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Why New Delhi has toughened its stance on Kashmir situation

LiveMint logoLiveMint 25-05-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: For the past many months, New Delhi has been seen as adopting a hardline stance towards the situation in Kashmir—coming down hard on stone pelters and protestors in the militancy-hit region as well as adopting a tough posture towards Pakistan trying to foment unrest in the region or push in terrorists to stoke insurgency there.

Sample this: a tough talking Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat reportedly warned in February that locals who try and disrupt anti-terror operations in Kashmir will be treated as “overground workers of terrorists” and can be fired on.

Or, Indian army Major Leetul Gogoi being commended for his move to use a local Kashmiri man as a human shield—tied to his army jeep to prevent people from pelting stones. Videos of Farooq Dar tied to the front of the military jeep went viral on social media—a factor that now has the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) directly locking horns with the Centre.

While the PDP is looking at Gogoi’s act as a gross violation of human rights, the Army chief’s commendation for Gogoi not only snubbed the naysayers, but further fuelled the resentment against the army as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Or, on Wednesday, defence minister Arun Jaitely telling reporters in New Delhi that “military solutions are to be provided by military officers not through the comments of politicians. How a situation is to be dealt with when you are in a warlike zone we should allow our army officers to take a decision. They don’t have to consult members of Parliament on what they should do under these circumstances.”

What does India’s hardline position in Kashmir add up to?

For starters, analysts say that quelling local unrest in Kashmir—stone pelting and protests—is key to ensure that Pakistan does not fish in troubled waters as it is wont to do. Any unrest in Kashmir is fertile ground for Pakistan to exploit. The disturbance in Kashmir is limited to some pockets—last week, Srinagar hosted the 14th meeting of the goods and services tax (GST) Council which took key decisions on fitment of rates; some of the participating 24 finance ministers from states and Union territories, in fact, went out of the way to signal normalcy despite the ongoing conflict. That New Delhi means business was made amply clear when after a gap of 15 years, the army and police personnel conducted search and cordon operations in Shopian district to flush out militants. Search and cordon operations were abandoned in 2002 when then PDP administration took office under chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

Given the BJP’s zero tolerance standpoint on terrorism, a softer approach may not fit in with the party’s supporters and workers in Jammu and Kashmir as well as across the country.

Defence analysts are of the opinion that tough-talking is now imperative to the Kashmir narrative given the fact that Pakistan has been cashing in on this civil unrest.

“Pakistan has been attacking regions like Poonch where the population has no ill will against the Centre. They play a double game in areas like Srinagar where there is discontent. With Kashmir, we need to stop being on the backfoot and stop accepting these casualties along the border because bilateral discussions have zero impact. A massive crackdown is needed and it needs to be sustained over a long period of time,” said defence analyst Major Gaurav Arya.

Also, in keeping with its image , the BJP is taking a tough stance towards Pakistan. So violations of a 2003 ceasefire by Pakistan have been met with a tough response from the Indian side. India believes the ceasefire violations are aimed at aiding infiltration of terrorists into India.

Experts added that what is essentially required is for the government to walk the talk on its anti-terror and anti-militancy policies.

“The Government of India needs to take this up on a very serious level, if it needs to put a stop to what has been happening in Kashmir. It is usually a case of Pakistan’s word against ours. So we need to essentially adopt a no-tolerance policy not only towards these constant violations along the LoC, but episodes of war crimes by Pakistan as well,” said Major General Mrinal Suman, former army officer and defence analyst.

“If there is shelling from Pakistan, the Indian army has been told to react in equal measure if not more,” said a government official, who did not wish to be named. “In fact the army has been given a free hand in choosing how to respond,” the official said.

This means that India has shed its diffidence about Pakistan trying to internationalise the Kashmir dispute. “Previously, there was a worry that a ‘hot’ border meant world attention will be focussed on Kashmir and inevitably pressure will follow on India to get talking to Pakistan. These worries I don’t think exist any more in that measure,” the official cited above said. “The world has moved on, today India is viewed very differently from even a decade ago,” the official said, citing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s overtures towards Pakistan—his invitation to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to visit India for his swearing-in as prime minister in 2014, attempts to restart a dialogue, meetings with Sharif in Ufa in Russia and then again in Paris in 2015 and Modi’s own surprise visit to Lahore for Sharif’s birthday. “The world has noted all these gestures made towards Pakistan. Simultaneously, the prime minister has reached out to countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. So any condemnation of India by these countries on Kashmir is unlikely despite them having ties with Pakistan,” the official said.

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