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Political vacuum in Jammu and Kashmir has given rise to incidents like Pulwama attack: Counter-terror expert Ajai Sahni

  • 'Following the collapse of the Mehbooba Mufti government, a complete political vacuum has been created in the state'

  • 'What is most dangerous is that we are not prepared with any kind of response except boasting about our surgical strikes'

  • 'Instead of working towards a dialogue with the locals, the levels of alienation in Kashmir have continued to rise'

Dr Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management is a counter-terrorism expert who focuses on terrorism in South Asia. He feels that only a political initiative in the Valley will help curb terrorism.

Edited excerpts of an interview with Sahni follow:

Terrorism in the Valley has mutated with local youth increasingly turning to militancy. Why is that happening?

First of all, the sheer scale of political mismanagement in Jammu and Kashmir has been unprecedented. There has been a reliance on the politics of polarisation as the key instrumentality of the state. Following the collapse of the Mehbooba Mufti government, a complete political vacuum has been created in the state with no kind political activity taking place at all and which the Centre has made no attempt to fill.

The raising of hype over Articles 370 and 35A by the Centre without having the capacity to do anything about either has only served to increase a sense of anger and alienation among the people without providing them any sort of remediation in terms of governance or polity.

But do you see this attack on the CRPF bus that resulted in the death of over 40 jawans as a lapse on the part of our security forces?

Our security forces have been very effective. But the fact of the matter is you can keep killing militants, but new ones will keep cropping up. Local boys are being recruited and being killed. This incident however indicates a major escalation in terrorism. The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has been quick in claiming it was behind this act. Obviously it had received a green flag to escalate the operation.

 Political vacuum in Jammu and Kashmir has given rise to incidents like Pulwama attack: Counter-terror expert Ajai Sahni

File image of Dr Ajai Sahni. Screen grab from YouTube

What does this indicate?

I believe there is growing confidence in Pakistan that the Afghanistan situation is going Islamabad's way and that there will be a proxy government in Kabul sooner or later. The West is going to withdraw from this theatre and it is obvious that the West will have no inclination to intervene if the conflict in Kashmir escalates.

That does not portend well for us?

The Narendra Modi government has been trying to project that this was indigenous violence fuelled by local groups such as the Hizbul Mujahideen. All terrorism goes back to Pakistan and it is the ISI that will decide which group will be projected when. If the Pakistani establishment sees an advantage in projecting a local group, local cadres will be used but no local group can bring together an IED of this scale and magnitude.

It is the JeM bomb makers who have access to explosives and have received training for this. They are employing a tactic that has been successfully deployed in Afghanistan. With the withdrawal of western powers from Afghanistan, we will see a dramatic shift in Pakistan's calculus. It will decide which terrorist group is in the lead and which will sit in the corner.

Isn’t that very dangerous?

What is most dangerous is that we are not prepared with any kind of response except boasting about our surgical strikes. What have we achieved in strategic terms from the surgical strike? We killed 20 to 25 people and that was it. The surgical strikes have caused an escalation of the conflict in Kashmir and this in turn has resulted in a daily exchange of fire at the LoC where lives are being lost on a daily basis.

The security establishment has been telling us that within a few months, we will see the end of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, but there seems to be no end in sight.

My point is just how many warnings does a government need? Between Uri and today, how has the situation on the ground changed? That was also a warning except that this time, the number of fatalities has doubled. The Mumbai 26 November, 2008 attacks were another warning. More than a decade has passed since then. What lessons did we learn from these attacks?

Has the political vacuum played a key role in destabilising the situation?

Not only has the destabilisation process been accelerated in Jammu and Kashmir, but the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is going to destabilise the entire North East region and this is being done only to meet the present government's own political ends. What makes the situation worse is that this government has no money to increase the defence budget. The government will increase the budget by five or six percent, but given the rate of inflation in real terms, this does not amount to an increase.

What can you do without money? The requirements for bulletproof jackets and helmets were made 15 years ago and these have been given to them today. This is no achievement. There was a requirement for automatic rifles 10 years ago and yet the government is trying to project that having provided these rifles is some great achievement.

After the 11 September, 2001 attacks, the US has spent trillions of dollars on security. Look at our annual Budget. The state police budget for policing works out to Rs 1.94 paisa per capita expenditure which works out to around Rs 700 annually. If we spend so little, what can we expect ?

A former BJP chief minister Major-General BC Khanduri (retired) was sacked from the chairmanship of the parliamentary committee on defence because he stated publicly that 68 percent of our defence equipment was in the antiques category and we do not have enough ammunition to sustain a 10-day war with Pakistan. The government acts only through the perspective of an ideological and electoral prism, but ultimately, all prisms are distorted.

We have all our institutions like the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs to speak out in defence of the country.

Who is listening to the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of External Affairs. The army chief General Bipin Rawat is repeatedly making political statements and is not defending the armed forces. It is sad but we are seeing the subversion of all our institutions and this is being done to consolidate the Hindu vote and to create a pan-Hindu consolidation for the purposes of vote politics.

That seems dangerous given that we now have to counter the Chinese presence to the North and North East?

There is a saying that if you do not have a strategy, then your strategy will be decided by someone else. We are in the process of having China decide our strategic future. We need to ask ourselves just how many developmental projects the Chinese are handling. We are destroying our own scientific and industrial capacities and handing them over to China. The Chinese are presently involved in major road building projects, bridge building projects and in developing our major industrial projects.

The only thing the government talks about is GDP. We must understand that ours is a trader economy not an industrial economy. Our industrial content is contracting. To cite an example, 194 brands of cellphones are being assembled in India, but every component is being produced in China. We have lost 10 million jobs in the last five years in the manufacturing sector, but what was the government's response to this? This is NSSO data, but the Niti Aayog has rejected these findings claiming this was a draft and not a final report. My question is how different will a draft report be from the final report?

How can we compete with China that is investing 2.5 percent of its GDP in research, whereas we are spending 0.8 percent of our GDP on research? Finally, we compete with other nations on the basis of our power, which is based on a nation's military and industrial capacities.

Are you saying we should not negotiate with Pakistan? We have had dialogue with Pakistan in the past.

It makes no difference one way or another. Negotiation is done on your terms or else you will get nothing at all. Why is Pakistan not interested in negotiating with Afghanistan? Because it knows Kabul is weak. Earlier, Pakistan was being hit on every front. Now it sees itself in a winning situation. Pakistan believes it defeated the Soviet Union. It sees itself as having defeated the US, which is why Washington is withdrawing from Afghanistan. What is India before these super powers? Why are we hedging our bets on the US, which is a declining power. They have a man at the helm who has no strategic sense.

What happened at Doka La? China has consolidated around Doka La by building massive infrastructure and all we are trying to do is save face. This government has spent five years abusing Jawaharlal Nehru, but what is its track record? It indulges in jingoism and is not even true to what it believes in.

Insurgency had been confined to just five tehsils in the Valley. Instead of working towards a dialogue with the locals, the levels of alienation in Kashmir have continued to rise. The Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik is a failed politician. He is a man who went ahead and dissolved the Assembly and is not interested in addressing the issues of the people. In conclusion, all I can add that nobody is going to defeat us — we are going to defeat ourselves.

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2019 18:21:53 IST