The Kashmir challenge

YET another intifada is on the cards in India-held Kashmir (IHK), which many believe would have a far-reaching impact on the geopolitical landscape of the region. While the international community is still assessing the probable responses by India and Pakistan, non-state actors are also closely monitoring the situation and exploring the spaces to exploit.

The Indian revocation of the special status of occupied Jammu & Kashmir has shut down almost all prospects for it to resolve the issue through dialogue, either with the Kashmiri leadership or with Pakistan. One wonders if India did not have any alternatives other than what it has already demonstrated in the form of strict security measures, communication blackouts, and draconian administrative measures to run the affairs of J&K.

The use of some counter-violent extremism, or CVE, terms like ‘reintegration’ and ‘mainstreaming’ by India’s policymakers and political circles suggest they consider the entire IHK population to be radical. Apparently, India is missing the mega blueprint to absorb the shocks of the measures it has taken to ‘fix’ the Kashmir issue once and for all.

Obviously in the absence of such plans, an intifada would be blamed on Pakistan. This would be an easy way out for India, but would come at a cost. Not prepared to counter the Indian move to revoke the special status of IHK, Pakistan is also confronted with a delicate challenge. However, an even more critical question for Pakistan is how to respond to the emerging intifada.

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The dynamics of the insurgency in India-held Kashmir will be different this time.

The new intifada will have different characteristics from earlier movements. While it will mainly comprise nonviolent political expression, violent emotions will also be there. Emotions are running equally high amongst pro-independent, pro-Pakistan and ultra-radical segments of the resistance movements in occupied Kashmir. They can resort to violent actions separately or form an alliance to increase the impact of the intifada.

It is not certain how many members of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba are present in IHK and what the level of their operational capacity is. But groups like Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, an affiliate of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, are gradually making inroads into the ultra-radical militant movements in Kashmir. The AGH is also against Pakistan. The group is trying to convince other armed groups to form an independent jihad alliance against India. Recently, Al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri had endorsed this idea. In this context, Kashmir-based armed groups like Hizbul Mujahideen will also be under intense pressure to reorganise their operational structures.

These groups can trigger a long-term resistance movement in IHK. Pakistan is morally and politically bound to support the Kashmiris. However, supporting the resistance movement will have serious consequences for Pakistan. The poor state of Pakistan’s economy, internal political crises and struggling diplomacy are factors which will limit active support to the resistance movement in IHK.

The IMF and FATF swords are hovering over the country’s economy. The world at large, including friends and foes of Pakistan, are least receptive to violent resistance movements. India knows this, and its media and opinion makers are highlighting this point continuously. India has chosen the best time for revoking the IHK special status when Pakistan is facing multiple challenges and trying to regain its geopolitical importance through facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has remained a scapegoat for US failures in Afghanistan. Similarly, India has always blamed Pakistan for its own failures in IHK. But the situation is different now, and it could be difficult to keep the escalation of tension at the LoC and Working Boundary to manageable levels.

Meanwhile, the dynamics of the insurgency in Kashmir will be different this time, where Pakistan will not be in a position to influence the resistance movement. As a result, Pakistan-India tensions could at anytime turn into conventional warfare; Prime Minister Imran Khan has already indicated this in his parliamentary speech. How can Pakistan avoid this situation?

Pakistani and Indian diplomatic confrontation has remained confined to two unrelated domains: Pakistan has focused on internationalising the Kashmir issue, while India exploits the militancy aspect. While India has played its cards effectively during the last several years, Pakistan is just on its way to regaining its diplomatic strength, not only through facilitating the Afghan peace process but also by acting against all shades of militant groups. There are apprehensions of a turnaround, although it seems complicated this time because of all the factors mentioned.

The leaders of sectarian and militant groups are trying to establish their relevance in the changing situation. Some audio, video and text messages are circulating in social media groups in which they are declaring their support for the Kashmir cause. They have not yet received a response from the state and media. Even the reactivation of forums like the Difa-i-Pakistan Council is not apparent; this was an alliance of small radical religious and political parties that could bring the people to the streets on such critical regional issues.

Pakistan’s changed approach can become its strength. The international community can see that despite the presence of extremist groups in the country and an emotionally charged environment, Pakistan has not allowed the radicals to hijack the issue and create spaces for themselves. This approach will help Pakistan win the trust of the international community and internationalise the Kashmir issue.

India will certainly have to face the consequences of the emerging intifada. But Pakistan should evolve a political and diplomatic strategy to stop India from holding it responsible for the uprising, and to prevent Delhi from resorting to ‘infiltration’ and ‘terrorism’ mantras to discredit the intifada. It will not be an easy task as India has already made inroads and gained support among allies of Pakistan over the last decade. The ‘militancy’ card has caused considerable damage to Pakistan’s economy and diplomacy, but India has now provided it with an opportunity to reverse the process.

It is an opportunity and demands unity from all segments of society, and from the political and security leaderships. It is time to put political vendettas aside and concentrate on the Kashmir cause. A protracted political crisis will only spoil the opportunity.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2019