Half Yearly Review

J&K: Declining Violence, But Challenges Galore

08 Aug, 2013    ·   4078

Ashok Bhan comments as part of the IPCS Database on Peace and Conflict in South Asia

Ashok Bhan
Ashok Bhan
Distinguished Fellow

The first half of the year 2013 in Jammu and Kashmir was marked by continued ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts from across, targeting by terrorists of security forces and police personnel, targeted attacks on civilians including Panchayat members and resumption of civil strife and protest hartals in the aftermath of hanging of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. There was focus on developmental issues and employment generation. Apart from feeble attempts through Track 2 to establish contact with separatists, there has been no forward movement in finding “positive peace” in the state through political initiatives.

As a result separatists were able to exploit sentiments of the people after incidents like execution of Afzal Guru or killing of two civilians by security forces in Markundal Sumbal.  Mian Nawaz Sharif, newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, has extended hand of friendship to  India and  expressed his willingness to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue, yet it is too early to expect resumption of composite dialogue between India and Pakistan.
During the first half of 2013, the following trends could be identified in J&K in terms of peace and conflict.

Declining Violence
Numerically speaking, the downward trend in violent incidents continues. There were only 44 incidents of terrorist violence in the first half of 2013 as against 124 incidents in the entire year 2012. But behind these figures lie some ground realities which don’t augur well for the peace process.

The net infiltration ending May 2013 (as per MAC) was 30 as against 13 during the corresponding period in 2012. The net infiltration in 2010 and 2011 was 95 and 52 respectively; the neutralizing of terrorists in encounters during these years was 232 and 100 respectively, thus registering an overall reduction in their presence. The trend has reversed with 121 infiltrations in 2012 and only 72 terrorists killed. This trend continues in the first half of 2013 with 30 infiltrations and neutralizing of only 17. There is net increase in presence of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir during 2012 and 2013.

The casualty of SFs has increased suddenly to 28 in the first six months of 2013 as against 15 in entire 2012, 33 in 2011 and 63 in 2010. There are targeted killings of police and security force personnel and there have been two daring attacks in the outskirts of Srinagar on CRPF deployment and Army convoy inflicting heavy casualties.  20 civilians got killed during period under review as against 24 in entire year 2012, 40 in 2011 and 164 in 2010. Here again members of Panchayats and those having contacts with SFs were targeted. 

Revival of Protests and Hartals
To top it all there is revival of protests and hartals with 22 hartal calls in the six months as against 22 in 2012 (entire year) and 19 in 2011. There have been 130 processions/demonstrations as against 8 in 2012, 3 in 2011 and 135 in 2010. The terrorists have increased targeting of SFs and police and separatists are once again proactive in exploiting each incident including when terrorists are killed in encounters.
The year 2013 began in the backdrop of increase in Border firing incidents from Pakistan, ostensibly to infiltrate terrorists. The relations between the two neighbors soured with beheading of an Indian soldier and mutilating body of another on January 8 in Poonch sector. In tune with the outcry and popular sentiment Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded bringing to justice perpetrators of the heinous crime and announced “there can be no business as usual with Pakistan”.

Hanging of Indian Parliament attack accused Mohammad Afzal Guru on February 9 evoked protests from the mainstream political parties as well as separatists bringing the later together on the platform of Mutahida Majlis Mashawarat (MMM) which issued weekly calendar of protests and hartals. In the state assembly and outside battle lines were drawn between those critical of the hangings and those opposing any concessions to those involved in terrorist activities. Unfortunately these were drawn along regional and communal lines. While tension over the hanging has subsided, observers in Kashmir feel that the scars left in the minds would continue to haunt the state. On the other hand security analysts describe “disproportionate” sympathy of the Indian media and intelligentsia in this case as the soft belly of the nation’s resolve to combat terrorism. Advance information on hanging, it is argued, would have evoked wide spread protests and mayhem to stall due process of law.

Pakistan's New Positioning
Pakistan too jumped in with the National Assembly, two days before its term was to end, passing a resolution on March 14 condemning hanging of Afzal Guru and demanded the return of his mortal remains to his family. The Indian Parliament on March 15 rejected the Pak resolution as interference in its internal matters and reiterated that entire Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Group visa scheme for Pak nationals was put on hold and India-Pakistan hockey series was shelved in view of these developments.

Kashmir was by and large missing from the agenda of the National Assembly election campaign in Pakistan. Yet Mian Nawaz Sharif did talk about his commitment to revive Indo-Pak peace process started with Atal Behari Vajpayee which was interrupted by General Musharraf in1999.  While conceding that Kashmir issue had been put on back burner, Nawaz Sharif assured that in the event of his becoming the Prime minister, Pakistani soil will not be used for terrorist activities in India nor will speeches against India be allowed. After taking over as Prime minister he has reiterated his desire to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue. There has been a cautious reaction from India. Special envoys of the two Prime Minister’s have met. Foreign Minister Salman Khursheed, while speaking on the side lines of a conference in Srinagar on June 28, stated that focus at present, is to resume sectoral dialogue so that some CBMs can be implemented on both sides to improve the atmosphere. He added that the composite dialogue can be resumed after the new Government settles down. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah while felicitating Nawaz Sharif on his victory has urged the two Prime Ministers to rebuild relations and take initiative to resolve the Kashmir issue.

While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is busy in tackling the enormous economic crisis that Pakistan faces, his suspicious relations with the Army will not allow him to put the civilian Government at the centre of any new strategy in security and foreign policy domains. India wants MFN status to boost trade, rapid movement in prosecuting the perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai attacks and action against Lashkar-e – Toiba, none of which will find support from the Army. Increase in infiltration bids even after the new Government took over in Pakistan is indicative of such differences in the perception of the civil Government and the Army. HM Commander based in Pakistan Syed Salauddin on May 17 warned the new regime against making the “mistake” of perusing friendship with India at the cost of Kashmir. Nawaz Sharif’s opening towards India to ease the situation will take considerable time, say foreign policy experts. The resumption of composite dialogue will have to wait till atmospherics improve.

Political Visits and a Slow Internal Dialogue
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi during their visit to Jammu and Kashmir on June 25 and 26 promised full support to the State for its holistic and inclusive development. The Prime Minister announced Rs 1629 Crore Srinagar-Leh power transmission line and Rs 710 Crore package for the rural road network package in the state under PMGSY. Prime Minister laid foundation stone of 850 MW Ratle Hydroelectric Power Project in Kishtwar and inaugurated the Banihal-Qazigund rail link joining the two provinces of Jammu and Kashmir across the Pir Panchal Range.

On the eve of the visit of the Prime Minister the atmosphere was vitiated by militants opening fire on June 24 on an Army convoy in the outskirts of Srinagar killing 8 soldiers and injuring 13. This added to the security concerns created by the usual hartal calls given by the separatists on the visit of a dignitary from New Delhi. The Prime Minister reiterated the Government’s willingness to talk to anyone who shuns violence and made it clear that it would not succumb to terrorists’ efforts to destabilize the state. He stated that the entire nation stands united against terrorism and that would not tolerate it.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah urged for resumption of internal dialogue for political resolution of grievances and aspirations of pluralistic and diverse state, resumption of dialogue with Pakistan and comprehensive review on cross LoC trade and travel. He showed satisfaction over the rehabilitation policy with 422 cases having been approved for return out of 1094 applications received. The National Conference (NC) delegation which met the Prime Minister demanded greater autonomy in pursuance to the State Assembly Resolution and implementing recommendations of the Working Groups and Interlocutors. In the backdrop of increase in incidents of violence and now well known stand of the Army, the time was not found opportune to press for the partial withdrawal of AFSPA. However, the ruling NC made it clear that the party’s views on the issue remained unchanged.

The visit of the Prime Minister and Smt Sonia Gandhi had purely a developmental agenda. Not that anyone expected them to announce a political package or revocation of AFSPA. The visit was ill timed, according to noted columnist Shujaat Bukhari as the Prime Minister “came at a time when peace constituency has shrunk, dialogue both at the internal and external levels is stalled and the efforts to reach out to the people at the political level is completely absent”. New Delhi can’t be faulted for disruption of the composite dialogue. There is a strong opinion against unilateral concessions to Pakistan in view of repeated provocations and use of Pak territory for terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. A consensus seems to have emerged that dialogue is essential but Pakistan must act like a civilized country and do serious introspection about its destructive attitudes and policies before we can resume efforts to build mutual trust.

New Delhi has made efforts, albeit feeble at least in their appearance to the outside world, to bring separatists to the negotiation table. On the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit, Track 2 activists thronged Srinagar but were told that there was no scope of a meeting until the previous “commitments” were fulfilled. A new demand of return of Afzal Guru’s mortal remains has been added to preconditions like release of political detainees, booking of Police personnel for the deaths of over 100 civilians in 2010 during street fights, withdrawal of AFSPA etc. In the absence of dialogue with Pakistan and refusal of separatists to talk, New Delhi appears to be in a dilemma whether it is the right time to address the internal dimension in terms of demands of mainstream parties, recommendations of the Working Groups and report of the Interlocutors. This is well demonstrated by the go slow approach of the J&K Government’s Cabinet Sub Committee on Justice Sagheer Ahmed Working Group recommendations on Centre-State relations. The term of the sub-committee, which has representation from the National Conference and Congress parties, has been extended for the eighth time and it failed to meet even once during the seventh extension from November 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013. In previous meetings there was no consensus between the coalition partners.

The Separatists and Afzal Guru's Hanging
The separatists found handy material to exploit the sentiments after hanging of Afzal Guru, an alleged incident of firing on June 29/30 by the security forces at village Markundal, Sumbal in which two civilians lost their lives and more recently on July 18 when four civilians were killed and 40 injured when BSF and police are alleged to have opened fire on protestors in Gool Tehsil of Ramban district. The frequency of Hartal calls and number of protest demonstrations have suddenly increased. The State Government has been exercising restraint in dealing with street fights. Once again it appears to have become necessary for the law and order machinery to restrict movements of separatist leaders and resort to arrest of agitators pelting stones. Despite lukewarm response of the people to Hartal calls and agitations, the situation has begun to show adverse effect on the arrival of tourists to the State.

While no one can find fault with the development agenda for J&K, its predominance to eclipse the political resolution of grievances of the three geographic regions is a hindrance in the peace process. The nature and course of dialogue with Pakistan will depend on their internal situation and how assertive the civilian Government can get in influencing decisions on security and foreign affairs. The confidence building measures and the sectoral dialogue can pave way for the composite dialogue including addressing the external dimension of the Kashmir issue. Meanwhile, efforts to bring separatists to the negotiation table must continue.

It would be of interest if more of them like Sajjad Lone of People’s Party are willing to test the waters during the next Assembly Elections due towards the end of 2014. The settling of the internal dimension within the limits set by the Constitution of India needs a wider informed debate within and outside the State. The counter-infiltration grid will be put to a severe test in coming months. There should be no let up in intelligence based counter-terrorist operations under the Unified Command. However, the issue of phased withdrawal of AFSPA as a confidence building measure within the state needs to be seriously revisited early.