Kashmir: Getting off the tiger is not easy

military, Amarnath yatra, Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir,  Article 370

The problem now is when can Modi end the clampdown which has reduced J&K to a ghost state these past four days.



By Bikram Vohra

Published: Tue 6 Aug 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 7 Aug 2019, 2:46 PM

It all began with a rumour of a sniper on the Amarnath yatra route and the discovery of an unexploded mine on the track taken by as many as 200,000 pilgrims during this auspicious period. Neither of which situation called for such a monumental military response.
The writing was on the wall these past three days that something big was brewing. But few believed India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi would throw Article 370 into the fire. The reasoning given for this move is the need to remove the threat of terrorism and also strengthen the border and make it less porous. In truth, it is also an invitation to 1.2 billion Indians to invest in the state through business, labour, and entrepreneurship. It is an open house.
One of the unanswered questions is the timing. Why now? With the Eid festival next week and the Amarnath pilgrimage under way would a couple of weeks delay have mattered? Clearly there was some unexplained urgency that negated religious sentiment.
The problem now is when can Modi end the clampdown which has reduced Jammu and Kashmir to a ghost state these past four days.
And it is most likely to stay that way indefinitely.
Former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are in police custody and many other political leaders are under house arrest. They are already moaning the break-up of the state from their confinement and calling the initiative a black day. The ground situation as of now is precarious.
As many as 75,000 pilgrims, tourists, and students as well as residents are still desperately getting out of Jammu and Kashmir - their exodus marked by the panic of war zone refugees. Except this, a lot are largely going home even as 35,000 more troops cascade into the valley to join the 500,000 strong military force already in situ. Another 8,500 are on the way. At one stage over 6,000 passengers choked Jammu airport as Indian carriers 'compassionately' upped the price of tickets.
The annual Amarnath yatra pilgrimage has been suspended at a huge logistical cost. Schools and colleges are closed indefinitely. Section 144 of the criminal code has been imposed banning an assembly of more than five people. Not since Kargil in July/August 1999, almost two decades to the day, has India rattled the sabre so ominously. A senior police officer in Jammu tells Khaleej Times that the nation will do everything in its power to avoid another Pulwama massacre when an explosive laden vehicle careened into a military convoy and killed 44 soldiers on February 14 this year.
With the internet frozen, mobile telephony monitored, and roadblocks at every corner and a caution to residents to stay home, the streets are empty and the stillness is ominous.
Into this palpable frenzy enveloping the state and long queues outside every market on Sunday to stock up on necessities which have now practically run out, another rumour scorched through the throngs. The much secretly admired Kashmir Separatist chief Yasin Malik was supposedly sick but being denied medical aid in Delhi's Tihar Jail. This led to much handwringing and the facility's director general had to issue a statement that he is in ruddy good health.
There is another dimension.
At the line of control (LoC), the 155mm Bofors howitzers are pounding Pakistan frontline pickets in what is being seen as a pre-emptive effort to block incursions as per intelligence reports. The alert is very real and could well spark a second Kargil if it gets out of hand. In Delhi, the shelling is seen as a pre-emptive message to Pakistan not to take advantage of the decision on Kashmir.
The fallout on civvy street will occur and Modi knows that. As he does, the very good chance of a terror attack. The trick now lies in the timing of the return to normalcy. It is not going to be easy and since the unilateral move supersedes plebiscites and the like, whipping up hostile sentiment will be easy. The dramatic change in the dynamics will lead to possible acts of violence and the Kashmiri identity crisis will fuel the anger as will the fact that the people were not taken into confidence.
Having got on the tiger how will Modi get off it? The announcement has united all the political parties in the valley and they will whip up public sentiment and are already doing so. The man in the street will be told he is being invaded and his heritage and history stolen away. And that is for starters.
With the clamp vice-like at the moment the Modi administration can only hope that exhaustion and discomfort will have set in when the partial curfew and the stringent restrictions are lifted. For the moment, for better or worse, the Indian government has 'over ridden' the constitution with cause and used national interest and national security to justify this unilateral move made with great secrecy and suddenness.
-bikram@khaleejtimes.com
 


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