Country’s borders need healing, not conflict | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


The current public security conundrum in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, two crucial states on India’s shared borders with the ever-belligerent Pakistan, remain engulfed in proxy wars. After three-and-a-half wars with Pakistan since independence, the borders of Kashmir and Punjab remain inflamed. From terrorism, narco-terrorism to arms smuggling, the use of new-age technology for mobilisation to drones for delivery and assault, these troubled borders have seen it all.

However, there are striking differences between Kashmir and Punjab. A persistent insurgency began in Kashmir in 1989 and militancy hasn’t died down since. In Punjab, Pakistan-supported Khalistan militancy was crushed in the early 1990s but the state is not free of trouble. 

Also Read: Pro-Khalistan slogans raised at Golden Temple on 38th anniversary of Operation Bluestar

Checking alienation in Punjab was relatively planate, Operation Bluestar and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 notwithstanding. This is because of the overlapping tenets and practices of Hinduism and Sikhism.

The social dynamics of Kashmir, particularly in the Valley, have been different due to the Muslim majority demography (63.38 per cent). Public security questions in the two cases would have to be analysed and seen differently, even though the politics of ethnicity and religion continue to play a significant role in both cases. 

Kashmir recently witnessed the targeted killing of the minority Kashmiri Pandit (KP) population. The government of India has been trying to resettle Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley after an exodus in 1990, following the targeted killing of over 200 of them between 1988-90.

Now, non-Muslim government employees and migrant labourers have also been targeted. Recently, three tiffin boxes with improvised explosive devices (IED) were dropped by a Pakistan drone on the outskirts of Jammu city.

Also Read: There are no ‘safer locations’ for us in Valley, say Kashmiri Pandit employees

In Punjab, the killing of Punjabi singer and Congress leader Sidhu Moosewala on May 29 and the revival of the activities of Khalistani group Babbar Khalsa have raised a scare.

These recent events are not without prior indication and to deal with these problems effectively, the Union government must understand the socio-political milieu of the states.  

Militancy in Kashmir acquired new dimensions after August 5, 2019, when the Union Government repealed Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution.

Even though its provisions were diluted 12 times by the Congress governments over the decades, the repeal instilled in the residents of the Valley a feeling of being second-class citizens and led to hostility. The bifurcation of the state into two union territories downgraded the status of Jammu and Kashmir and brought it directly under the Centre’s rule. 

The process of bifurcation involving the massive deployment of troops, arrest of prominent political leaders, arrests under the Public Security Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of political and social activists have all added to animosity in the Valley.

The Union government’s preventive act was to suppress dissent for a while. This did nothing to root out militancy. On the contrary, it only sharpened the anti-India narrative. 

What also keeps militancy strong in the region is the gradual decline of Sufism after 1989 which gave way to the bellicose Sunni Islam, facilitating Pakistan’s support for militancy. It became a great mobiliser of public opinion, a situation that has not yet subsided.

Radicalisation

Strict vigil on the Line of Actual Control by the armed forces has brought down exfiltration to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for training under the ISI and infiltration of the trained militants. On the other hand, it also has been unable to check the growth of local militants.

In this process of radicalisation, nearly 400 local Kashmiri youth have joined the ranks of the militants since 2019. Many have been killed by the security forces in encounters.

Also Read: Modi government on backfoot as Kashmiri Pandits seek to flee again

The government and the army have attempted social and political outreach under the Winning Heart and Minds programme. The Indian state thus wears the garb of a ‘benevolent’ development agent with various schemes – USTAAD, Udaan and Nai Manzil. The Indian army has had a budget of Rs 5.5 crore till 2020 for schools and medical help. This has hardly helped its case. It is still viewed by a majority as an occupation force.

Among other acts, the Indian state’s insistence on stifling Kashmir’s civil society, along with the rest of the country, has choked the link between the state and the society. Its incarceration of political actors has furthered distrust among locals. 

Even the elections for the District Development Council have not ended alienation. Despite a visible decline in stone-pelting incidents, the situation in Kashmir continues to be volatile.   

The popularity of social media, too, has been a game-changer in the region. The proliferation of  WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter as the preferred means of communication has facilitated mobilisation and articulation of grievances across a large cross-section of people.

Punjab’s militancy

On the other hand, Punjab’s militancy appears to be waning but warrants prudence. At its height, the militancy in the state involved the assassination of the Prime Minister of the country. 

But perhaps more pressing is the issue of drug trafficking and abuse that are rampant in the new millennium. 

India’s inability to tackle cross-border drug trafficking, which receives support from the ISI, has cost the state a high price. The Punjab government estimates that 40 per cent of Punjabi youth between 15 and 25 years of age and 48 per cent of farmers and labourers are drug addicts.

The past few years have also witnessed sporadic militant attacks at selected targets, indicating that militancy might be on the rise yet again.

The other noticeable foreign connections are Canada’s Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and Babbar Khalsa. The SFJ’s celebration of the founding of Khalistan in Patiala on April 29 this year led to clashes in the city. On May 5, four persons with three IEDs and one pistol were arrested from Karnal.

On May 8, the police recovered IEDs equipped with RDX in Tarn Taran district in Punjab. On the same day, Khalistan flags were planted on the main gate and the boundary wall of the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in Dharamshala. On May 9, the Babbar Khalsa daringly fired a rocket-propelled grenade on the headquarters of the Punjab Police Intelligence Wing in Mohali.

Obviously, the SFJ and Babbar Khalsa, with the active support of Pakistan’s ISI, are trying to reignite Khalistan-driven militancy in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Experts are wary about sleeper cells in Punjab, which could become lethal with the use of cyber technology.

Kashmir, where the embers of militancy have been aglow since it first appeared in 1989, and Punjab, which is the target of ISI and Sikh militant groups, are both border states.

A hostile Pakistan that lays claim to Jammu and Kashmir entirely has vested interests in wanting to destabilise Punjab. In this way, it is a bane to both states.

India’s task is multifaceted, the country needs to not only tackle external security and curb infiltration but also must wean the local population, the youth particularly, from militancy.

That is a task. For the past eight years, India has witnessed the most fiercely competitive politics and politicking it has ever seen. The Modi-Shah-led BJP is in perpetual competition mode in both states. This perpetual ‘attack-mode’ has been detrimental in the two states and attempts to capture power have led to avoidable instability. 

Both states are at the precipice and the situation can devolve quickly. The need of the hour is to display prudence in consensus building. What is needed is conflict resolution, not heavy-handed moves, to end militancy.

And perhaps, most importantly, the government’s fork-tongued politics — the othering and bashing of minorities with one and political outreach with the other — has created dangerous situations in both states. The only way out is an inclusive policy along with the requisite security measures.

(Ajay K Mehra is a political scientist. He was Atal Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi)



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