By JK Verma
New Delhi. 01 November 2017. No prizes for guessing the top news which set a lot of minds pondering in the month gone by. The news that the Central government has appointed former Intelligence Bureau Director Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor on Kashmir when terrorists are on run and losing ground in the state, indicates that the government wants to settle Kashmir issue once for all.
As large numbers of terrorists are annihilated, it is expected that the demands of separatists would be reasonable and would like to finalize a deal. Sharma worked in Kashmir as a middle level intelligence officer also hence he is aware of ground situation. Time limit, agenda and with whom negotiation can be held is left on the interlocutor.
In past several times government appointed interlocutors but none of them was successful in delivering the desired result. Atal Bihari Vajpayee first appointed K C Pant and then present Governor NN Vohra was appointed as interlocutors but they could not break the ice. Ram Jethmalani, Yaswant Sinha, Sharad Yadav also talked to separatist leaders without any consequence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also made sincere efforts to reach on some conclusion but could not succeed. In 2010 a group of three persons headed by senior journalist Dileep Padgaokar also worked as interlocutors but no action was taken on their report too.
Nonetheless the appointment of Sharma is little different. Firstly he will negotiate with point of strength as at present due to joint operations of security forces terrorists are considerably weakened and their popularity in the masses is also declined. Tourism which is the main source of their income is ruined and the economy of the state is shattered hence the public wants that peace must be restored in the state. Secondly the separatist leaders are not getting money from abroad as government is keeping eye on Hawala transactions. Border trade, where the unscrupulous businessmen were generating funds through over and under invoicing are also under investigation of National Investigation Agency (NIA). Therefore analysts feel that chances of success of Sharma are more than previous negotiators.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech from ramparts of Red Fort mentioned that Kashmiris have already suffered too much because of terrorism and the problem cannot be resolved through violence. He further stressed that the issue can be sorted out through “embracing all Kashmiris”. The statement was significant as it was given when terrorists are losing ground. Jammu & Kashmir Police (J&K Police), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Army units are jointly conducting successful Cordon and Search Operations (C&SO) and exterminating the terrorists. The intelligence organisations in the state are also gathering actionable intelligence which is helpful to security forces to plan operations and eliminate the terrorists including their leaders. As terrorists are on run the silent majority of Kashmiris who are tired because of strikes, Hartals and closures are supplying the vital information pertaining to terrorists and it is helping security forces in killing terrorists.
The security forces are able to arrest and purge support agents as during the search operations arms and ammunitions are recovered from their houses which terrorists are using as safe houses. Several times the terrorists are also killed in the encounters when they attack or try to escape from their houses. The role of support agents are essential for a successful operation as Pakistani infiltrators are not well verse with topography of the area especially bases of security agencies. As security agencies are taking actions against support agents under C&SO, now terrorists are taking shelter in forests and there it becomes easier for security forces to eliminate them as there is no public, no demonstrations and no slogan shouting mobs to protect these terrorists.
The separatist leaders as well as their handlers sitting in Pakistan are also worried about dwindling clout of separatists in Kashmiri masses as well as reduced strength of terrorists in carrying out terrorist activities in the state. The security forces have prepared an exhaustive list of terrorists of Lashker-e-Toiba (L-e-T) ,Jaish-e-Mohammed (J-e-M) and Hizbul Mujahideen and exterminating them methodically. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, security forces killed 290 terrorists up to 22nd October in 2017 while 267 and 174 terrorists were killed in 2016 and 2015 respectively in Kashmir. According to intelligence sources large numbers of hard core terrorists are killed and it is the reason that ISI is desperate to infiltrate terrorists and suicide bombers in the state before advent of winter season. Nevertheless Indian security forces equipped with modern electronic gadgets, guarding the border with more strength and vigour hence Pakistan is not succeeding in infiltrating the terrorists.
The demonetisation of present government and investigation of Hawala operators who were providing cash to separatists and stone-pelters are also giving desired results. The demonetisation has also curbed the menace of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) which was smuggled by sinister Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and it reduced the flow of currency to separatists and stone-pelters. Stone-pelters are not innocent Kashmiri youths they are paid lackeys and working against the interest of India as well as against Kashmir for paltry sum of Rs, 5000 to 7000. These demonstrators collect at the sight of operations on behest of their Pakistani handlers with ulterior motive to disrupt operations of security forces and assist terrorists to escape.
In past separatists gained time during and after negotiations and strengthened themselves but the present government is in no mood to give any concession during negotiations hence the separatists have to conclude the negotiations if they want to survive. In this connection the statement of General Bipin Rawat Chief of Army Staff of October 25 is significant in which he asserted that the appointment of an interlocutor in Jammu & Kashmir would not affect army operations. He also made it clear that the situation in the valley is considerably improved and terrorists are on rum while “infiltration” has declined. Hence now government would talk with all parties with position of strength.
Leaders of Congress Party criticised the appointment of Sharma as interlocutor. Ghulam Nabi Azad the veteran Congress leader and Leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha mentioned that Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) pursued the policy of ‘hot pursuit’ but when it could not achieve result the ruling party wants to solve Kashmir issue through negotiations after wasting three and half years. Now the ruling party does not have much time and the appointment of Sharma is more a publicity stunt.
The analysts also mention that Modi government agreed for peaceful negotiations due to international pressure as two nuclear powers are involved in Kashmir problem. Leaders of several countries including US urged both India and Pakistan to solve Kashmir issue. Recently China has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue. However China is also a party as it has illegally occupied large chunk of Kashmir especially in Aksai Chin area. Here it is also important that the appointment of Sharma was announced one day before the visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to India and Pakistan.
Sharma was given a rank of Cabinet Secretary and full authority to decide with whom he should negotiate. Giving of Cabinet Secretary rank and full independence is a good sign as now Sharma has not to go through any bureaucrat in the central and he is senior to any bureaucrat in J&K. In this way the bureaucrats of central as well as state are in no position to derail the negotiations.
All parties including Central government, State Government and security forces must co-operate the interlocutor but hunt and elimination of terrorists must continue. Government should also chalk out a plan so that alienation of Kashmiris end and they join the mainstream of the country. Giving a hefty package to J&K would also generate positive atmosphere. Suffi culture which was the backbone of Kashmir must be restored. The Maulvis of Mosques which are involved in spreading hatred towards country and state must be imprisoned. Steps should be taken so that Kashmiri Pandits return back to their homeland and slowly but steadily efforts must be made to withdraw article 35 A and article 370 if feasible should be revoked.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)