The violence in Kashmir has refused to abate since the killing of Burhan Wani by Indian security forces in July 2016. After a few months of winter-forced lull, the conflict is back and has become more intense than before.
Militants are regularly waging brazen attacks against India’s security personnel in this highly-militarised region on earth. India is not only losing significant number of its forces, it has also started to be seen as an aggressive occupying force in the eyes of the international community.
In spite of serious provocations, the Manmohan Singh government had pursued a policy of dialogue and accommodation with the separatist forces in Kashmir and with the political leadership of Pakistan.
This approach of restraint and statesmanship had helped India project itself internationally not as an occupying force but as a victim of global Islamic terror in Kashmir.
However, when Narendra Modi came to power in Delhi in May 2014, he took three cardinal missteps on the Kashmir issue.
Firstly, he made the whimsical decision to suspend dialogue with Pakistan on the pretext of Pakistan’s ambassador meeting with Hurriyat leaders. That sent a clear message to all stakeholders and the rest of the world that Modi is reluctant about solving the Kashmir problem with Pakistan.
The second blunder was that after fighting the election on a divisive agenda for the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly poll, the BJP made an opportunistic post-poll alliance with PDP to capture power in Srinagar.
That ended whatever legitimacy PDP had in the eyes of the majority of Kashmir and their hope of finding a peaceful resolution through democratic processes.
The third but most likely not the last blooper by the Modi government was to politically manipulate a minor "Kashmir" event by some students and activists on JNU campus in February 2016, to almost make it an international issue.
The projection of any moderate Indian voice on Kashmir as anti-national and unleashing of Hindutva thugs to harass Kashmiri students on academic campuses all over India widened the gulf between the Valley and Delhi.
India’s image has been seriously tarnished, as it has lost its hard-earned perception battle on Kashmir internationally. Photo: Reuters
These three major mistakes by the Modi regime have transformed the Kashmir conflict to such an extent that India’s image has been seriously tarnished, as it has lost its hard-earned perception battle internationally and Kashmir has become its most delicate spot. In the past, India had carefully managed to blame foreign (read Pakistan) fighters for the violence in Kashmir.
However, in 2015, the Jammu & Kashmir Police force had informed that for the first time in decades, homegrown militants have outnumbered foreign militants in the Valley. The local recruit has increased exponentially in the last two years as Kashmir youth have lost hope in the democratic process in the state.
Hindu majoritarian politics of the Modi government has also added to the despondency among Kashmiris. As per a recent report by the Indian Army, out of 400 active militants in Kashmir, 250 are from the Indian side, while the rest come from Pakistan. This takes away India’s opportunity to make a strong case anymore in front of the outside world in solely blaming Pakistan for the Kashmir violence.
As most of the militants are local now, any encounter by security forces is being openly opposed by local civilians. That not only creates further challenges for the securitymen, but also exposes lack of popular support for India in the Valley.
The growing number of Kashmiris challenging anti-militancy operations has forced Indian forces to use unorthodox tactics, which have further eroded India’s image as a democratic and responsible state. Last year, security forces resorted to firing metal pellets at protesting civilians which resulted in mass blindings and invited international condemnation.
This year, summer has just arrived in the Valley, but the tenor of civilian protest has already become so intense that security forces even tied a Kashmiri youth to the front of an Army jeep as a shield against stone-pelting. The video of this inhuman and unprofessional act not only brought shock and anger in the Valley, but also eroded the standing of the Indian military as a professional force internationally.
Besides the images of teenager Insha Mushtaq (blinded by pellets) and Farooq Ahmad Dar, who was tied to the jeep, the other image which is fast-defining the Kashmir conflict in front of the outside word is of girls pelting stones at the security forces.
This is probably for the first time the world is witnessing young girls in school uniforms throwing stones at an Army and it is no way helping India’s position on Kashmir. It is rather promoting Pakistan’s case immensely.
Modi government’s diplomatic hara-kiri and political opportunism has pushed Kashmir to the brink. The lowest ever recorded voter turnout of only 7 per cent in the Srinagar bypoll clearly exposes the graveness of the situation. While the Modi government has failed at the home front to bring a semblance of peace and stability in the Valley, its foreign policy, particularly on the Kashmir issue, has also lost its mooring.
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley suggesting that the Trump administration might possibly get involved in resolving the Kashmir dispute goes against India’s long-standing policy of treating it as a strictly bilateral issue.
Even Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly advocating a "multi-lateral dialogue" - just before his India visit - to settle the Kashmir dispute exposes India’s increasingly vulnerability on this matter.
It is unfortunate that the majority of India’s security experts are either scared of or secured by the regime that they do not pose hard questions and help expose India’s growing vulnerability internationally on the issue of Kashmir.
There is no doubt that Kashmir is slipping fast out of India’s hand, but the wrong and whimsical policies of the Narendra Modi government are also gravely harming India's image as a responsible democratic state, which is expected to respects human rights and rule of law.