That the summer of 2020 will be very hot in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Control had been anticipated and to an extent even gamed by the security establishment for many months now. Therefore the recent uptick in violence in J&K – targeted killings of civilians, the rising number of infiltration attempts, the escalation in ceasefire violations, increasing number of encounters, and of course the efforts to not just give terrorism in J&K an indigenous flavour but also a ‘secular’ label (the emergence of a new and shadowy front of Lashkar-e-Taiba called ‘The Resistance Front’) – is quite clearly an intimation of how the summer will play out.
The dilemma for the Pakistanis is that they know that ratcheting up the violence in Kashmir through jihadist auxiliaries and proxies is no longer a low-cost option. Neither does jihadist terror sell very well in rest of the world, nor is it ignored like it was in the past. But even though the jihadist policy faces diminishing returns, it is the only option left in Pakistan's playbook. After the constitutional changes in J&K last August, Pakistan did try a diplomatic and propaganda blitzkrieg against India. But other than getting some space in the Western media and the issue being raised by the loony liberal lawmakers in some Western countries – both were driven more by their ideological hatred for the Modi government, and less because they were convinced of Pakistan’s case – there was little that Pakistan had to show for its diplomatic efforts or the money spent in its lurid propaganda campaign against India.
With the diplomatic and propaganda tack falling flat, Pakistan was left with no option but to fall back on its default option – jihadist terrorism. The problem, however, is that the efficacy of the jihadist instrument is quite questionable, especially in relation to India. The Pakistanis know that while terrorism might draw some blood, it will bring them no closer to wresting control of Kashmir. Add to this the very real prospect that the current dispensation in India is loath to keep absorbing the blows and is just as likely to hit back makes the jihadist strategy a rather risky proposition.
Facing as it does a Hobson’s choice – if Pakistan doesn’t ignite the flames of jihadist terrorism in J&K this summer, it could see its beloved Kashmir cause going up in smoke – Pakistan knows that it has limited room for play. Not doing anything isn’t an option because it will lose the support of those Kashmiris who look up to Pakistan and think it will come to their aid and fight on their behalf and on their side against India. But the China Virus pandemic has completely altered the strategic landscape.
The corona impact
Already on the ropes, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the Pakistani economy which is staring at an abyss and can ill-afford a major conflict with India. With the world’s attention focussed on the pandemic, politically and diplomatically, Kashmir has lost all traction. When was the last time that there was any coverage of Kashmir in any international newspaper or any reference to it by the loony liberal lawmakers in the Western world.
Municipal workers disinfecting a mosque in Srinagar: The performance of the civilian administration in the coronavirus crisis has won appreciation from the public. (Photo: Reuters)
Because of the virus, Pakistan’s Iron Brother China is facing a lot of flak and will be under increasing international pressure and scrutiny. Its appetite to stand with Pakistan on this issue will be quite limited, an indication of which came in the UN Security Council where a third attempt to hold a discussion on Kashmir was quietly buried. The advantage that the Pakistanis thought they had gained because of the ‘peace deal’ which they brokered between the Taliban and the US is also slipping away. Add to all this the sword of FATF that continues to dangle over Pakistan's head, and which could come crashing down if Pakistan ratchets up the export of terrorism in Kashmir in the next few months.
Meanwhile, inside Kashmir, green shoots of a political process are starting to appear. A new political party has been formed by politicians who ostensibly want to make a break from the past politics of playing on both sides of the wicket. Many of the big political figures have been released from custody. The performance of the civilian administration in the Corona crisis has won appreciation from the public. The security grid remains quite robust and intelligence is once again flowing. Adding to Pakistan's discomfiture, a new domicile law has been passed, and there hasn’t been a murmur from anywhere in the world. The hysterical outpouring over the domicile law by Syed Salahuddin, chief of the terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen, is a sign of desperation among the jihadist circles in Pakistan. This desperation is also reflected in the constant rants of the Pakistanis over the blocking of 3G/4G signals in Kashmir, something which coupled with the extended lockdown because of the pandemic interferes in Pakistani abilities to communicate with their agents, and spread their poisonous propaganda to incite and instigate violence.
Facing a double whammy – the strategic window closing, and ground situation in Kashmir improving – Pakistan will do what it can to create disturbances in J&K to bring the issue back. India must therefore remain girded up for the coming spike in terrorism, but also think of how to take the fight to the enemy and impose unbearable costs on it.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)