Friday night's terrorist attack on a CRPF camp was the second ambush in two days in Kashmir's troubled Pulwama district. According to a report in Hindustan Times, at the stroke of midnight on Thursday, a group of militants attacked a police station, fired at the officers and pinched the rifles before escaping. Reports also emerged of another incident in Kulgam where attackers snatched away weapons from the security guards of a former National Conference leader.
The situation in Kashmir resists easy analysis. But these attacks represent a pattern. Amid the boiling cauldron of Kashmir violence, infiltration is going hand-in-hand with insurgency. The unrest has become a fertile ground for cultivation of Pakistan's 'deep-state' assets. "Popular discontent" is being fashioned by external forces. Local uprising, fuelled by the separatist movement, is getting subsumed into Pakistan's proxy war. Calls for azadi from India cannot be distinguished any more from a larger intifada that seeks to attach Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan — which is less of a country in the sense of a modern Westphalian nation-state and more of an Islamist ideology that has a territory of its own and commands a set of people through the decree of an army.
It is the last development that should worry India the most. The Kashmiri separatists are no longer calling for independence from India and self-determination. The objective — as The Times of India recently quoted PDP ideologue Muzaffar Hussain Baig as saying — has changed. The secessionist movement now has as its goal not just political accession to Pakistan but also religious and ideological amalgamation.
"This, the fourth stage in the struggle of Kashmir, is in danger of becoming religious extremism, which is not a political goal but a religious vision; that Muslims must have their own state and they cannot live in a Hindu state," he told the newspaper.
This significantly raises the stakes. Given India's position that there can be no compromise with the state's sovereignty and territorial integrity, it must add new dimensions to its efforts of bringing Kashmir back from brink. The battle against jihadist ideology that seems to have gained recent ground will require a multi-faceted, long-term approach. It certainly won’t be easy in a changed world order where the idea of an Islamist Caliphate based exclusively on a politico-religious identity has taken a rebirth.
But before anything else, New Delhi's first step is to reclaim the writ of the administration.
The Centre and the state were clearly sluggish in their responses to counter the quick unfolding of events following Burhan Wani's death. Lack of cohesion among the NDA and PDP governments was painfully evident from the start. The alliance partners spoke in different voices and sometimes at cross purposes.
The state administration went AWOL in the first few days following the neutralising of Wani, and when Mehbooba Mufti finally emerged in an attempt to take control, it was too late. The violence had spread, Hurriyat leaders came out of cold storage to hijack the protests and ISI-sponsored non-state actors were busy fuelling the fire. Leave alone imposing state's decree, Mufti's own MLAs came under attacks. In a subsequent joint media conference with home minister Rajnath Singh, Mufti lost her cool and seemed totally lacking in control. She has since swayed between passionate pleas for peace and angry interjections at separatists for using school children as shields, but the situation on ground remains grim.
Reports from Srinagar, normal life remains crippled for the 64th straight day since Wani's killing on 8 July. Schools, colleges remain shut. So do private offices, business establishments, shops, petrol pumps and other necessities of civic life.
According to a report by NDTV, violent clashes with security forces over two months have resulted so far in over 70 deaths and 6,000 cases of injury. Equally, however, 5,000 policemen have also been injured.
There are many reasons behind a near absolute undermining of the state's decree over troubled parts of the Valley — most specifically in south Kashmir. Not the least among them is the violence conundrum. The forces have been ordered to maintain 'maximum restraint' while protestors carry on with the violence, sometimes even shooting at them from among the crowd.
Sameer Yasir reports in Firstpost how, throughout the last couple of months, armed militants have openly taken part in public rallies and protests in south Kashmir, with some even addressing rallies. Though the police have refrained from carrying out counter insurgency operations, fearing mass casualties, militants suffer no such ethical compunctions. One SHO, for instance, was fired at in Kulgam district.
If there was still any doubt, the arrest of Bahadur Ali, an LeT operative who crossed over into India from PoK, made it clear how Pakistan is using the unrest to carry out its unfinished war with India.
A recent report in The Times of India provides more details. In four districts of south Kashmir — Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag — there is not even a hint of administrative apparatus at work. Amid near anarchy, thousands hold azadi rallies almost daily. Cops have fled from police stations. Out of 36 police stations in these districts, only three are in operation. Irate mobs have set a number of these on fire. CRPF jawans are no longer visible while crowds rule the streets, says the report. Quoting a senior police officer, the report also details how scores of youth have joined militants in Tral, where organised training camps are being run by top LeT and JeM commanders.
These are the very four districts in south Kashmir, which will see a redeployment of Army for the first time since 2014. About 50 of the total 70 deaths so far have taken place here alone.
The deployment of Army gives the clearest signal yet that the Centre, too, understands the importance of reestablishing the primacy of the state. In an open challenge to the state's authority, the Hurriyat forces shops and business establishments to remain closed even though curfew has been lifted.
It has, says a report in Greater Kashmir, extended the shutdown call until 16 September and called for a march to the office of the United Nations Military Observers' Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in Srinagar, on the day of Id. This "calendar" details the exact time when normal life may resume and when protests will continue. It has completely usurped the state's functioning and has thrown the gauntlet at the Centre.
The escalation of violence has left very little political maneuvering room for now. The Indian state must establish its decree over the Valley first. All other efforts will follow.