August in the Kashmir Valley is more like spring in the rest of north India. The temperatures are mild, flowers are in full bloom, and the fruit and dry fruit that the Valley is famous for, apples, plums, walnuts and almonds, are ready for harvest. After the lull of the monsoon, tourists begin to return in increasing numbers. Usually, it would be a busy and bustling time across the Valley. However, after the decision of the Government of India with regard to the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and the bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories, there’s an uneasy calm.
For all the uniformed forces tasked with keeping the peace in the Valley, the last five weeks have been a great test of their commitment and capability. The Jammu and Kashmir Police, the Indian Army, the CRPF, the BSF, the ITBP and the SSB are all deployed in significant numbers across towns and villages in the Kashmir Valley to ensure that the mistakes we may have made while handling the agitations of 2008, 2010 and 2016 are not repeated.
Colleagues in the civil administration have also responded admirably to many of the administrative challenges created by this lockdown. Our immediate goal was to ensure that large-scale mob violence, civilian casualties and terror strikes are averted. After five weeks of painstaking efforts, personally supervised by the NSA, we can express some satisfaction at what has been achieved thus far. For comparison’s sake, in the first five weeks after the death of Burhan Wani in July 2016, there were over 40 civilian casualties in firing by the security forces.
So far, we have successfully managed to prevent large-scale mobs from forming to indulge in violence. The preventive arrests have had a positive impact. We have kept civilian casualties to a bare minimum. There may be some dispute about the exact number, but it is definitely in single digits. And thus far, we have not allowed jihadi groups to execute a major terror attack. It is a sign of their desperation that they have resorted to attacking fruit traders and shopkeepers. Landlines have been restored even though mobile and internet connectivity remains blocked. The authorities are keen that schools and shops resume their normal functioning at the earliest, but right now they are being prevented from doing so by jihadi separatists.
However, there is no room for complacency. Our challenges have been met so far but the road ahead is long and difficult. Anyone who thinks that a society that has been shaped by the logic of azadi for 70 years and the logic of jihad for the last 30, will peacefully and happily accept these changes, is being unrealistic. While we are all prepared for the long haul, it is the narrative outside the Valley that is a cause for some concern.
Sections of the national and international media reporting about Kashmir have adopted a stance that has little to do with the ground realities. This view presents our uniformed forces as lawless psychopaths on the rampage, committing unspeakable atrocities on hapless Kashmiri citizens. Morphed as well as old images and videos, many created by the ISI and its proxies, are being circulated without verification to support this narrative. Wild allegations by aggrieved citizens are being accepted at face value and are being reported verbatim as facts without adhering to the basic principles of journalistic checks. One report talked of military camps filled with children bathed in blood. Another talked of mass sexual harassment during the cordon and search operations. Another tried to mischievously drive a wedge between the security forces by falsely claiming that all of Jammu and Kashmir police had been unarmed. It is almost as if the Kashmir that we are policing and the Kashmir that is being reported on inhabit two alternative realities.
One can understand the lack of objectivity of the Western media and of platforms like Al Jazeera. Since 1989, they have consistently ignored atrocities committed by militants in Kashmir and portrayed the situation primarily in terms of human rights violations by the Indian state. For this constituency, acts of terror are not a human rights violation. The attempts to impose Sharia by bombing bars and cinema halls were not human rights violations. The killing of elected representatives and the forced boycott of elections are not human rights violations. The use of children for stone pelting and fidayeen attacks are not human rights violations. And the ethnic cleansing of Pandits was definitely not a human rights violation. We are to believe that perhaps it was simply a voluntary migration that was encouraged for their safety.
There are deep historical and cultural reasons for this bias. The 9/11 attacks did make the West a bit more sympathetic to our concerns about Kashmir. But having exhausted their bloodlust in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West, especially the US and the UK, seem to be reverting to a more sophisticated version of the Great Game that is largely based on the geopolitics of Afghanistan and Central Asia. This neocolonial view accepts the logic of Partition, sees Pakistan as a crucial ally whose complicity in global networks of narco-terrorism is routinely brushed under the carpet, and India is a pretender with ambitions on the global stage that must be occasionally humoured, but never seriously accommodated.
Many of our influential intellectuals continue to parrot standard tropes based on the old binaries of the left and right and on articles of faith such as secular versus communal. Terms like genocide and concentration camp are being used fast and loose with little understanding of their historical meaning and applicability to the current situation in the Valley. For this group of self-styled defenders of our constitutional democracy, Article 370 is the foundation stone of the Valley’s relationship with India. Not several thousand years of shared history and culture. And, of course, it doesn’t matter that there is a clear-cut democratic mandate for abrogating Article 370. It doesn’t matter that after three decades of Pakistan-supported jihad, there was a need to change the rules of engagement. And it certainly doesn’t matter that assimilating Kashmir is absolutely vital to the idea of India. The first partition of India was a grievous wound, but we survived. The second partition of India would surely be fatal.
There is much talk of the hurt Kashmiri sentiment and how it is simply waiting to erupt. There is no such talk of the Ladakhi sentiment or the Jammu sentiment. As and when restrictions are eased, there will surely be desperate attempts to orchestrate civil unrest and mob violence. If that happens, we will take whatever steps required to restore public order. Pakistan proxies across the LoC are planning their own strikes. We are prepared for them too.
While there may be many in the Valley who will not immediately accept the change in their constitutional status, we hope their number will be significantly exceeded by those who are sick of the violence and disruption that has defined their life for over three decades. Engaging with them and giving them a safe space to express their desire for peace and prosperity is our primary mission in the Valley now. Post-relaxation of curbs, the government’s priorities will be development and employment generation, something jihad and azadi had little space for. The Cassandras at home and abroad will, of course, be praying for our failure. But, backed by the faith of our citizens, we intend to prove them wrong.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 11, 2019 under the title ‘The Valley without 370’. The author is an IPS officer serving with the BSF in Kashmir. Views are personal.