Why I won't celebrate the surgical strikes
No one is asking if all measures to prevent Uri-like terror attacks have been taken.
- Total Shares
Speaking at Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh on October 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the media for its coverage of the first anniversary of the surgical strikes. These strikes were conducted in the aftermath of the Uri camp attack which led to the death of 18 army personnel on September 18 in 2016.
Incidentally, even as the PM was speaking, security personnel in Srinagar were responding to a boisterous attempt by three terrorists to script another Uri-like attack. They targeted the battalion headquarters of the Border Security Force (BSF) where close to 200 personnel and their families were present.
In the year gone by, several such attempts have been made by the terrorists. The surgical strikes, one can say, have neither deterred them nor their Pakistan-based handlers.
Yet none of this came in the way of "celebrating" the operation.
Did anyone ask if all measures to prevent such Uri-like camp intrusions had been implemented? If yes, why are they still taking place? If they haven't been implemented, why so?
These strikes were meant to be yet another option in deterring Pakistan from aiding and abetting terrorism in Kashmir. What are the other options? How have we implemented them? What happened to the promise of delivering better governance in the state which to my mind is the biggest step in coming closer to solving the quagmire?
For one, Delhi claims it has refined the counter-terror mechanism in Kashmir because of which it has achieved more terrorist kills in comparison to previous years. Adding to the argument, those on the ground insist the present year is a calmer one (167 violent incidents recorded till June 30, 2017) coming after 322 recorded incidents - highest in the last five years - in 2016. A senior officer in Srinagar reasoned, "We are controlling better, more tightly than before."
Along the Line of Control (LoC), the surgical strikes were followed by a severe intensification of cross-LoC firing. The 449 ceasefire violations in 2016, bulk of which were recorded in the aftermath of the surgical strikes, consumed the lives of seven security personnel (not to speak of those 29,000 who had been temporarily displaced or the civilians who've been hit, killed or lost property). Interestingly, if you are to keep the casualties in the months of October and November of 2016 aside, data between April 2016 and March 2017 shows India only lost two service personnel in the firing.
But this isn't all that happened.
A PRS Legislative Research Jammu and Kashmir Budget analysis of 2017-18 tells us that investment in the state which amounted to Rs 4,866 crore from 2009-10 to 2014-15, averaging Rs 973 crore a year, slowed down to Rs 267 crore in 2015-16. What does that mean on the ground? Rate of unemployment for youths between 18 and 29 years of age in the state hovered at 24.6 per cent when the national average was 13.2 per cent. Among youth between 15 and 17 years of age, it was 57.7 per cent when the corresponding national average was 19.8 per cent.
J&K finance minister Haseeb A Drabu, on January 11, 2017, made an insightful comment. "Unemployment is a social issue of serious magnitude in the state. Even as the rate of unemployment is supposed to be very high in the state, we do not have actual figures," he said.
In J&K, when comparing the average growth between 2005-10 and 2010-15, a decline is seen from 5.8 per cent to 4.5 per cent. In agriculture (which employs 64 per cent of the population and contributes 22 per cent to the economy), manufacturing (employs 11 per cent and contributes 25 per cent) and services (employs 25 per cent and contributes 53 per cent), the current levels of growth pale when compared to the growth from 2005 2010.
Two recent news reports from Srinagar caught my eye.
The Indian Express reported on October 4 that "schools, especially higher secondary ones, have been open for a little more than hundred days throughout the 11-month session so far. It is the second consecutive year that schools in the valley have remained shut for most part of the academic session". Day after, Hindustan Times quoted, "Combined cases of drug abuse and related psychological issues also went up from more than 14,500 cases in 2014 to 33,222 in 2016, a staggering 130% increase in two years. This year till April alone, this number is 13,352."
Did Delhi and Srinagar face any questions over this?
When I tried finding out a voice on the ground to understand the human story from these numbers, I bumped into Muneeb Mir (37), a businessman operating from Pampore. He said, "We see the iron fist of the government, we see a return to the cordon and search approach we thought we had last seen in the 90s. We understand it helps the rightist agenda of the government to be seen as muscular but what really worries us is this that earlier the narrative of the government was one thing and the narrative of the people the other. Today that line has blurred and this dominating rightist narrative worries us."
Speaking of anniversaries, it was in October 1947 that Jammu and Kashmir's erstwhile ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, signed the instrument of accession, paving the way for the state to become a part of India. An undated letter written by Jawaharlal Nehru to Hari Singh published in Ramachandra Guha's seminal India After Gandhi read:
"Even if military forces held Kashmir for a while, a later consequence might be a strong reaction against this. Essentially, therefore, this is a problem of psychological approach to the mass of the people and of making them feel they will be benefited by being in the Indian Union. If the average Muslim feels that he has no safe or secure place in the Union, then obviously he will look elsewhere. Our basic policy must keep this in view, or else we fail."
So, what happened?