Tag Archives | Kashmir Valley

The Valley of unemployment

Sustained spell of stability, peace and security will attract corporates to Kashmir.

Reuters has a report on how “the rapid growth of India’s giant economy is finally exerting a pull on the troubled Kashmir Valley”. It focuses on the call centre, run by Essar Group’s business processing arm, AEGIS in Srinagar to highlight this trend. The story goes on to highlight:

Like many developing societies around the globe, Kashmir is experiencing a “youth bulge,” where 71 percent of the population is under the age of 35. Of the large cohort of youth between the ages of 18 to 30 in the Kashmir Valley, an estimated 48 percent are currently unemployed.

In a recent survey conducted by the London-based think tank Chatham House, 96 percent of respondents from the Kashmir Valley identified unemployment as one of the main problems facing the state of Jammu & Kashmir along with conflict and corruption.[Reuters]

Government of India has approved an employment plan (SEE J&K), fully funded by the Centre, to provide job-oriented training to some 40,000 graduates, post-graduates and professional degree holders in the state over a period of five years. With an estimated expenditure of approximately Rs 250,000 per trainee, the plan is based on the recommendations of expert group headed by known economist C Rangarajan set up by the Prime Minister in August 2010. But with an estimated 500,000 unemployed youth in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, this initiative is unlikely to make a significant difference in the short-term.

Although the SEE J&K plan is to be jointly implemented by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and India’s corporate sector, the answer to unemployment concerns of the state perhaps lies in more direct investment by India’s corporate sector in the Valley. A recent interview of founder chairman and chief mentor of Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, explains why this isn’t happening.

Dr Faisal: Sir, we have recorded the unprecedented tourist arrivals in Kashmir this year, but unfortunately the investors are still not convinced, they are not still ready to come into the valley. And given that we have a very huge population of educated, unemployed youth and Kashmir does have an advantage when it comes to the software industry, I would just ask you that when is Infosys coming to Kashmir?

Mr Narayana Murthy: Absolutely. You know I was one of the earlier business people to go to Srinagar with Prime Minister Vajpayee and Barkha was also there, and at that point of time I did express that we would like to leverage the enormous strength of the wonderful youngsters that you have. But having said that, the reality is simply this, our business requires that our customers travel time and again in the course of a project. And for that to happen there will have to be, you know, stability, there will have to be a sense of peace, a sense of harmony, a sense of comfort, a sense of safety, and I think with officers like you in charge I have no doubt that we will reach that stable state pretty soon. And I can assure you that once we have that stable state, it will be an absolute privilege for us to come there. But let me assure you, let me tell you that we have lots of Kashmiris employed in Infosys in different development centres, absolutely.[NDTV]

The crux of what Mr Murthy says is this: there has to be stability, a sense of peace, a sense of harmony, a sense of comfort, a sense of safety — in other words, a prolonged spell of normalcy, peace and security for the corporates to invest in the state. The governments, both at the state and the centre, can only do this much to ensure normalcy. It is up to the Kashmiris to ensure that their political grievances are not exploited by Pakistan-backed and -funded separatist leadership to hurt the economic interests of Kashmiris. Current modes of expression of their grievances — whether by the gun or by stones or by shutdowns — need to be discarded in the favour of smarter alternatives, which will provide the average Kashmiri with an opportunity to lead a better life.

In other words, there is a need to get rid of the prevalent political economy of conflict in Kashmir. Because it is all about conflict; it has nothing to do with either politics or economy.

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German love for Kashmir

Other countries must follow Germany in revising their travel advisories on Kashmir.

When the German Ambassador to India, Thomas Matussek visited Kashmir last month, he had promised that Germany will reconsider adverse travel advisory for its citizens on Kashmir. Since Pakistan-sponsored militancy broke out in Kashmir two decades ago, most western countries have issued an advisory to their citizens, asking them not to visit Kashmir valley.

After his meeting with the German Ambassador on June 24th, Jammu & Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah had tweeted:

This is the first time any envoy has held out such an assurance. That’s a very big deal for us, regardless of how long it takes.[Link]

Firstly, no one had then taken the German Ambassador’s promise seriously. In fact, it was soon forgotten among the din that characterises Indian discourse on Kashmir.

Secondly, even if the review was to take place, no one expected the travel advisory to be reviewed so quickly.

Thus it came as a rather pleasant surprise when it was announced today that the Federal Foreign Office (FFO) of Germany has revised the travel advisory to its nationals visiting the Kashmir valley, Jammu region and Ladakh.

The significant revision in the advisory regarding Kashmir gave an overview of the security situation in the valley and clarified that the situation had now calmed down considerably and said, ”foreigners are generally not direct targets of clashes.” Regarding Jammu, the new advisory stated that the region was basically stable, though the situation might change and travellers were advised to obtain information regarding the security situation prior to their visit.[Link]

This is a very positive piece of news for Kashmir and Kashmiris. The economy of Kashmir is dependent on tourism, which contributes over 10%  to the state’s GDP. The foreign tourist visits to the Valley have remained abysmally low during the last twenty years, drastically dwindling from 59,938 in 1998 to 22,000 in 2008, a decrease of 63.3%.

As reported in the media, there were no hotel rooms available in Kashmir this year during the months of May and June. Due to school vacations, Indian tourists frequent Kashmir during those months. The foreign tourists used to visit Kashmir in July and August. Low foreign tourist arrivals mean that the hotels run at barely half occupancy during the months of July and August now. This trend needs to be reversed.

If the government of India pursues this case, other Western governments could emulate Germany and revise their travel advisories for Kashmir. That single step would contribute in greater measure to Kashmiri economy than any government programme designed to help the Kashmiris.

P.S. - Let us not expect Pakistan to help Kashmir in any way here. J&K CM Omar Abdullah just tweeted:

Srinagar’s only international flight was stopped because Pakistan didn’t allow overflight & yet they claim to be Kashmiris’ sympathisers.[Link]

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Mythbusting: Soldiers-to-civilians ratio in Kashmir

A fact check.

We have all heard this often, and even taken it as gospel truth. “The Indian troops-to-Kashmiri people ratio in the occupied Kashmir is the largest ever soldiers-to-civilians ratio in the world.” “Kashmir is the ‘most heavily militarized zone’ in the world.” “There is an Indian soldier for every ten civilians in Kashmir.”

These myths are based on many erroneous premises. Let us start with the police. The total sanctioned strength of Jammu and Kashmir police, including the civil police and the armed police, is 68,125. Based on the actual strength of the police in 2009 and the population of the state as per 2001 census, the police-to-population ratio comes to 683 per 100,000 people. As per 2009 data, the national average for the police-to-population ratio is 133, while the UN mandated figure is 250-300. Considering the violence experienced in the state during the last two decades, the existing police-to-population ratio is not abnormally high.

Next come the paramilitary forces. As per this statement by the Union minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs, Planning and Science and Technology, Ashwani Kumar, there are 86,260 people from the central forces deployed in the complete state of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1989, before the insurgency started, there were 28,782 central armed forces troopers deployed in the state.

Finally the army. The official figures of the army men deployed in the state is not available but in 2007, the army authorities had reportedly stated that there are 3,37,000 soldiers deployed within the geographical boundaries of the state. Leave alone the fact that at least 3o,000 soldiers have since moved out of the state, the deployment of soldiers needs to placed in the right context.

Barring the Rashtriya Rifles, which is a specialist counterinsurgency paramilitary force manned by the army, all the Indian army units are deployed on the Line of Control, Actual Ground Position Line (both with Pakistan) and the Line of Actual Control (with China). Even the Rashtriya Rifles are mainly deployed in the semi-urban and rural areas of Kashmir. There are a total of 65 Rashtriya Rifles battalion in the state, and at an estimated average of 1,000 soldiers per unit, this would lead to 65,000 Rashtriya Rifles troopers in the state.

So the actual strength of security force personnel dealing with the people in the state is nowhere near the figure of 7,00,000 which is usually floated in the media. Barring the 2,20,000 policemen, paramilitary troopers and Rashtriya Rifles soldiers deployed among the population, the rest of the army soldiers shall continue to be deployed on the LoC, AGPL and LAC irrespective of the internal security situation in the state. Even among the 2,20,000 troopers, a fair share of the police force would still be required to maintain the law and order in the state which has a population of 1,25,48,926 as per the 2011 census.

Meanwhile, let us get another fact out of the way. These deployments are for the complete state, and not just for the Kashmir Valley. For example, the Rashtriya Rifles units are deployed as Counter Insurgency Force (CIF)- R in Rajouri and Poonch, CIF-D in Doda, CIF-V in Anantnag, Pulwama and Badgam, CIF-K in Kupwara, Baramulla and Srinagar, and CIF-U in Udhampur and Banihal. Kashmir Valley, or the Vale of Kashmir, forms just 7 percent of the area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (for details of area in J&K, see this post). Because of the high density of population in the Valley, as compared to other mountainous regions of the state, and the increased threat of militancy and civil disturbance (as witnessed in 2010) in urban areas of the Valley, an impression is created in the minds of many visitors to the state capital that the complete state is over-militarised and teeming with gun-toting soldiers at every nook and corner. The facts are actually to the contrary.

Should there be less intrusive security in the urban areas of Srinagar? Yes, definitely. But that will take time to happen. The security forces were not raised and moved into Kashmir on the whim and fancy of the Indian government. They were deployed to control and defeat the violent insurgency in the state which has been actively promoted and supported by Pakistan since 1989. As the level of violence comes down and the threat of organised stone-pelting reduces, the behaviour of the security forces will also change. This is precisely what happened in the neighbouring state of Punjab in the late 1990s once the militancy was completely defeated by the security forces. In fact, some steps towards less intrusive security in Srinagar have already been initiated last year and this year when a number of paramilitary bunkers were removed from residential areas of the state capital. As peace and normality returns to the state, this move will gain further pace in the weeks and months to come.

The myth of Kashmir having the “largest ever soldiers-to-civilians ratio in the world” has persisted far too long without being challenged. This myth has been used not only in the Western media but has also gained currency in the writings of many Indian commentators. It is high time this myth is demolished and buried once for all. For as John F. Kennedy said: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

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Good news is no news

The challenge is to overturn the old adage, especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Good news is no news. It is an overused cliché but that perhaps best explains why we don’t hear enough — or rather hear nothing — about positive stories from Kashmir. Two stories are put forth here as evidence of this argument.

One, ten phases of polling for panchayat elections in Kashmir have been completed today, without any violence. More than 80 percent of the electorate has turned out to vote so far despite an unequivocal call by the Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan-based jehadi groups to boycott these polls. In fact, the voting percentages have been a good 10-15 percent higher in Kashmir valley as compared to the Jammu region. It is a story — even if you were to ignore the clear message that these polls are a win-win situation for both the Kashmiris and the state government — which is important enough to deserve reasonable coverage from the media, and elicit informed opinion from commentators and analysts.

Two, earlier this week, Indian government approved the Skill, Empowerment and Employment Special Scheme (SEE J&K) as a 100% Central assisted scheme in the next five years to cover one lakh youth in Jammu & Kashmir. The Scheme is scheduled to commence from June-July 2011 and the first set of placements are likely to take place by October-November 2011. In the first year, 15000 youth will receive training for salaried and self employment opportunities. This is not a magic wand that will immediately solve the problem of unemployment in Kashmir. But it is a good start nevertheless that needs to be promoted, and actively monitored by the media.

It must be remembered that these are not one-off, feel-good soft stories but hard political and economic measures of significant importance in a state torn by strife for over two decades. A Kashmiri Pandit woman winning a panchayat election or a temple being reopened in Srinagar is a heart-warming tale but has limited political significance beyond that, however hard one might try to hype the Kashmiriyat tag attached to it.

Then there is this edit in The Tribune newspaper which says that tourists are flocking to the Kashmir valley this summer. For all one knows, this could be based on anecdotal evidence of the editor or her friends because there is no factual evidence to back up the statement. Although one would like to believe the assertion that no hotel reservations are available for tourists in Kashmir, hard data would have helped this view from being dismissed by the naysayers as government propaganda.

Perhaps a portion of the blame for this media apathy also goes to the J&K state government. Its official website is “under construction” and the state Press Information Bureau, if such an entity exists, has no presence on the internet, leave alone social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The onus of communicating the state government’s message directly to the people is thus left solely to the personal twitter account of the Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah. By all accounts, he has been fairly successful so far by leveraging the fundament of today’s media environment — engagement. But this is not going to be easy, as a section of the media has already used Mr Abdullah’s twitter presence to make petty personal attacks against him.

When James Callaghan said that “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on”, it was an age with no internet (and no breaking-news television). In today’s times, every government needs to have mechanisms to proactively put the truth out before the lie has even started putting its pants on.  This needs a robust, agile and adaptive strategic communication framework in place, which is both reliable and credible, and engages with the target audience. Engagement through dialogic communication is now at least as important, if not more, as information-sending activities in the traditional media environment using monologist communication practices.

Communications transcend borders. In case of a conflict-torn state like Jammu and Kashmir which attracts a lot of international attention, the longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more one can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by news informers that will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place. Putting a strategic communication framework in place will allow the government to leverage the media’s power to tell people what to think about, if not what to think.

It is about winning the battle of the narrative. The state must recognise that perception is as important to its successes as the actual events. The challenge is upon the government, particularly the J&K government, to defy and overturn the old adage that good news is no news. Especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Toon from here.

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Mislaid narrative

The danger of a misplaced portrayal of even the tiniest trouble in Kashmir in 2011.

An interesting piece by ANI’s Smita Prakash warns us that the summer of 2011 could be tricky for Kashmir. While social networking tools may not have succeeded during the protests in 2010, it would be unwise to dismiss them now based on the previous year’s experience. The piece was interesting not only for what it said but for what it left unsaid. Here is this blogger’s interpretation of the unsaid bit:

Kashmir has seen trouble for the last two decades now. The militancy-related violence peaked in 2001, and the violence has dipped in the last two years to pre-1990 levels. There have been two major non-militancy protests — not non-violent though, mind you — in the Kashmir Valley: in 2008 over the Amarnath Land Transfer issue, and then the summer protests of 2010. In 2009, there were protests in some parts of Kashmir over the Shopian incident. It means that the decline  in militancy has been matched by the rise in these new means of protests in the Valley.

Despite the best intentions of the state government, supported by political moves from the Centre, it is possible that some protests — whether localised and sporadic incidents, or a sustained Valley-wide movement — may still occur in the Valley in summer of 2011. It is also possible that social networking may be used as a tool to organise these protests. While that may or may not be the most important factor in organising the protests, the separatists and the political opposition in the state would be more interested in conveying the message that even the smallest of protests are part of the larger narrative of twitter “revolution” sweeping the Middle East.

The reason for that is simple. Indian security forces have defeated the militancy in the state. Politically, the state seems to be moving towards normalcy with the announcement of the panchayat polls later this year. The separatists stand discredited after their failed antics of last year. The best they can then hope for is to latch on to a larger populist narrative to enhance their own credibility and show to the outside world that they continue to be relevant in today’s Kashmir.

Protests may or may not happen in the Kashmir Valley in the summer of 2011. One fervently hopes that they don’t. But if they do occur, then remember that protests were happening in Kashmir even in 2008, 2009 and 2010, before the “Twitter Revolution” overthrew dictators. Let us not unnecessarily start crediting Tunisia or Libya or Egypt for them. The blame would still rest on the loony separatist Kashmiri leadership, and their benefactors on the other side of the Line of Control.

Lest some think that the fear of the wrong narrative is overblown, one of the national dailies has already started building up the story. Perhaps this newspaper has never heard of OMPP, Oldest Mistake in Public Policy — mistaking correlation for causation. Or as they say, what we see depends mainly on what we are looking for.

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Jha’s Jhaag-wala Kashmir

Prem Shankar Jha’s call for sacking a duly elected government in J&K is neither democratic nor is it realpolitik. It is sheer absurdity.

My fellow blogger Nitin Pai pointed me to this column by Prem Shankar Jha, Lessons for India from the Egyptian people’s revolution in the DNA newspaper. Here are the last two paragraphs of his column:

But India will not escape the reverberations either. For it too must answer the question that Tahrir square has posed: what can even the most heavily armed state do when its own people repudiate it? This question needs an urgent answer in Kashmir valley, which has been in a virtual lockdown since June. What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Abdullah government resigns, the anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks? Will it fire on them? Will it deploy water cannon and rubber bullets as the Egyptian police have done but the JK police and the CRPF have not? Will it declare curfews, and try to prevent demonstrators from getting to Lal Chowk? Or will it forestall having to choose between these grim alternatives by giving democracy one more chance in Kashmir.

It is true that the Omar Abdullah government is an elected government. But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown, it is also a government that has lost the support of most of the people in the valley. Is it asking too much of a nation that prides itself on its democracy, to give democracy a chance to sort out the mess in Kashmir? As we are seeing in Egypt, the very least this will do is to empower the moderates and weaken the extremists clustered around Geelani and Masrat Alam. All that Delhi has to do is make up its mind. What it can no longer afford is to do nothing. Today it is like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding train. It has to jump off the tracks , and is rapidly running out of time.[DNA]

This blogger’s  first reaction to Mr Jha’s diatribe was, in twitter-speak,*Face Palm*. The second reaction was of dismissive anger. Having let those emotions subside, this blogger realises that engaging his… rather, not letting his uneducated nonsense go unchallenged is  important.

Just to refresh your memory, Mr Jha suggested in 2008 that India should give up on  Kashmir because he was convinced that the Kashmiri awam was overwhelmingly against India. Unfortunately for him, he was to be proved wrong within a few months when more than 60 percent of the residents of the state turned up to vote in the assembly elections. But we can’t let facts come in the way of a good old venomous rant.

Mr Jha avers, “Kashmir Valley has been in a virtual lockdown since June.” Of course, this Kashmir Valley must be existing on Mars or Jupiter for the one in the North Indian state has regained normalcy, albeit slowly, since September last year. Things have improved to such a degree that by December 2010, Mr Geelani was forced to unceremoniously withdraw his protest calendar which was evoking little response even in the separatists’ strongholds in the Valley.

“What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Abdullah government resigns, the anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks?” is the rhetorical question that Mr Jha poses. Precisely the same thing Mr Jha, that Delhi will do if lakhs of Mumbaikars converge on the Azad Maidan and refuse to leave till the Prithviraj Chavan government resigns, Maharashtra Terror Act (MACOCA) is repealed and the security forces deployed in the Naxal areas are withdrawn. A rhetorical question deserves no better than a rhetorical answer.

Mr Jha continues in the same vein: “But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown…”. So an opinion poll conducted by some media house carries more credence than the voters’ mandate for a constitutionally elected government in an Indian state. Here is a guest post at this blog by Sushobhan Mukherjee, who designed and executed the first-ever opinion poll in Jammu & Kashmir for the launch edition of Outlook magazine in 1995, deconstructing one of the many polls that Mr Jha probably refers to. In any case, democratic processes in  country can not be made subservient to any number of opinion polls (whether conducted face-to-face, or on internet, by twitter or by Facebook) and Jammu and Kashmir can be no exception to this rule.

Even more disingenuously, when Mr Jha refers to the results of opinion polls, for whatever these polls are worth, he takes into account the opinion only in the Valley while asking for the  sacking of the Chief Minister. Forget for a moment the fact that the state also has two other regions of Jammu and Ladakh which have elected this government, even the Kashmir region itself is much bigger than the Vale of Kashmir, which is presumably the Valley Mr Jha refers to.

For a country that held elections in 1996 and 2002 in Jammu and Kashmir at the peak of terrorism, India doesn’t need to be hectored about giving democracy a chance in the state. Even now, the state is gearing up to hold Panchayat polls in the state. Is that not the real and most participative form of grassroots democracy in the state? Perhaps, Mr Jha’s idea of democracy is only met if his favourite is voted in as the CM of the state. If someone he personally abhors ends up as the CM by a legit vote of the electorate, it is no longer a democracy in Mr Jha’s book.

Mr Jha then goes on to implore: “[Delhi] can no longer afford is to do nothing [in Kashmir].” Delhi is in fact already doing enough in J&K. It has got a team of interlocutors in place to talk to all shades of opinion in the state. The “moderates”, that Mr Jha expects will take part in the next elections if held today and thus marginalise the extremists, have refused to meet the interlocutors.

After 1987, the separatists have never participated in any democratic process in the state. There seem to be no indicators of any change in their stance so far. In any case, for argument’s sake, it is for the separatists to first declare their preference for participating in state elections if they are held now; the political parties in the state and the Union government can then take a call accordingly. It would otherwise be ridiculous to sack a duly elected government in the state when it has finished only one-third of its constitutionally mandated tenure.

Surely, a veteran journalist like Mr Jha knows that democracy is not merely about elections and voting but also about democratic systems, processes, structures and institutions. You can not weaken those very democratic institutions and processes in the name of furthering democracy. The answer to problems in Kashmir lies in strengthening the democratic institutions in the state, focusing on improved governance, and ensuring peace and security so that the average Kashmiri can live a normal social and economic life without any fear.

Mr Jha’s argument is neither about Egypt, nor about India or Kashmir. He is actually making a case for sacking a duly elected democratic government in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir. This is neither democratic nor is it realpolitik. It is sheer absurdity. We must treat such bunkum with the contempt that it deserves.

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‘Not news’ from Kashmir

The signs of normalcy from Kashmir that do not make much news

“For most folks, no news is good news; for the press, good news is not news.”~Gloria Borger

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The wages of stone-pelting

Time to get real about the business of Kashmiri protesters.

In February this year, this blog had spoken about the challenge posed by evolving tactics of stone-pelting in Kashmir to the security forces.

The most critical  aspect of this response is the speed at which the security forces adapt to changing tactics of the protesters. That is the key from preventing this stone-pelting business to turn into a scourge and dominate the narrative in the local media.[link]

Samar Halarnkar, whom no one can ever allege of being biased against the Kashmiri separatists, has a piece on Kashmir in the Hindustan Times. The money-quote — about the stone-pelters — from his piece is here:

Do they do what they do because they believe or does, as the police often allege, money play a part?

“We earned Rs 200 to Rs 300 as daily wage labourers,” says one of a group of masked young stone throwers. “Now we get between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500.” Who pays them?  “The separatists,” one offers. In a quiet, two-room home with open drains outside, 20-year-old street icon, Owais Ahmed ‘Mandela’, freely admits to receiving money. Where does it come from? He shrugs.[Hindustan Times]

Of course, it is not some new earth-shattering discovery that money plays the most important part in this business of stone-pelting in Kashmir. And it was noted by this blog six months ago as well:

Unlike the usual incidents of stone-pelting which are an expression of spontaneous outburst by the protesters, there is substantive evidence to prove that the latest rounds of stone-pelting in Kashmir valley are a well organised racket, a lucrative business being run at the behest of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed separatists.[link]

It is also partly a failure of the Indian government to highlight the realities of these so-called Kashmiri freedom-fighters that has allowed the separatists to portray themselves as victims of the Indian state, whereas they are the real perpetrators of organised violence against the average Kashmiri and the Indian state. Natwar Singh has rightly pointed out:

A word about the media. It is perhaps the most powerful instrumentality available. It can alter perception, provide hope, remove hopelessness. On February 27, 1950 (long before TV arrived), Jawaharlal Nehru, in a letter to the chief ministers, wrote: “I would suggest to you especially to keep in touch with editors of newspapers in your state. It is always a good thing to send for them and have informal off-the-record talks with them. Give them such real news as you possess.”[Business Standard]

A government that professes to uphold the legacy of Nehru could do no better than act on his words. And get the truth out on Kashmir. Fast.

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Some quick myth-busting

Stone-pelting can’t turn into a full-blown bloody militancy in Kashmir so easily.

This is how the BBC’s Soutik Biswas concludes his latest blogpost on the recent turmoil in Jammu & Kashmir:

But for the moment, India needs to show initiative and come up with some guarantees and time-bound plans to foster political reconciliation and sow the seeds of a political solution. Without this, the stone-throwing protesters may give way to Kalashnikov-wielding rebels from within the valley and across the border, in a return to full-blown bloody militancy.[BBC]

There is no disputing the fact that India needs to restore peace and normalcy in Kashmir. But return of peace and normalcy to Kashmir can not be an event; it has to be a process. The nuances of the process and the nature of its start-point can be debated but that is not the point of contention here. It is the implicit and unintended threat of stone-pelting transitioning into a full-blown insurgency that strikes a discordant note.

The armed insurgency has seen a steady decline in Kashmir since 2004 not because it was a wilful choice made by the  Kashmiri populace or there was a change of heart in the Pakistani military-jehadi complex.  It happened with the declaration of the cease-fire between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control(LoC) in 2003 wherein Pakistani posts could no longer provide the cover of firing to facilitate infiltration; construction of a formidable physical barrier in the shape of a border fencing on the LoC in 2004; increased availability of surveillance and detection equipment with the army; and the evolved three-tier deployment of the Indian army and Rashtriya Rifles which leveraged the institutional experience of the preceding 15 years to thwart the infiltrators’ plans.

It is also important to remember that by the mid-1990s, the insurgency in Kashmir was manned majorly (almost 80-85%) by jehadis from Pakistan, with a sprinkling of terrorists of other nationalities. The small percentage of indigenous Kashmiri youth who were picking guns also had to exfiltrate across the LoC for training and logistics before infiltrating into the Valley again. While the security forces eliminated terrorists in the rural and semi-urban areas of Kashmir, the supply line to replenish the declining numbers had turned into a trickle with every passing year. It is thus that the number of terrorists inside Jammu & Kashmir came down from an estimated high of 3500 in 2004 to an estimated 350-500 this year.

Two other points merit attention here. Firstly, stone-pelting in the Kashmir valley is mainly an urban phenomenon whereas the insurgency was — and whatever remains of it is — a rural enterprise. It will not be that easy for the urban stone-pelter to metamorphose into an AK-wielding terrorist. Secondly, post-9/11, Islamist or jehadi terror stands completely discredited as an expression of political grievances and a reversion to full-blown insurgency would only further strengthen India’s case. Moreover, the Indian state is struggling with handling the current means of violent protests whereas it has the resources, experience and the capability to take on militancy in a far more effective manner.

This endearing throw-away line that India’s inability to tackle the stone-pelters could lead to rebooting of the jehadi militancy in Kashmir doesn’t actually hold good under a closer scrutiny. That, however, doesn’t imply that Indian state can continue with the current state of drift and not make serious, earnest and even unpopular attempts to bring the situation under control. But these actions must be taken by the state for the right reason.

And that reason is simple: because it is the primary constitutional duty of the Indian state to establish the rule of law and ensure safety and security of all its citizens, including in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

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The new business of terror in J&K

First, organised stone pelting and now, outsourced terror strikes.

Stone pelting by protesters during demonstrations is not a new thing. Over the past decades, our drawing rooms have been satiated with images beamed from all over the world — places in Europe, South East Asia, West Asia and South America easily come to the mind — where protesters have pelted stones against the security forces.  In Jammu & Kashmir,  stone pelting [kani jung in local lingo] gained popularity in the 1960s — when supporters of National Conference called sher (lions) and of the Awami Action Committee called bakra (goats) — would indulge in clashes that known as sher-bakra battles. But the recent news-reports of stone pelting in Kashmir valley have put these incidents under a sharper focus. So what is so different about stone-pelting in Kashmir valley this time around?

For one simple reason. Unlike the usual incidents of stone-pelting which are an expression of spontaneous outburst by the protesters, there is substantive evidence to prove that the latest rounds of stone-pelting in Kashmir valley are a well organised racket, a lucrative business being run at the behest of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed separatists. Having failed to reignite the fire of militancy in Kashmir valley in recent years — despite increased attempts at infiltration during the winter months from south of Pir Panjal ranges — this is indicative of a changed tactic against the security forces and the elected government of the state. Political parties like the PDP have jumped in to the fray with their voices of tacit support to stone-pelters further adding to the discomfiture of the state government. It must not, though, be forgotten that these incidents are restricted to only 8-10 police stations in the state but the extensive media coverage enhances their impact and visibility manifold.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to devise a counter-tactics to disrupt and degrade this menace of stone pelting. Simple actions like prompt use of non-lethal weapons, arrest of ring-leaders, jamming of mobile communication signals, close circuit cameras in affected areas, timely intelligence gathering, and community meetings with local elders on Friday mornings would go a long way in curtailing the menace. The most critical  aspect of this response is the speed at which the security forces adapt to changing tactics of the protesters. That is the key from preventing this stone-pelting business to turn into a scourge and dominate the narrative in the local media.

The state government — to be fair to it — has responded but not as nimbly as it should have. It has even declared stone-pelting as a crime amounting to waging war against the state and has started booking individuals under this charge. More interestingly, in a very astute move last year, Srinagar police chief Afadul Mujtaba had tried to thwart stone-pelting by claiming that there is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that prohibits stone pelting. It generated a lot of debate in the Kashmiri media where some religious scholars supported him while others including the separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani obviously expressed their disagreement. In light of the spurt in stone-pelting incidents in recent months, that debate seems to have been sealed in the favour of the separatists and the stone-pelters.

From North East to Punjab, history tells us that the Indian state eventually does find its own ways to successfully counter the separatists and their tactics. There is no reason that it is going to be any different this time around. However, that is little cause for satisfaction. The Pakistani military-jehadi complex has already moved on to a new tactics in Jammu & Kashmir: outsourcing terror strikes to freelancing terrorists still operating in the state, while various jehadi groups stake their claim for these terror incidents.

Having failed to keep the militancy in the state alive both politically and militarily, these new tactics are evidently signs of desperation from the separatists and their Pakistani backers. It can be safely assumed that they will continue to devise newer methods and tactics to confound the security forces and embarrass the state government. The  security forces and the state government will have to respond to the changed tactics adequately and in a calibrated manner; but it is the alacrity and nimbleness of the response that will remain the biggest challenge.

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