strongly recommended. This tournament, which was played for two years under the aegis of the Army, needs to be revived. It had created a positive environment in the entire Valley. On a flimsy ground, the finance mandarins of the Ministry of Defence had shot down its continuation.

The last short term advice for the political leadership is: reactivate the grassroots contacts. J&K has, for far too long, been without grass root political activity that captivates people and keeps them pegged to local issues.

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