Aug 14, 2019, 10.14 AM
While scrapping Article 370 means different things to different people, there’s no denying that things will never be the same again. The status quo has been changed.
A strong government has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff while launching surgical strikes in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in 2016 and aerial strikes in Balakot this year.
It is important to see these developments from the prism of security. Despite barriers created by Article 370, some provisions did exist for investment from companies from outside the state, but when India’s growth story was taking a leap in the 1990s, the security situation in J&K was bad enough to scare away the most stout-hearted.
Meeting the growth aspirations of the youth needs private sector participation as the government and public sector are not enough. Any number of incentives cannot help bring in investment if there is no peace in the Kashmir Valley. Therefore, it does boil down to providing a safe and secure environment to foster development.
Purely from a security perspective, whittling down of Article 370 in J&K is a welcome step. Security concerns can be addressed better than before, without local pressures.
What are the security implications now? The UN response has been cautious, while making expected diplomatic observations. The US and most other countries have, by and large, taken a stand that it is an internal matter and differences, if any, must be resolved through dialogue peacefully.
What is more important here is the response and attitude of our immediate neighbours, whose territories run contiguous with J&K and Ladakh.
China has somewhat diplomatically, asked India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, saying they should avoid actions that “unilaterally” change the status quo and exacerbate tensions between them, even as it voiced “serious concern” over the situation in Kashmir.
Beijing has, however, expressed its opposition to India’s move to create a separate Union Territory of Ladakh. There has been an exchange of statements and counter statements, but their attitude stops short of being belligerent.
De-hyphenating Ladakh from J&K has its parallel in change of status of Gilgit-Baltistan vis-à-vis Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Sino-Indian dialogues that include Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang will now have Ladakh added on.
The moves seem to have taken Pakistan completely by surprise, putting it at a loss for a suitable response. But Islamabad has no choice. It has to express solidarity with Kashmir as it’s the glue that binds their country together and enshrines the importance of the Pakistan Army.
Despite an encouraging dole from the US last month, Pakistan is in a tight spot at this point of time to consider the option of an all-out war. The FATF re-categorisation comes up for renewal in October and its economy is precariously placed for any misadventure. The world reaction, too, has been muted.
So, what other options do Pakistan have after diplomatic steps have been taken, air flights and train services suspended and trade sanctions imposed?
First, Pakistan can increase the heat on the LoC in both genres - cross-border firing and attempt pushing in more terrorists into the valley. Second, they can engineer an increase in terrorist activities in the hinterland. Third, they can encourage local stone-pelters to step up their agitational dynamics to protest against this reorganisation of the state.
The Indian Army grid on the LoC and security forces deployment in the hinterland is fully geared to meet these contingencies, more so with recent reinforcements. A unified command structure without any interference from local pressures will strengthen the Indian hand greatly.
Political resentment is likely to lead to spilling of anger on the streets in the form of protests and agitations. Some of these may turn violent and lead to stone-pelting. The security forces have to handle this firmly, yet with the sensitivity that it deserves. It cannot be allowed to spin out of control.
However strong our posture on the LoC and comprehensive security grid in the hinterland is, there could always be that small chance of a lone-wolf attack, or one fanatic suicidal terrorist who can create a ‘Pulwama’, pushing India into operational brinkmanship again.
It is, therefore, necessary to retain a stated and bold offensive punitive response option to deter any misadventure, as Pakistan has started appealing to terrorist groups to express solidarity with their Kashmiri brethren.
Information and psychological warfare is another dimension of security that merits mention here. We have had our shortcomings in building up a good narrative so far, a space which has ben quickly filled up by the other side, with its hate narrative.
This is our chance to reverse it. Since there has been no explicit consultative process before scrapping Article 370, the state must build a good, robust, factual narrative and take it to the people in every way possible. This strategic communication is needed to dispel uncertainty and the fear of the future in the minds of the people, creating hope instead. It is important to use the narrative to counter alienation and radicalisation as well. We must get back into the mind space of the youth, as they are the key to integration.
Now that J&K is a Union territory, to be administered in significant part by the Centre, the central government must ensure that this change leads to a better state in all aspects, taking the people together. This will not be easy, but is not insurmountable.