How will New Delhi react to the civil disobedience in Kashmir?
Two recently-released civil society activist reports indicate the onset of civil disobedience in Kashmir. Their early warning stands vindicated by the arrests of former Chief Minister and Union minister Farooq Abdullah’s sister and daughter as part of a protesting group of Kashmiri women in Srinagar on October 15, though released the following day after submission of a bond against pursuing their protest activity. Security forces need to think up a coping strategy in real time, lest they end up bracketed with their predecessors who once served a colonial master.
New Delhi appears to have won the first round. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s meticulous planning and intimate supervision yielded the desired results, with a negligible number of Kashmiri dead over the last two months. Yet, the state administration has begun the second round on the back-foot, best illustrated by its advertisement beseeching Kashmiris to resume their usual, even if not quite normal, routine.
Clearly, the Amit Shah-Ajit Doval strategy for the first round has had costs. Besides the humiliation from the voiding of Article 370 without consultation, Doval’s masterminding of the communication cut-off and lock down cannot but have long-term repercussions.
Compounding these have been allegations of high handedness in affecting detentions in nightly raids, detaining of juveniles, possible torture, lock down and the ubiquitous and privacy-sapping deployment of troopers have generated disaffection of untold magnitude.
For its part, the state administration is trying to get a modicum of normalcy going. Restoring communications, calling for a return of tourists and assisting with apple harvesting and marketing cannot cover for the lost ground. Deputing magistrates to oversee start of schools and announcing an exam schedule to lure students back are stratagems. It will also keep the leadership and foot soldiers incarcerated for longer, lest the wellspring of anger find focus, a plan and a leader.
Quite like the first intifada that broke out in Palestinian areas unbidden in 1987 end as an ad hoc peoples’ initiative, taking about two months thereafter into posing a significant challenge to the Israeli State, the incipient ‘satyagraha’ in Kashmir may take as long to gather steam. As to whether it gains traction would depend on the State gathering its wits and strategising suitably.
For now, the State is evidently witless. Reflecting on how the situation will shape up, Doval has it that it would depend on what Pakistan cooks and serves up. The army chief has indicated that with some 500 terrorist ready in launch pads for infiltration, this is mostly along well-known lines: more proxy war.
This has not been unleashed as yet since Pakistani pro-activism is checked by the ongoing scrutiny of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on its terror financing record. The orchestration of deterrence signalling by successive statements by Indian ministers and its brass has left Pakistan with only its Prime Minister Imran Khan’s war rhetoric and nuclear scaremongering as fig leaf for its inaction thus far.
Even so, in round two, Pakistan is a step ahead by appropriating the civil disobedience. Absent indigenous leadership, locked away in a lakeside hotel and as far away as Agra, its dictate will speedily fill the vacuum. Killings targeting the apple industry and of shop keepers wanting to resume sales suggest its proxies are already acting as enforcers of the citizens’ curfew.
While such operatives will no doubt be taken care of by the resumption of counter insurgency operations with the communication ban lifted and the intelligence flow restarted, the disabling of the messaging function of mobiles will help interdict a means for gatherings, central to ‘satyagraha’.
As in the first round, India’s ‘success’ in the second will be predicated on the number of Kashmiri dead. Negligible casualty figures owed to stone throwers being far removed. In the second round, paramilitary troopers have to adopt uncharacteristic non-violent means for coping with crowds preponderantly comprising women. As a first step, pellet guns need stowing away.
However, their borrowing from India’s freedom movement by the Kashmiris has opened up an unbridgeable gap. Not only are ‘strategic corporals’ — trooper action having strategic fallout — significant to India’s showing, but equally what the Supreme Court has to say in its hearing beginning mid-November on the Article 370 petitions. Round Two can be expected to last till the Supreme Court rules on the case.
That Round Three will probably follow can easily be speculated, not least because of its incomprehensible postponing of the hearings, but also its short shrift to the human rights issues, such as in habeas corpus cases brought to its attention, from the undeclared emergency in Kashmir.
New Delhi’s frantic preparations for Round Three suggest as much. The army has operationalised the cold start doctrine some 15 years after thinking it up and also tested it in mountains, though in the eastern sector. The air force has acquired its first Rafale, with the defence minister personally ensuring its auspicious entry into the inventory. India’s ‘success’ in this round will be how it manages to avoid war even as it prosecutes the promised proactive response to proxy war.