Post Article 370, Pakistan facing policy crises on Kashmir; creating unrest in Valley to internationalise issue Islamabad's last arrow
Pakistan wants to do something spectacular to pump oxygen into the Kashmir issue that is fast becoming redundant due to fatigue and, also, losing legitimacy, with its sharp turn towards Islamic State-styled caliphate jihadism
Pakistan's decades of investments in building high-capability assets in politics, media, and militancy have hit rock bottom following New Delhi's decision to abrogate Article 370 and impose restrictions in the region
The silence of the people of Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 has further strengthened Pakistan's fears of the Kashmir issue slipping out of its clutches.
Pakistanâ��s future Kashmir strategy will primarily be motivated by the objective of internationalising the Kashmir issue at one hand, and bring new innovations to its proxy war against India
The recovery of a huge cache of weapons from a truck coming from Punjab, at Kathua (Jammu and Kashmir's border district), points towards Pakistan's deep state's aims to resuscitate the Khalistan (Sikh) insurgency and unite it with Kashmir proxy war, in line with Pakistan's traditional K2K (Kashmir to Khalistan) policy.
New Delhi's Kashmir move dealt a massive blow to Pakistan's sabotage-machinery-strategy, key actors, and the long-term plans. Hence, Pakistan's decades of investments in building high-capability assets in politics, media, and militancy have hit rock bottom. It faces the most challenging policy crises on Kashmir.
It stands at the risk of losing the trust of the people of Kashmir, who, for years, were fed with convenient lies of Pakistan being a champion of their cause and Islam. Pakistan's loss of goodwill among the people has been brewing up for some time now.
Recently, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri accused Pakistan of using Kashmir’s people for its strategic interests. Post-370, the dominant sentiment among the separatist/pro-Pakistan constituency is that this is the time for Pakistan to teach a lesson to India and do something for its supporters as the abrogation of Article 370 is a fatal blow to the separatist movement, annualising the gains made so far. On the domestic front, issues like faltering economy, political turmoil, and ethnic and sectarian fault-lines are threatening the stability of the country.
That said, Pakistan's "jugular vein", Kashmir stands out as its sole recourse for its army to sustain its monopoly over the state power, as it has always done in the past. Further, Modi's success in getting the support of the global diplomatic community on its Kashmir move and Pakistan’s failures after an arduous mission to corner India in UNHRC, UNSC and UNGA has worsened its desperation and helplessness. Hence, it wants to do something spectacular to pump oxygen into the Kashmir issue that is fast becoming redundant due to fatigue and, also, losing legitimacy, with its sharp turn towards Islamic State-styled caliphate jihadism.
As a precaution, the police had arrested key separatist leaders, OGWs, and politicians capable of mobilising people for protests, in advance. It also banned the internet and phones. As a result, it failed in instigating people into a civil revolt, the way it did in 2016 after the encounter-death of militant commander Burhan Wani. The silence of the people of Kashmir further strengthened Pakistan's fears of the Kashmir issue slipping out of its clutches.
That said, Pakistan’s deep-state is likely to bring substantial innovations in the strategy and modus operandi of militants, in response to India's Kashmir move. It becomes pertinent to understand such developments to make better forecasts about the future militancy or rather terrorism in Kashmir.
Realising it full well that the Modi-led BJP government will retaliate its proxy war with surgical strikes on border or airstrikes, Pakistan believes internationalisation of the Kashmir issue to be the last useful arrow in its quiver. Hence, Pakistan’s future Kashmir strategy will primarily be motivated by the objective of internationalising the Kashmir issue to pressurise India by an embarrassment in global platforms. The focus on internationalisation was already quite evident in Imran Khan's warning of a potential nuclear war in South Asia, in his UNGA speech. Besides, the change is also evident in the more recent acts of terrorism, in which, making a departure from the past, civilians have been targeted. In the last 22 days, after the restoration of postpaid mobile communication on 14 October, four non-resident truck drivers and six Bengali labourers (killed on the day of EU MP’s visit) have died in terrorist attacks. A grenade attack in Sopore on 28 October, injured 20 civilians. In one of the deadliest attacks after the abrogation of article 370, a grenade was lobbed in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar on 4 November, killing one person and majorly injuring at least 35 people, mostly civilians.
As per the informed sources in the intelligence apparatus of India, the open sources and the author's interaction with some former militants, in future, Pakistan-supported terror groups are likely to:
- Engage a high-value target, ie, by either kidnapping a high-profile target or executing its assassination
- Stage a hostage crisis in a high-profile government installation
- Carry out fidayeen attacks on civil and security installations and the convoys of the security forces
- Kill non-Kashmiri civilians, mostly non-local labourers, students and entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in the state
- Execute a significant terror attack in prominent metro cities of India
- A revival of militancy likely in Kashmir, Srinagar and North Kashmir
- Strong likelihood of creating a united front of Khalistan (Sikh separatist movement) in Punjab and Kashmir resistance front, not only in militancy but also in global diplomatic platforms
- Carry out random grenade attacks and immolate schools to strike fear and compel the people to continue the strike and keep the markets shut so that there is no return of normalcy and simmering discontentment reigns, even though if it's artificial
- Revive militancy using the communal fault-lines in the Doda-Kishtwar region of Jammu and Kashmir, once the hotbed of militancy. The area has an almost equal concentration of Hindus and Muslims, with Muslims outnumbering Hindus in many areas. The region has a chequered history of bitter Hindu-Muslim riots. Since last year, two prominent leaders of RSS, a Hindutva organisation, have been killed by pro-Pakistan terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen. The long-term aim is to force a 1990-style migration of the local Hindu population to strengthen the Islamist and separatist constituency
- Discourage people from participating in block and panchayat (local self-governing bodies) elections to weaken the foundations of nascent grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir and maintain socio-psychological domination of terrorists in rural areas
In the last two-months of communication lockdown, as per the police, 60 foreign terrorists have infiltrated via Pakistan. According to unofficial sources, the figure may be as high as 200-250. Infiltration has taken place from all the possible routes, ie, from LoC, Pooch-Rajauri (Jammu region) and Punjab. Besides, as per the author's informed sources, there is a decent possibility of terrorists using maritime routes in southern India’s long coastline. Recently, on the Punjab border, GPS-fitted drones were used to drop weapons. The police recovered a cache of weapons from a truck coming from Punjab, at Kathua (Jammu and Kashmir's border district), pointing towards Pakistan's deep state's aims to resuscitate the Khalistan (Sikh) insurgency and unite it with Kashmir proxy war, in line with Pakistan's traditional K2K (Kashmir to Khalistan) policy.
According to informed sources, Jaish-e-Muhammad has developed close ties with Khalistan terrorist groups. In the future, the Kartarpur corridor (a road passage joining Sikh religious sites in India and Pakistan) remains highly vulnerable to misuse as a conduit for aiding the Khalistan militancy in Punjab. On the other front, Pakistan has lent support to the Sikh Referendum 2020.
In the recent past, incidents of burning schools and killing civilians have taken place. Such killings will have repercussions in the other states of India in the form of attacks, murder, and lynching of Kashmiri students and business personnel based in different states of India. When the news of such incidents reaches Kashmir, alienation and hatred against New Delhi and Indians will intensify, resulting in anarchy and civil unrest in Kashmir. There is also a likelihood of communal polarisation and, as a result, Hindu-Muslim riots in the Jammu region and other parts of the country. The civilian killings will also discourage non-resident investors and sabotage New Delhi's agenda of development. Further, the events mentioned above will put India in the spotlight on an international level, as the one responsible for the widespread backlash.
With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is a possibility of Pakistan using Taliban fighters in Kashmir to keep the pot boiling. As per the intelligence sources, Afghan jihadis have been spotted in Kashmir. Large-scale infiltration in the recent past indicates that Pakistan once again will rely more on better trained and resilient foreign terrorists from Punjab and KP region. Turkey's particular interest in Kashmir witnessed in its advocacy on Article 370 issue and support for Pakistan in FATF raises alarm bells. Erdogan's project is much bigger than Kashmir, which the author has explained in detail in an article written for Haaretz. However, the release of several Islamic State fighters during the recent Turkish raid in Kurdish areas of Syria raises the possibility of diverting some of them towards Kashmir also. Though it sounds a bit far-fetched, people are already talking of Turkey sending Islamic State fighters in Kashmir.
With the Kashmir issue sufficiently internationalised over the last two months, the author expects a spurt in Pakistan's efforts to draw the attention of the diplomatic community, activists, journalists, and public intellectuals towards real and fabricated stories of human rights violation and other humanitarian issues in Kashmir. Pakistan's diaspora will be an active arm in this project, as already witnessed in the violent protests staged by Pakistan's diaspora outside the Indian high commission in the UK on 15 August and in Brussels.
Currently, as the author found in his interactions with relevant stakeholders in Kashmir, the terrorists are facing immense difficulties in logistics and communications due to internet lockdown. To overcome internet lockdown, the militants are using primitive techniques like human courier and innovative methods like CDR (Cognitive Digital Radio) applications, enabling militants to use smartphones as off-grid radio-sets on a peer-to-peer basis. That said, once the internet starts, there is a strong likelihood of a significant spike in terrorist incidents.
However, Pakistan is treading a fragile line. With post-Uri surgical strikes and the Balakot airstrikes, India has unequivocally signalled Pakistan that India reserves the right to proportionately or disproportionately retaliate the acts of cross-border terrorism. However, keeping Kashmir on the boil to internationalise it is also a compulsion for the Pakistan Army for reasons more than obvious.
Hence, to pre-empt any accusation on Pakistan of a potential terror attack on the Indian soil and a likely retaliation, Imran Khan, in his UNGA speech, categorically announced that there would be a “bloodbath” in Kashmir, once the internet opens. He also warned of nuclear Armageddon in case India retaliates and escalates. However, that hardly absolves Pakistan of its potential role in terrorist violence in India. Rather, it confirms that Pakistan's deep state is improvising on its devious machinations to unleash violence in India and internationalise Kashmir. To conclude, there is a real possibility of major security crises erupting in South Asia, if the situation escalates after a major terrorist attack in India. This time around, India’s ongoing economic slowdown may push its Hindu-nationalist government further towards an aggressive foreign policy.
The author is a Cornell University graduate in public affairs, a policy analyst specialising in counterterrorism, Indian foreign policy and Afghanistan-Pakistan geopolitics
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