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August 8, 2020

IOJK less stable today than it was before Modi govt: ICG

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August 8, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Raising stakes in the Jammu and Kashmir, the latest report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) points to the dangers in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) saying it is less stable today than it was before the Modi government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, and drastically changed its constitutional, political, territorial, and economic status.

In the absence of direct channels of communication between India and Pakistan, risks of a regional conflict will continue to mount, with potentially disastrous consequences. India’s international partners should do what they can to press the BJP government to, at a minimum, soften its counter-insurgency approach in Kashmir and allow political activity to resume.

“By unilaterally scrapping the core of its social contract with the Himalayan region, and forcibly suppressing local dissent, New Delhi has further undercut its ability to reach out to disgruntled Kashmiris and likely pushed more youngsters to opt for the gun”, says the ICG.

“Raising the stakes in Jammu and Kashmir”, is an outstanding report, painstakingly researched at a time when the ICG is neither welcome inside Pakistan, India nor IHJK yet through its local sources on all sides, has managed to bring out startling realities.

“New Delhi claimed that its bold move would help bring peace and development to the region after three decades of conflict. One year later, its reforms, coupled with heavy-handed counter-insurgency tactics, have only exacerbated Kashmiri alienation and raised tensions with Pakistan. Kashmir’s youth continues to join militant ranks”, says the report.

The ICG calls upon New Delhi’s international allies toensure that the statehood of Kashmir is restored, detained politicians are freed and to end the culture of abuse against civilians by the security forces.

“Pakistan’s partners should push harder for it to stop backing anti-India jihadists. Both countries should abide by their 2003 Kashmir ceasefire”, advises the report. However, Pakistan’s security establishment tells The News that it has long given up on its jihadist policies and no longer encourages jihadis going from Pakistan into IOJ&K.

While India attributes the steady rise of militancy over the last three decades to Pakistan-based jihadist groups – most prominently Laskhar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, both of which are listed as terrorist groups by the United Nations – the root causes of Kashmiri militancy remain internal.

Over the last few years, harsh counter-insurgency measures and massive rights abuses have fuelled the growth of militancy, spearheaded by local youth. “The anger and sense of betrayal stemming from India’s August 2019 decision is enabling a variety of armed groups, local and foreign, to recruit more young Kashmiris,” says ICG.

Although most Kashmiris still aspire to independence, many locals now support any militants they consider capable of confronting Indian security forces, including pro-Pakistan and Islamist groups. Over the last months, militancy-related incidents have steadily increased, giving the lie to the Indian government’s claims that its moves would reduce violence in the Himalayan region.

“If the BJP government is to contain insurgency in Kashmir, it needs to curtail its armed forces’ impunity, end its reliance on draconian laws and re-engage with Kashmiri leaders of all shades of opinion – pro-India and separatist alike”, is a suggestion from ICG.

For three decades, repression and humiliation have been major drivers of Kashmir’s uprising against the Indian state. Without a change in policy, it will not only persist but also likely grow. Violence will breed more violence.

In the absence of direct channels of communication between India and Pakistan, risks of a regional conflict will continue to mount, with potentially disastrous consequences. “Neither side wants a war, yet each is pursuing policies that heighten risks of some form of confrontation. India’s and Pakistan’s top civilian and military leaders should tone down inflammatory rhetoric, respect the ceasefire they have committed to along Kashmir’s Line of Control, and seek ways of progressively resuming bilateral dialogue”, ICG.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s international partners will need to keep up pressure for it to stop supporting anti-India jihadists active in Jammu and Kashmir. For both sides, reversing course might not be easy, but the stakes in Kashmir are too high to ignore.

ICG joins voices, which have been raised over denial of justice by the Indian judiciary. “While the judiciary has not delivered justice to the victims of human rights abuses, some family members have refused to be deterred. Among them is Ashraf Mattoo, father of Tufail Mattoo, a victim of police gunfire in June 2010, whose death marked the start of five months of violent street protests and retribution by security personnel”, notes the report.

Pursuing justice in the courts, Ashraf believed that police killings were not just a human rights issue but also one that fuelled armed conflict in Kashmir. “Had the police investigated the first few killings in 2010 fairly, Kashmir would not have reached this point. The

Turning to Pakistan, ICG notes that Islamabad does not have a strong hand. Islamabad faces considerable diplomatic and economic pressure, including through the FATF – the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog – to decisively deal with UN-sanctioned entities on its soil, including the proxy groups operating in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

This pressure, and the risk of an open military confrontation with India following the February 2019 Pulwama attack, has meant that Islamabad has largely limited itself to calling on India to reverse its August 2019 actions, including at forums such as the UN. Its cause is hardly helped, however, by its long record of backing anti-India jihadists. Most Western powers, furthermore, see New Delhi as an important strategic and economic partner.

For now, the ICG says a way out of the situation is best addressed by resuming dialogue with Pakistan and Track II Initiatives, allowing political process of all shades, ending impunity and rights abuses, revisiting the territory’s reorganization, and restoring the historical social contract New Delhi has had with Jammu and Kashmir’s based on its special constitutional status which would go a long way to rebuilding trust.

The removal of constitutional guarantees that Kashmiri Muslims saw as essential to preserving their identity has only increased local anger; even pro-Indian political parties feel betrayed. “Ideally, the BJP government would find a way to revisit the profound administrative changes it has unilaterally imposed on the region,” points out the ICG.