Over the past month, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) took a familiar turn, usually witnessed around the end of winter. Terrorist activity increased and there has been much worry about energised mobs attempting to come to the rescue of trapped terrorists at encounter sites. In one such case, three civilians were killed when the security forces (SF) did not get cowed down by the intimidation of the vigilantes. It is highly unlikely that the SF will be pressurised; and in all probability, they will develop new techniques and acquire better equipment to overcome the challenge.
Thus far there is not much that the establishment has done to halt the march of vigilantism which has taken over mosques, triggered stone pelting and targeted the general lives of people in rural areas in particular. The drift will have an effect on the degree of control that anti-social elements have in the Valley, as was evident during the first by-poll. However, more worrisome is the level of external influence on the situation. The control of the security establishment over this is usually far less than what it does over the internal domain. External factors include Pakistan’s sponsorship, pro-activeness and role; China’s new found interest; and the ideology and the influence of radical Islamic groups. Even as the by-polls are underway over the next six to seven weeks, the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar should focus on internal stabilisation in the Valley but eyes cannot be taken away from the scanner that looks at external influence.
Radical Islamic Ideology
The degree of influence exercised by radical Islamic ideology on the turbulence in J&K has been the subject of much debate. Some analysts argue that the ideological content of the movement is negligible and that the movement essentially remains political. The actual influence may yet be remaining marginal but the larger Islamic identity is being profusely employed to garner unity and support of the local people.
Through the mayhem of 2016, the mosque did emerge as the rallying point. The mosque can also exercise influence of the local ideology but most people agree that faith resonates and radical faith resonates even more. That over 800 mosques have been taken over by the Ahle Hadith sect is enough to prove the direction in which ideological influence has been moving, right under our eyes. The influence of Daesh, which is attempted to be projected through one-off hoisting of its flags, is still marginal.
Faith is being used for the purpose of securing international support from Islamic nations. Religious vigilantism is evident in some areas and the notion of Islam as the binder against India is rife. Worldwide, there appears little evidence of reduction in the influence of Islamism. Daesh, under pressure in Iraq and Syria, has pulled back just a little in its proactive campaign. The real Islamist influence, however, comes from Pakistan, where Islamist activism remains live.
With social media (Whatsapp in particular) becoming the primary medium to motivate flash mobs in the Valley, Islamist influence through this medium is also likely to increase.
Pakistan's Potential Strategy
If Pakistan desires that India once again join in a peace process, it will attempt to keep the quantum and nature of violence just below the threshold, ensuring no high profile acts take place; also contingent upon the degree of influence General Qamar Bajwa exercises over the deep state. However, it may appear to the Pakistani establishment that the success it achieved in enflaming the Valley in 2016 must move to the next step lest the movement, which is usually more active in summer, loses momentum. The international and regional environment may also appear to give it a perception that the situation favours it. Pakistan was quick to respond positively to the US' proposal for mediation. Thereafter, however, commentaries have harped on the usual line of responding to India’s stand on terror by stating that it would wish to include India’s alleged sponsorship of terror activities in Pakistan. The required degree of seriousness is obviously missing and a perception that it must continue to hurt India in J&K persists.
It is evident that Pakistan is unlikely to put its sponsorship of turbulence in J&K on hold. The strategic environment gives it the perception that it should seek advantage through actively pursuing the route of violence. Indian security agencies and all institutions of civil governance must be prepared for the worst through the impending summer.
This column is the first of the two-part series on the evolving nature of external influence impacting security and stability in Jammu and Kashmir, India.