Friday, 2 August 2019

The improved situation in Kashmir is but a mirage

A trite observation from peace studies theory has it that the propensity for rumour mongering in a society corresponds to levels of instability and stress. By this yardstick the rumour storm kicked up on the departure of national security adviser Ajit Doval after a recent two-day visit to Kashmir is a clear indicator that Kashmir remains on the edge. The grapevine has it that keeping Kashmir on edge is the precise intention of the national security establishment that Doval heads.
The rumours were set off by the orders for a 100 paramilitary companies, comprising some 10,000 personnel, to move post-haste to Kashmir. Alongside, there were alarmist social media leaks of instructions that presumably filtering down the hierarchy from security meetings held by Doval.
Using the opportunity, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti whipped up apprehensions over an impending threat to Article 35A, which devolves definition of a permanent resident of the state on the provincial legislature. Her fears were accentuated by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) suddenly flying out its local politicians over to Delhi for a core group meeting.
Mufti urged a joint front of mainstream Kashmiri political parties. In the event, her National Conference (NC) counterparts were more restrained. Conspiracy theorists kicked in, providing an election-related rationale.
They have it that the BJP wishes to grab a few seats in the Valley, which when toted up with its clean sweep of the Jammu region would end up having it — supported by the smaller, newer parties, namely Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference and Shah Faesal’s People’s Movement — to install a Jammu-origin Hindu Chief Minister in Kashmir.
The BJP has been canvassing for membership in the Valley and put upcandidates in the largely voter boycotted parliamentary elections. It also won municipal seats by default since the mainstream parties stayed away.
Though at the end of the BJP core group meeting, the BJP leaders from Jammu dispelled any threat to Article 35A — stating that it was sub-judice with the Supreme Court, the threat remains. The BJP carried the day in the Rajya Sabha in its second attempt on the law against instant triple talaq, though it initially did not have the numbers. This may make it more venturesome on other ‘Muslim relevant’ matters as Uniform Civil Code and on the J&K special status, dear to its core constituency.
As a counter-strategy, an unlikely joint front between the mainstream parties would help not only keep the chief ministership within the Valley but would also keep the BJP out. Such a front is not impossible, given that its tentative shaping up last November had scared the governor into dissolving the Assembly.
To keep the BJP down, voters would require stepping up to the booths in reasonable numbers, lest their no-show helps the BJP grab the cake. The conspiracy angle is that a restive situation in Kashmir would instead keep voters away, magnifying, in the first-past-the-post electoral system, the impact of the few BJP supporters who show up.
Since the violence indices put out periodically by the government indicate improvement in the security situation, keeping the pot boiling for a while longer is in the interest of the ruling party. This explains the scare mongering with the security apparatus.
The statistics may delude the government that it’s hardline — illustrated by the National Investigation Agency raids and Enforcement Directorate investigations — has paid off. There has been no bandh call by separatists since April; none — for the first time — even during the late-June visit of the Union home minister. Infiltration attempts and infiltration numbers are down to zero.
An interpretation can instead be that the figures are evidence of Pakistani tactical restraint, a preparing of the ground for Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recently-concluded visit to Washington DC. The trip elicited the typically Trumpian claim — later decisively trashed by India — that Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested him, at the G20 summit at Osaka, to intercede as mediator.
Pakistan is tacitly demonstrating its control of the tap. It is to incentivise India to talks, now that it has gone some distance in switching off the tap. Of the numbers killed, over 80 per cent are now of locals, with Pakistanis mopped up largely being left-over infiltrators.
Trump’s end-game in Afghanistan, currently playing out, has implications for Pakistan’s future policy. Pakistan will likely stay its hand till the elections in J&K, in order to up the numbers of voter footfalls at polling booths and stay any constitutional action on India’s part.
If India, deluded by triumphalism, passes up the opportunity for talks, the presence of rumour mills as an indicator of continuing instability suggests, Pakistan will likely find Kashmir a fertile locale for renewed conflict. Though the governor has put a lid on rumours, the paramilitary numbers may then prove sorely required.