The Kashmir Conundrum 


Interaction with Dr. Ashok Bhan

How will you describe the current situation in Jammu & Kashmir?

The security situation in Jammu & Kashmir has been improving continuously since 2001. In the last five years,  terrorism related incidents have gone down to less than 200 per year. So the security situation is fully under control. It is one of the dividends of the peace process. The second important dividend is the process of democratisation through the credible elections, especially to the state legislative assembly since 1996, which has lot of relevance for the sheer reason that the start of the conflict in the state is always traced to the ‘rigged’ elections of 1987. Four successive credible elections with large voter turnout in the state has contributed immensely to the peace process. The third positive development, which unfortunately did not see much progress, has been the Indo-Pakistan peace process and the confidence building measures initiated between 2003 and 2008. We have had ceasefire between the two countries which led to lesser border firing incidents, reduced infiltration, and low level of violence. There have been ups and downs in Indo-Pak relations since 2008. Despite best efforts from India to resume bilateral engagements things have not improved. There were number of rounds of peace parleys between the two countries. All that, however, came to a halt in the second part of 2008 particularly after Mumbai terror attack. Border firing, support to separatists, and infiltration increased. As the Indo-Pak peace process has halted, without a prospect of any forward movement, there is little hope of addressing the external dimension of the problem any time soon.

Will you agree that the conflict situation in the state is multi-dimensional?

The present situation can be characterised as three dimensional. Firstly, there is an external dimension involving our neighbour Pakistan. There is a complete absence of any forward movement with Pakistan despite efforts from the Indian side, both by the previous as well as current government. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Lahore was followed by the Pathankot incident. This external dimension needs crucial attention, but that does not look possible in near future. Secondly, the internal dimension involved the centre-state relations. The partners in the coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir have deep ideological differences, especially on the issue of relations between the state and the centre. This has put lots of important issues with political connotations on the back burner, at least for the time being. What is thus left is an agenda for development. This agenda for development in the state will succeed only under two conditions: good security situation on the ground and amicable centre-state relationship that result in sufficient financial support. The ground situation is unfortunately characterised by indications of  ascendancy in separatism. There are lots of expectations from the political parties by the electorates in Jammu who have voted for the BJP. On the other hand, the people in Kashmir have predominantly voted for the PDP. The expectations of the people in the valley is not development centric alone. There have been heavy polling in the last elections in some of the separatist strongholds. So presumably, their expectations from the government are somewhat  more than mere development.

Will a development agenda satisfy the people of the state?

A development model is unlikely to satisfy both the people in the valley as well as the people in Jammu. The latter prefer a stronger tie with India and a total merger of the state with the Indian union. The people in the valley, though not averse to integration, would like to maintain a separate identity guaranteed by Article 370 of the Indian constitution. These differences between the coalition is likely to continue unless they can accommodate each other’s separate agenda and work together to provide peace and development as has been promised in the Agenda of Alliance.

How will you interpret the rise in militant violence in the past couple of months? 

The unmet expectations in Kashmir is leading to disenchantment in the form of radicalisation, separatism, and a consequent  increase in terrorist violence, as seen in the past couple of months. We have had some major terrorist attacks on security force personnel. Partly these attacks could be linked to the scheduled elections to the Anantnag assembly seat for which the Chief Minister is a candidate. However, the truth is that violence has increased to a level that is of concern.

The character of militancy in the state has changed in recent times. More locals and less foreigners are involved in terrorism.

Pakistan sends in foreign terrorists into the state only when it feels that local support for terrorism is not available. This was done in the post-Kargil period in a large way. Commander level terrorists were sent from Pakistan. There are still a number of Pakistani terrorists in the valley in particular. But for deniability Pakistan will like to have active locals fighting the Indian state. It must, however, concern us that it is still finding new local recruits, some of whom are well educated young boys. This needs to be addressed.

Huge congregation of civilians follows the killings of local militants. How do you explain such congregation after a foreign militant is killed? What does it signify?

It signifies that there are waves of support and opposition to terrorism in the state. And today we are in  a phase when there is more support for terrorism amongst the local population for a variety of reasons, some of which I have already explained. But such phases of support for terrorism have recurred on a number of occasions since 1990.

Do you agree that India’s Kashmir policy has failed because its inability to take risks?

Pakistan does not allow us to find a way forward to address the external dimension of the Kashmir issue. In addition, there is lack of consensus among major political parties in India over a policy with regard to Kashmir. We have to think of starting a dialogue within the ambit of Indian constitution to create some sort of a format for centre-state relations acceptable to both the union as well as the alienated people in the state. Some attempts in this regard were made after the violent incidents of 2010. A delegation from New Delhi went to the state, a team of interlocutors was formed and they submitted a report. Similarly, five different reports were prepared by different working groups formed by the government. The report on centre-state relations is an important one. I feel that, between 2011 and 2014, when the violence was down, a process of dialogue as well as a partial de-militarisation by way of declaring some inhabited areas as non-disturbed could have been seriously considered. That, however, required a calculated political risk taking. Unfortunately that did not happen. And once again we are in a situation when any suggestion regarding the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is difficult. We did lose an opportunity of starting a dialogue process on centre-state relations which could have addressed the aspirations of a section of the population and the issue of alienation among the youth in the state.

How will situation in Kashmir evolve in the times to come?

From a security point of view, we are going to have some difficult time. We must be careful not to lower our guards and keep the violence under manageable limits. Simultaneously we have to make efforts to fulfill the agenda of development, which is possibly only a slow healer and integrator as far as the conflict is concerned. It will be highly advisable to take some political initiatives with regard to centre-state relations. Relationship with Pakistan is not in our hands. After all India has tried to take many forward steps, but there is no suitable response from the other side. So possibly we have to focus on security, development and debate possibilities with regard to centre-state relations.

(Dr. Ashok Bhan was Director General of Police, Intelligence and Director General of Police, Prisons in Jammu & Kashmir. This interaction is a part of Mantraya’s ‘Mapping Terror and Insurgents Networks’ project. Opinion expressed here is that of Dr. Bhan.)