Pakistan’s Counter Election Strategy in Kashmir
Elections are a key component of democracy in modern states, exemplified by the memorable phrase by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'. Jammu and Kashmir has seen a series of successful elections over the past decade and more. The present elections when held would be the third in the latest series after the 1996 and 2002 State Assembly elections. Democracy firms in with every successive election and thus the third in 2008 would have seen uninterrupted rule, 'by the people' of the State for almost two decades. This would have established legitimacy and fostered nationalist sentiment in Jammu and Kashmir. Concomitantly this process is also leading to development and a, 'Khushal Kashmir' in the words of the former Chief Minister Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad despite the perception of regional disparity in some parts of the State.
Stability in the Jammu and Kashmir through electoral democracy is naturally anathema to Pakistan, where polity is embroiled in anachronistic legacy of Partition even as the world has moved towards globalization and a larger human identity. South Asia is also gradually transforming and Kashmir was joining the main stream. To prevent this a multi pronged strategy to sabotage elections has been put into place. The Amarnath land imbroglio provided an ideal trigger to the planners based in Islamabad and their agents in Muzaffarabad and Down town Srinagar.
The first arm of the strategy is mass civil agitations sparked in the Valley with the spiral engulfing Jammu and creating a sharp divide between the two regions, Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in many years. It is not clear if this was a planned or was an unintended consequence of the agitation let loose in the Valley, but the planners seem to have achieved much more than they had bargained for.
Fortunately for the first time in many years, political leadership in India sagaciously came to a consensus and the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party spoke in one voice thereby diffusing the agitation in Jammu. In Kashmir the Separatist Coordination Committee led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani felt the heat of a differential agenda within the ranks and the holy month of Ramzan provided a convenient excuse to taper down the agitation. The second phase of the stir is scheduled to commence on 6 October and the Coordination Committee has had a meeting to finalize the strategy for the same with JKLF chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik, Hurriyat (M) leaders Ghulam Nabi Hubbi, Fazal Haque Qureshi and Ghulam Nabi Zaki participating.
The State government and the police would need to be vigilant to ensure that the situation is diffused without creating rancour through further casualties for the agitation is contended to be peaceful but will be egged on by the militants' guns in the background. These would ensure that the separatist leaders in the front line and second string do as they are dictated from Islamabad. It is a challenge that the State administration would have to face and diffuse the crisis learning lessons from the past.
But Pakistan is not depending only on the civil agitation to continue with the tempo of separatism provided a sudden fillip recently. Cross border firing, infiltration and militant actions within the state are the other arms of this strategy. Thus there were a number of violations of the Cease Fire both on the Line of Control and the International Border during the month. The Indian Army's assessment clearly states that Pakistani troops were providing supporting fire to infiltrating militant groups. By keeping the LOC hot, Pakistani forces are able to infiltrate militants under covering fire. On the other hand this reassures radicals operating in the state causing civil disturbances.
The violations on the LOC were across the entire sector from Jammu in the south to Akhnur, Krishna Ghati and Kalas posts in the Poonch sector to Naugam and Tangdhar sectors in the North. In some of these as in Krishna Ghati area of Poonch district, there were intense encounters with militants accompanying trans LOC firing clearly denoting the intent. The Border Security Force has also been under pressure in the Jammu and Akhnoor sector with a UNI report quoting BSF sources, 'A group of militants tried to enter this side near Chak Phagwari post under the cover of firing from across but the troops of 26 Battalion BSF foiled the bid.'
While the Army's Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen A S Sekhon has been strongly protesting to his counter part, Major General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the latter has since been promoted and made the chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Now with operational and intelligence side of Kashmir firmly in his hands, Pasha would be appropriately placed to direct the Pakistan strategy on Kashmir.
The third arm of the strategy is targeted operations inside the state which are likely to be undertaken after results of the civil agitation are evident in October or even simultaneously. These would be launched to support Geelani and his cohorts. Stray grenade attacks have commenced as 15 people were injured in a grenade attack by militants at Budshah Chowk in Srinagar on 17 September.
The security forces have done well to neutralize the militants in a few major encounters in the Valley particularly one between Bandipora and Kangan presumably on the Safapora heights. Here in a five day operation nine militants most of them Pakistan based have been killed along with one soldier. Lt Col Mathur the defence spokesperson indicated, "We, however, have not lifted operation and have launched manhunt to track down the other militants, who might have escaped from the area, which is having difficult terrain." There were a number of other encounters with the militants including Pulwama, Sumbal, Hafrada Forest in Kupwara, Awantipora and Ramban in Jammu district as well as in Kishtwar district.
A fourth arm of the strategy is assassination and intimidation of the political leadership. Militants are suspected to have shot dead Ghulam Mohammad Mir a zonal president of People's Democratic Party (PDP) in Rafiabad, Baramulla. Incidents of grenade throwing at the house of separatist leader Jamiat Ahli Hadees President Maulana Showkat Ahmad Shah have also been noticed, indicating the complex manner in which the situation is developing in Kashmir.
There are thus clear indications that on instructions of Pakistan militant groups in Kashmir and the separatist organisations are planning a big putsch in the post Ramzan Eid period. This would be essentially to prevent elections from taking place early so that the state remains under Governor's rule undermining legitimacy of governance. Breaking the wave of civil agitations, countering trans LOC firing, security of political leadership and proactively targeting militant groups is a major challenge facing the security forces in the Valley.
While the Line of Control is in good hands as Major General Syed Ata Hasnain, the Dagger Division commander in Baramulla remarked to the Daily Telegraph, 'Our orders are clear. We do not want the ceasefire to go up in smoke and we cannot allow militants to breach the Line of Control; we have to keep balancing our tasks.' The Indian security forces manning the border and the Line of Control now seem to be having a three fold tasks as follows:
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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